PSYC 123: The Psychology, Biology and Politics of Food
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The Psychology, Biology and Politics of Food
PSYC 123 - Lecture 7 - Hunger in the World of Plenty
Chapter 1. Stories from World War II: The Consequences of Starvation [00:00:00]
Professor Kelly Brownell: Today’s lecture is on hunger. As you know, I’ve shown in most classes some comedy clip, something amusing toward the end of the class or at the end of the class. I’m not choosing to do that for this particular topic because it’s very serious, in some cases, a sad topic when one starts to look at the world distribution of hunger, how many people are affected, and what it does to people’s lives.
Let’s show you how that might be. I’d like to begin with two stories from World War II that have to do with the issue of hunger, one an experiment and one a very real and compelling human story. The first, the experiment that I’d like to talk to you about is called The Minnesota Starvation Experiment. This was a study that was conducted at The University of Minnesota by — headed by a researcher named Ancel Keyes whose name you’ve heard before. I’ll talk more about him in a minute. The purpose was to understand what affects starvation and then subsequent re-feeding when people had access to food again, and what affects that had both psychologically and more important, physically on people.
At that time the issue was very important, of course world hunger has been an issue and was an issue before that, so there was interest from a scientific and humanitarian point of view at that point. But during World War II, because of whole populations being cut off from food, there was a very real concern with excessive numbers of people being added to the world distribution of hunger. The Americans wanted to find out, the government and the scientists wanted to find out what effects does this have on people, how enduring are the effects, and then how could we best repair the problem once the populations got freed when the war was over, and there was food entering their systems again.
The project, as I mentioned, was led by the researcher Ancel Keyes and you’ll remember his name for having done the Seven Countries Study. He was also known at the time for inventing the K-ration that was the Army’s unit of feeding for people. He was a very prominent well known researcher, and did this remarkable study with a relatively small number of people but he collected an enormous amount of data from it, and wrote a very impressive volume called The Biology of Human Starvation, that was really the classic in the field, in fact still is for many years, two volume set, very impressive piece of work.
What this particular study involved was thirty-six conscientious objectors who at the time refused to take part in military service but were required as a consequence by the government to do something to contribute to the country’s well being. So some of them were given the option of taking part in this experiment to satisfy that duty.
The project took place from November of 1944 to December of 1945. It began with a — and so these subjects were at The University of Minnesota for that entire time, under pretty carefully controlled circumstances. They had a 12-week baseline phase where they were fed normal amounts of food and a lot of information was collected on biological and psychological issues or factors for them and so that became the base rate that was then later — the starvation period was compared too. Then a 24-week phase where individuals were cut down on their calorie levels significantly, so the average person lost about 25% of their body weight. Then subsequently, there was a re-feeding phase and during that phase different groups of people were fed different sorts of diets to see what would the best way to replenish the body and repair whatever damage was done by the calorie deficiency.
There’s a very interesting book, and I’ll show you the cover of it in just a minute, written in 2006, published by The University of Minnesota Press by Tucker called, The Great Starvation Experiment. It talks about the history of Ansel Keyes but also about the experiences of the men who were in this particular study, and he had some photographs, and here’s a photograph of one of the subjects before and after the starvation phase, here’s an example of another subject in this study who went from 145 to 117 pounds during the starvation phase.
Some of the other interesting photos in the book are the testing that was done on cognitive and dexterity issues, but as well as a lot of biological measures. Then there were these anecdotes, for example, of the low body temperature that gets created by starvation where people just can’t feel warm and so these men were laying out in the sun trying to get as warm as they could.
This study found a number of profound effects, both psychological and biological. On the psychological side, the not surprising but profound result of this was how much these men were preoccupied with food. They dreamed about food, they thought about food, with what food they had ate they took enormous care — all of these things you would expect for a person being starved but there were a number of other experiences that these men went through. Keyes and his colleagues documented depression in these individuals, severe emotional distress. The behavioral effects are some of which I just mentioned dealt not only with food but with social interactions leading to social isolation, you might expect lack of sexual interest in these folks, and there were even some cases of one man in particular, chopped off several of his fingers with an ax. The — he hardly remembered doing it afterwards which was an interesting part of the story, and the investigators, the scientists never really knew whether he did this as a desire to get out of the study, to have an excuse for getting out of the study, or whether there was some more serious psycho — well not that that’s not serious, but some additional psychological disturbance that he might have been experiencing.
There were also poor cognitive effects. Now not too many of these showed up on objective tests. But the men perceived things like concentration and memory deteriorating, and a series of biological effects, the cold intolerance I mentioned, the slow metabolism which makes sense, I’ll describe in a minute, the low body temperature, respiration, heart rate and even things like edema because the men were drinking so much water just in an attempt to feel full. These are very serious effects. Why would metabolic rate go down? Yes?
Professor Kelly Brownell: Okay, exactly right, the body is trying to protect its energy stores. If you’re starving and you need to protect every ounce of stored energy you have, you don’t want to be throwing a lot of heat off and wasting energy through the metabolic process. If all of you went on a diet today, a pretty serious diet something like this, your metabolic rate would go down very quickly even before we started to notice big changes in your body weight. That happens as a defense against what the body perceives as starvation. Now when people go on diets the body doesn’t recognize that, well okay I’m trying Atkins because I want to lose five pounds, all it knows is that your body is not getting its usual number of calories, and that signals a protective defense and that’s what this is really all about.
As I said, this book called The Great Starvation Experiment is very interesting. It tells stories about this study and about the characters in it, and the scientists and how they interacted with the subjects and the like. A lot of what we know about the science of human starvation with data collected by Keyes and his colleagues with only 36 subjects but done very carefully back in the 1940s.
The next example from World War II that I’d like to discuss has to do with the Siege of Leningrad. That happened in September 1941 to January 1943, and this book that I just mentioned by Tucker speaks about the Leningrad experience. In fact, the book leads off with it, and I’d like to read you some text from the Tucker book that deals with this particular experience.
As in most modern sieges, the zoo animals were among the first victims in Leningrad. It was not a hard decision. What was the point of watching the poor beasts starve when they could nourish famished people for a few days. The hungry Leningraders felt not a wit of sentimentality as they slaughtered the animals, filling the cold streets with the steaming blood of tigers, lions, and giraffes. The Jews — the zoo’s livestock quickly disappeared as the people of Leningrad first acquired their taste for exotic meats.
It was November 1941. The people of Leningrad were beginning the hungry winter, the coldest winter ever in the city with a proud history of miserably cold winters. Hitler’s army had surrounded them since September 8, 1941. The Furor needed to move the tanks and artillery that surrounded the city to other fronts, but the stubborn people of Leningrad wouldn’t cooperate by surrounding. Hitler also didn’t want to be burdened with the feeding of millions of famished people when the city finally capitulated. Hitler formulated an elegant plan, one that would both free up his artillery and reduce the eventual number of captives in his clutches. Hitler ordered that Leningrad be starved into submission; the siege would last 872 days.
After the zoo animals, the people of Leningrad next turned to their household pets killing beloved dogs and cats was slightly harder then killing the zoo animals, but an easy decision nonetheless for hungry enough people. The people had no choice but to supplement their official ration. The government gave manual workers an allotment of breaded cabbage that amounted to 700 calories a day, about a fifth of an adult’s daily energy requirement. Non-manual workers were given only 473 calories a day, children 423. Dogs and cats disappeared, even the rats fled, as their food supplies disappeared in the city. Hungry people of the city took some comfort in the knowledge that their rats now populated the relatively well provisioned trenches of their German tormentors.
As the siege dragged on, the temperatures plummeted to -40 degrees. The people collectively remembered that some wallpaper paste was made from potatoes. Wallpaper was stripped away from the living rooms and parlors of Leningrad, the paste scraped into pots and boiled into soup, a soup that tasted much more like paste then potatoes. Leather too could be boiled into a gelatinous mess that could briefly satisfy the sharpest pangs of hunger.
By 1943 the siege entered its second year, all the animals, wallpaper paste, and leather had been consumed. The people descended into a rare kind of hunger, a hunger that tested even the most fundamental taboos, people began eating corpses. In the cases — in most cases the flesh was still firm and well preserved by the frigid temperatures. The eating of the dead became a ghoulish fact of life until inevitably the hungriest began looking for fresher meat.
The children of Leningrad began disappearing. As rumors of cannibalism spread, it became illegal to sell any form of ground meat in the city, as the sources became too horrifically questionable. In one case, the bones of several dozen children were found inside the apartment of a concert violinist; even his own five year old son was missing.
The Leningrad police formed a special division to combat cannibalism. By the beginning of 1944 as even corpses and children became scarce there were reports of people cutting off their own body parts and eating them in a desperate attempt to stave off hunger. The Red Army broke through the German lines on January 27, 1944 and the siege was lifted. In all, a million Soviets had starved to death in that city, more then a thousand per day. People were forbidden both officially and unofficially, from ever speaking of the cannibalism that took place during the siege. The Soviets had learned, to a frightening extent, how much the availability of food allows civilization to occur.
Now that’s a very startling example of what can happen when people are under desperate circumstances with hunger. Now that sort of thing doesn’t happen very often, but it’s certainly possible as conditions become dire enough. I have the text into these slides if you’d like to refer back to it later.
Chapter 2. Is There Not Enough Food in the World? [00:13:54]
The situation with world hunger is becoming even more severe than it has been in the past. This report just came out a few days ago, released by Care International, and they talked about the number of people in the world who are living in a state of emergency. That is, the poverty is severe, problems with hunger and food are severe as well, and they talked about how the number of people who were right on this edge of emergency, right on the edge of dire crisis, had doubled in only two years. 220 million people they said were now affected by this, and too often they said the aid that world governments give is late, short term, and it doesn’t focus on helping cultures survive in the long term, but basically just throws food at them. It may help solve the problem in the short term, but of course doesn’t help in the long term. This report was very critical of the lack of attention to this by the world and also the way aid tends to be given. We’ll come back to the aid later on.
The issue of hunger has been around for many years and you can see these really discouraging pictures from the cover of Time Magazine starting in 1979 and then more recently you see things like this, so you have to ask the question, why can’t the world deal with this problem? Most people know it’s a problem. You see things on television, celebrities are out there trying to help with the hunger problem; you have big foundations that want to do something about it, lots of money goes toward it in some cases. Why can’t we solve this problem? Is there not enough food in the world? Well no, that’s not right; there is enough food in the world.
This is a political problem. One that the world could solve, there’s plenty of money in the world, plenty of food in the world — there won’t always be as I’ll describe in a later class — but at least at the moment there’s enough food in the world, but we’re not solving this problem. We have to ask ourselves why and are there any solutions to this perplexing difficult and tormenting human problem.
Here’s the statistic that deals with how many people die of hunger. Every 3.6 seconds, 75% of the victims are children, and so 16,000 people worldwide, children die everyday of hunger and its related consequences. I mean that’s as many as live in some towns in many countries, more then live in some towns in many countries, and that’s how many people are — children are dying everyday.
The United Nations and other world agencies like the Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Health Organization pay attention to this issue of hunger, and here are a few things that have come from the UN. They define hunger and malnutrition saying that its — over a prolonged period of time the victims live on a significantly lower percentage of food than they need to sustain a healthy life. Then they talk about the consequences:
The body compensates by slowing down its physical and mental activities, including metabolic rate. A hungry mind cannot concentrate, a hungry body does not take initiative, a hungry child loses all desire to play and study.
Hunger also weakens the immune system and this is where a lot of the deaths occur. Deprived of the right nutrition hungry children are especially vulnerable and become too weak to fight off disease and may die from common infections like measles and diarrhea.
It’s amazing how many children around the world die of something that we consider an unpleasant but temporary condition, like diarrhea. Then they talk about some of the numbers. In the United States we used to use the word hunger to talk about this condition, but now people talk about food insecurity. To some extent, it’s a helpful change in definition because it captures more about the phenomenon then just the word hunger, because it helps capture the social and personal circumstances that people live in rather than just the condition. It’s also a euphemism in some ways. It provides an intellectual academic term almost to describe what otherwise people might consider a very human thing, the concept of hunger.
Here’s how it’s defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s defined as access by all household members at all times to enough food for an active healthy life. Food insecurity household is not severe. Now what does that mean? I got to go figure that one out.
Okay, so measured officially by a scale that has eighteen items. Here are examples of those to give you a sense of how the concept of food insecurity is defined. If people are worried that food runs out before they have enough money to buy more, that’s insecure relationship with food. Adults cut the size of meals or skip meals because they don’t have enough food, people are hungry but don’t eat because they can’t afford it; they rely on a few kinds of low cost food to feed children especially.
Now we’ll come back to this later in the class when we talk about economics and how the cost of food and the relative cost in our culture of healthier and unhealthier options drive people towards certain parts of the food supply, and what that means for diets of the poor. Then the final example of this eighteen-item scale is children not eating for an entire day. You can imagine what it feels like, some of you may have done this for religious reasons, to go a whole day without eating, and how that feels. Imagine that happening on a repeated basis and an unpredictable basis where you just don’t know when it’s going to happen and what that would do.
In the U.S., food insecurity is a big problem. Government statistics suggest that 1 out of 9 households — 1 out of 9 — experience hunger or they’re at risk for experiencing this. The risk is very high in some groups. So if the base rate is 1 in 9, you get more then twice that, about twice that rate in Hispanic households, and a little bit more in African American households. In some sub-groups of the population households with single women with children the rates are as high as 30%.
These are pretty alarming statistics and most people don’t think too much about America a problem where hunger exists, because the more concerned that people have shown, at least in the press, in recent years is with overnutrition. And that’s certainly is an issue, but hunger is as well and it’s not really gone away. Then some of these issues come up, especially with children, who don’t have enough nourishment to thrive.
Now this graph, you can look at this at your leisure, but it shows a number of different groups and the rates of food insecurity in those particular groups. So you can see the breakdown by part of the country, by where people live, their income, their race, gender, etc.. Those are all the statistics if you care to look at them. It gets manifested to in how many people are applying for government assistance over the years to help remedy the food insecurity they experience.
This graph shows from 2000 to 2007 the number of people who are food stamp recipients. You see the number going up, and up, and up. Now the numbers aren’t available yet for 2008 but you might imagine that those numbers would be higher yet, not only because of the increasing trend, but because of the very high food prices that are existing now, the bad state of the economy, and other things that might lead people to believe to be more insecure about food.
Let’s put the world numbers in some context. I’d like to show you the population of some countries, not respect to hunger, just the raw population of countries. If you take these particular countries, these are the populations, let’s then add in the populations of these countries, so you see major countries including the U.S. in this population calculation, and this all adds up to 804,000,000 million people. The line that you’re going to see next shows the number of people in the world who are hungry: 862,000,000 million. So more people in the populations of all those countries added together. Really quite a remarkable number. Now the reason I put this slide together is that when you see numbers like 862,000,000 million they sound big, and that is a pretty alarming figure. But when you think about it in the context of all these countries added together and that’s how many people in the world who are hungry but don’t need to be.
The world distribution of hunger probably won’t surprise you very much, but it looks like this. If you show a graph of the world, in this case the darker colors, especially the dark red color, designates higher levels of hunger and greater then 35%. You see the countries in South America, in that band of the world right through the middle there, especially in Africa, you’ve got lots of problems with hunger. You can make some guesses about why this might be the case with poverty being at the lead of the list, but there are other issues that come into play as well that help drive this relationship.
Now besides poverty and we know that exists in some parts of the world, what are some of the reasons you think might be driving hunger problems in those particular countries? What do you think, yes?
Professor Kelly Brownell: Pardon me?
Professor Kelly Brownell: Water?
Professor Kelly Brownell: Oh war, okay. War definitely is an issue; we’ll come back to that. Yes?
Professor Kelly Brownell: Climate is certainly another issue because there’s some areas that are fertile, grow more crops then others. Yes?
Professor Kelly Brownell: Okay something like Aids could be creating a problem, because if the healthcare systems of already poor countries are being burdened by things like Aids, which they certainly are, then the amount of money left over to feed hungry people goes way down. Yes?
Professor Kelly Brownell: Okay, how would technology be a player?
Professor Kelly Brownell: Okay, so technology could be a barrier so when the poor countries that don’t have the advanced technologies, there could be limitations on how much good gets grown, say with farm and agriculture technology, and then produced as well, so that’s a good point. Yes?
Professor Kelly Brownell: Okay, trade policies from the wealthier countries adversely affecting the poor countries, could be a real player. We will talk about that in class. Yes?
Professor Kelly Brownell: Okay corruption, how would corruption be a factor?
Professor Kelly Brownell: Right, exactly and so corruption really is a player here in several ways. One that you mentioned, which is if a corrupt government is hoarding the money for the wealthy people who are running it, then the money doesn’t get out to the people for basic needs like food. The other place where corruption plays a big player is the way aid gets used when it enters country to try to correct these kind of a problems, and where it goes, and who gets it. Whether the money is really being used for the intended purpose varies a lot from country to country and that’s a big issue. Other ideas about what might be driving this relationship? You guys have really gotten — got the highlights here and it’s interesting how many factors converge to be driving this sort of thing.
If we look at a country like India, we find some interesting things. Now here’s a map of India showing by color where hunger resides in greatest numbers, and so the darker colors, the orange color that you see there clustered, designates greater then 50% of children being hungry and malnourished. Now it’s interesting, we’ll come back to India as an example, and I have an NPR clip I’ll play for you in a later class that talks about India as an example where hunger and overnutrition co-exist. And you find cases in a country like India, as you do in the United States, where in the same district you have both conditions. In the same neighborhood you have both conditions, and in some cases in the same family you have both conditions.
So undernutrition and overnutrition become a world problem and it shows how bad the relationship with food is, psychologically but also politically. And if there were a way to correct this and resolve the overnutrition and to resolve the undernutrition, sort of bring everybody up to a happy medium, you could imagine how much better off the world would be.
Countries that are hardest hit, you could guess from the map that I just showed you. But this shows the particular breakdown about what parts of the world the countries are in that have the greatest problems with hunger. The greatest number in sub-Saharan Africa as the previous slide suggested.
Chapter 3. Malnutrition and Its Effects [00:28:10]
Malnutrition, let’s talk about that. There are several ways malnutrition can affect the body, and one way is through deficiencies in macronutrients. So that means you just don’t get enough of protein, carbohydrate, or fat. Remember those are the three macronutrients. Collectively they provide calories to survive, so your engine just doesn’t have enough energy to keep going. Your gas tank is empty, you’re just not able to function. Then these particular nutrients carry with them a series of particular biological problems when people suffer from deficiencies.
Then as you might guess, the other problem is with micronutrients and both of them create issues, very serious issues. This is a slide that I showed you before but we’ll pause a little bit longer over it this time, which shows some of the biological consequences of hunger and starvation. As you can see, basically every system in the body is affected and none of these things would surprise you. But you can imagine how weak a body would become and how it would lack resistance therefore, to typical health insults or diseases, when all of these systems are affected.
Hunger affects every part of the body and you can imagine as these things are happening that the — each of these systems, each of these parts of the body is sending out signals to eat: feed me, get me some food, defend me from starvation and how powerful an effect that would have on an individual. The anecdote about Leningrad gives you some sense of that.
There are several visible manifestations of hunger, not only wasting away and having people who are extraordinarily thin and malnourished, but there are several things that you tend to see a lot in pictures and so I’d like to describe what these two conditions are. The first is called marasmus, this has to — this is a wasting disease where you get the kind of pictures that you see on that child on the right, which is a severely malnourished individual that comes from a protein energy malnutrition, so a particular concern in the macronutrient profile, the protein carbohydrates and fat is the protein. When that becomes deficient in a diet this condition tends to kick in and the protein energy malnutrition would mean low calories and low protein. The impact of this is deficiencies in all parts of the macronutrient diet, and there are signs of it that you tend to see in these pictures. Low weight gain and wasting, and being very, very thin is called stunting in most parts of the world, that’s the term that you see used most by The World Health Organization, in the United States we call it different. So there are different terms for it but it all adds up to the same thing.
The other issue that you see depicted in pictures a lot is called kwashiorkor. This is caused by inadequate protein intake while there is sufficient calories, so there’s not exactly the same wasting that you see in the other diseases. It comes from habitual consumption when people’s foods are restricted in variety, and people continually consume things that are dominant in carbohydrate, low in protein. The slide gives you several examples of this.
It leads to stomach bloating due to fluid retention and fat accumulation in the liver, and then you get the picture that you see like this. The individual on the right is malnourished in a much different way then the previous slide that was — that you — that depicted the child with marasmus: both malnourished but differentially malnourished with access to different nutrients, or restricted access to different nutrients. You see these pictures a lot when hunger is depicted. Desperately unhealthy children in these cases where the calories are probably sufficient to maintain normal health, but particular nutrients are not.
Here are some additional facts about malnutrition, 56% of all childhood deaths are affected by nutrition. The primary mechanism here is that it potentiates the impact of infectious diseases. It makes individuals more vulnerable to infectious diseases and then more likely to pass them on, because they’re vulnerable and they keep them for a longer period of time. Here they talk about mild and moderate malnutrition, ones where people may not die but they’re affected. Their energy is affected, their ability to function is affected, and therefore, their society is affected, these being big political problems and affecting the health and well being of countries a lot.
Chapter 4. Geopolitical Explanations for Hunger [00:33:25]
There are geopolitical issues that we talked about and you guys nailed most of these when I asked you the question before. Part is the simple vagaries of where people happen to live and so droughts happen more in some part of the world, famine in more parts of the world, just as a consequence of the climate that people are exposed to.
Poverty, of course, is an obvious driver and I’ll show a slide in a moment that shows the world distribution of poverty. War becomes a big problem and refugee populations which are growing in size around the world, of course, have very little political power, very little government attention, few people watching out after them. Hunger becomes a big problem there.
Then, as you guys also alluded to, and I was proud of you to hear you bring this up, the geopolitics of things. Things like trade policies and subsidies affect the world food systems in ways that we’ll describe later in class that affect things like overnutrition and undernutrition in different parts of the world. Poverty, of course, is a major driver here, not surprising there. Here’s the geographic distribution of poverty. In this case the lighter colors depict greater levels of poverty and you can see that band that we were focused on before that goes through South America, but mainly focuses on those countries and Sub-Saharan Africa, highly affected by poverty and of course hunger follows from that.
The question is why here? What’s going on in this part of the world? Some people have speculated about this and part of it has to do with climate zones in certain parts of the world, and the relative wealth that varies across the world. Jeffrey Sachs — and I’ll show you his picture in just a few moments, who’s a real leader in the whole area of world poverty, and hunger, and diseases of this type worldwide; he’s at Columbia University — broke this down in an article he wrote at one point. Temperate parts of the world, and that would include areas like the United States, occupy 40% of the world’s land area but have 67% of the world’s wealth. The land area is more or less consistent with the amount of the world’s population, but the wealth is much higher.
You take areas like the highland and the desert parts of the world, you have much less of the land area for the highland groups, so that’s only 7% of the world’s population so we won’t factor that in so much. The desert areas have only 18% of the world’s population, so we won’t talk about that so much for the moment, but let’s focus on tropical areas and those would be the areas banded by those lines that you saw in the previous slide. Only 20% of the world’s land area, but 40% of the population, but only 17% of the world’s wealth. So if we compare the temperate and tropical areas we look here, we see that the temperate areas have twice as much land, they have about the same population, but look at this, I mean what a startling difference. It’s not surprising that you see hunger and poverty together in- clustered in certain parts of the world, and the climate does tell part of the story.
Sachs also talked about linking — how the tropical zones are linked with poverty and why this might be. Well, one becomes poor access to the sea, and this goes way back in human history where moving goods becomes more expensive, so if you’re a poor country, but you’re landlocked and you’re far from the sea where a lot of things gets shipped, it’s just going to be more expensive to get things to you, including food. So that becomes an issue. The climate is bad for growing food, but good for fostering disease — certain diseases in particular. So the climate becomes a good host, a good environment, it becomes rich in opportunity for disease bearing organisms to thrive, but a hard place for food to grow and that becomes a problem.
The worst category is the tropical area far from the sea. They talk about how the major grains that really help support a lot of the world’s food supply don’t grow very well in those kind of environments. The yield from corn, for example, or maize is triple in the temperate zones compared to the tropical zone. The high mortality rate has women bearing a lot of children which then creates a strain on the healthcare system and that further weakens the ability of countries to feed its people. So those are problems.
These numbers are really quite remarkable, 1.2 billion people surviving on less then a dollar a day; 2.7 billion more on less then two dollars a day. And this — that area between less then a dollar and less then two dollars a day has changed over time, as you see from this particular bullet point. One billion, more then half, almost half of the world’s children live in poverty.
One of you mentioned war and refugees, this is a major issue. The UN defines refugees as people living outside their country, although there are plenty of people who are refugees but still remaining in the country’s borders, unable to return owing to well founded fear or persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group, and the number of refugees is considerable.
Here’s the most — here’ a breakdown from the United Nations showing the ten largest groups of people and their origin, who are refugees starting with Afghanistan and then the slide shows the countries of asylum where people have gone to. Usually when people are refugees they’re — not always but in many cases fleeing from one poor country to another, and it just shifts the political demands on countries unable to deal with hunger very much to begin with, can scarcely do it when they get an influx of refugees from another country. So war and refugees are an issue.
Chapter 5. Can Anything Be Done? [00:40:16]
So far we painted this picture, I hope at least, of the magnitude of the problem. The number of people in the world who are hungry adds up to all those populations combined of so many countries. Almost half the children in the world malnourished or hungry, serious biological consequences, serious political consequences. So you see people suffering, people dying, the human cost of hunger is absolutely enormous.
The question is can anything be done about this? What in the heck can we do about this problem that is such a plague on the world that just goes on, and on, and on? I mean, when I was a child we were told to clean our plate because there were starving children in China is what they said at the moment, and so even as far back as my boyhood, there was public concern about hunger. Our parents had talked about it at least, not that they did much about it, but they at least talked about it. So the concern has gone on for years and years, and years.
Yet the problem seems to be getting worse rather then better. Why doesn’t the world have the will to solve this problem? Is the technology available? Yes. Is the money available? Some people have estimated that with as little as $3 billion dollars you could solve the world’s hunger problem. $3 billion dollars gets used up in the Iraq War in 60 days or something, so you can imagine how easy it would be for the world, even the United States just by itself, to solve the world’s hunger problem, if the political will and if the political environment were good enough to support that desire.
Well one shining star in this pretty bleak picture overall is a project coordinated by the United Nations called The Millennium Development Project. This has had some very impressive successes but it’s too small, it’s not funded enough, and isn’t affecting enough parts of the world. Well let’s talk about what it is and then what it has accomplished.
The UN goal for The Millennium Development Project is for each country of the world to donate .07% of their gross national income for aid and development projects around the world. 07% of the gross national income: that money would then be pooled and used in the ways that might affect the poverty and hunger problem, and a quote from the UN report on The Millennium Development Project says this, “If every developed country set and followed through on a timetable to reach this goal by 2015, the world can make dramatic progress in the fight against poverty and start on a path to achieve The Millennium Development goals and end extreme poverty by 2015.
Now 2015 isn’t very far away and can you imagine how wonderful an outcome that would be to make a real dent in the extreme poverty suffered by the world. All it would take would be for countries to pony up money in this amount. Specifically, The Millennium Development goals have a series — there are a series of goals, but here’s goal number one that pertains to the topic we’re talking about today, which is to eradicate extreme poverty of hunger.
The UN instead of just settling for a broad goal like this created more precise targets. To cut in half, between 2015, the portion of people whose income is less then a dollar a day; target two: to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people, and target three: to cut in half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.
It’s a manageable goal financially, perhaps not politically. Here’s a graph, or a chart, showing the development assistant by country and remember the .07% that was discussed in the development goals. If you look at certain parts of the world Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, those countries are over the .07% already so they give more then .07% of the gross national product to support aid work around the world. The U.S., .02% — so far short of a desired goal.
Now the impression is that the U.S. does more than its share; that we’re doing a really good job with aid around the world. Maybe we are, it really depends on your perspective. Just thinking about the numbers, part of it will depend on the denominator, so because we have such a massive gross national product, and so much available wealth in this country, a small percentage of that .02% adds up to a lot of money so there’s the appearance that we’re doing more then our share, the lion’s share of aid around the world. In terms of absolute dollars that’s probably true, but as a fraction of our gross national product, we’re not doing nearly what some other countries are.
Now all of you will have different opinions about what we should be doing in this domain. Not everybody feels like we should be running around the world and helping with these aid related projects, and maybe that’s true, it depends on your political persuasion and how you feel about this issue here. We can remain agnostic about whether we should be doing it, but the numbers are pretty clear about whether we are doing it. Yes?
Professor Kelly Brownell: What do the asterisks mean? I don’t remember. I took this table from another source and I’d have to go back and find out, so I’ll try to do that, but I don’t know what they refer to at the moment.
This Millennium Development Project by the UN has a subset called The Millennium Villages Project, which is a pilot series of projects in 12 villages in Africa, picked because of them being hunger hot spots. They have served as models for how the MDG’s, The Millennium Development Goals, can be met within five years through community led development. The model here is that instead of just going in and dropping things into a community like bags of food, for example, you go in and provide those resources but also work with community leaders and changing the way the community functions, providing more resources for people to build in capability so they could feed themselves, help solve the poverty problems.
There have been some interesting successes here, although these projects are relatively new, but they have worked quite in an interesting way. A particular town, Sauri in Kenya — and you see where it’s located on the map — became one of the first Millennium Development Villages, and the results from here have been very interesting. Begun in July 2004, because of agriculture technology being imported and technology training done for the people, the production of maize has more then tripled. So of course that really helps solve the hunger problem. There’s a school feeding program that serves 17,000 students per day. And in this case Malaria which was a terrible killer there is down a great deal in prevalence. Simultaneously, the people doing this project were working on disease prevention, on remedying poverty, on agriculture sustainability, and on remediating hunger; and so this has been a real success.
The question is, is there the funding and the political will to do it on a more broad scale? That really depends on world governments, on individual citizens within those governments and how much attention they pay to this particular issue. I mentioned Jeffrey Sachs before who is the director of a Columbia University Institute called The Earth Institute. He’s written extensively on this, here’s one of his books, and he lectures worldwide on this topic, meets with government officials around the world and pushes hard to deal with these issues. He’s very interested in the impact of poverty and hunger on disease, and other economic maladies that happen in various countries.
You have people like Jeffrey Sachs who’s an academic scholarly type person and activist pushing hard on this. You have the UN pushing hard on it. And then in case you — of course you get your share of celebrities who are involved in this particular as well. Some give money and their time and visibility to it. You see several examples there and then some like Bill and Melinda Gates, through their foundation, give enormous amounts of money to try to help address these problems.
We hope that these efforts will lead to the right kind of aid, will lead to training in communities that foster sustainability, and long term remediation of poverty and hunger, and that this will help reduce the world’s burden of the problem. These kind of pictures are common and some people take a jaded view when this sort of a thing. They — people look at it and interpret it in different ways and one could, I guess, question about whether overall this helps or hurts. But certainly these are people trying to do something about it, and to the extent that they’re paying attention to it brings attention to the issue and gets world governments and individuals to pay more attention, you would assume it was good. They’ve had some — Gates and the two celebrities here, this is Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono, you can see that they have achieved some notoriety because of this particular thing.
So what are the world’s main approaches to hunger and what can be done? Well, first attacking poverty has to become the cornerstone of this remediation process. Second, is preventing diseases. The diseases that you see here are communicable diseases, infectious diseases, and those things can be remediated if there’s the will to do it.
We’ll talk in a subsequent class coming right up on the Green Revolution, and what that means. The Green Revolution is a specific term that’s relatively modern, relatively new in the landscape of food and agriculture, but it’s had a big impact — some say a negative impact, others say a positive impact — but there’s no question it’s had a big impact on the world’s approach to food. We’ll talk more about that.
Change agriculture policy to help farmers. More and more, and more people’s indigenous food environments are being eroded and they’re eating imported processed foods, and it’s happening in country and country, even in places of the world where you wouldn’t expect it so much. This has serious implications. Part of it has to do with agriculture and subsidy policy in the U.S., international trade policy that affects the ability of local farmers to survive and being able to feed themselves, their family, and make enough money to earn a living. We’ll talk more about those policies. Of course the most important thing of all is getting the world to care. If people care about this, then the political will and the money might be forthcoming.
There are a number of key organizations in this picture, and I’d like to tell you what some of them are. First, is the Food and Agriculture Organization, and The World Health Organization. Both are units of the United Nations. As you can tell from their names, the WHO, which resides in Geneva, cares about health and disease around the world. The Food and Agriculture Organization cares about those issues, and more than ever before, these two organizations are talking to one another. But then also, we have things like the IMF and the World Bank being important players because of international policy regarding money. The humanity of hunger is something I’d like to loop back to and then I’d like to show you a few video clips to end.
Chapter 6. The Humanity of Hunger: Time’s Running Out [00:53:40]
There was a terrific piece in The New York Times Sunday Magazine in 2003 by an award winning author named Barry Barack about why people starve. Here’s the picture of him getting the Pulitzer Prize and he wrote a particular article about this country in Africa, Malawi and the map of it is shown there. Here are some quotes from the article.
Families often endure this hungry period on single meal a day, sometimes nothing more then a forged handful of grains. Last year’s food crisis was the worst in living memory, hundreds and probably thousands Malawians succumbed to the sky of hunger related deaths, even small jolts to the regular food supply can jar open the trap door between what is normal, what is chronic malnutrition, and what is exceptional which is outright starvation. Hunger and disease, then malignly feed off each other, leaving the invisible poor to die in invisible numbers. [Very powerful language being used here, the word invisible of course being key to that.] There is no way to get used to hunger Adeleci told me once, all the time something is moving in your stomach, you feel the emptiness, you feel your intestines moving, they are too empty and they are searching for something to fill up on.
Among those whose perished were Adeleci’s husband Robert and their grown daughter Natadi, Robert, herself the mother of four young sons, the two died within a month of each other unable to subsist on the pumpkin leaves and wild vegetables that had become the families only nourishment. It was strange the way Robert seemed to fade. Before the start of the hungry months it had been he who had kept the family going, leaving before dawn each day to sell firewood or tend someone’s fields, but then work became impossibly scarce and Robert seemed to be using himself up in the search for it at the peak of the crisis there was nothing to do but beg and you were begging from others who needed to beg. Robert grew too weak to work, he and Adelici went to the government hospital where he was treated for malnutrition and later treated for Malaria, then sent home, when they released him the doctors said he needed to eat better or he would die, inevitably there was little food so he began his capitulation and parting final goodbye.
You get a sense from this story of one family how poverty and disease and hunger affect themselves; and how a country in dire straights won’t have work for people, they then can’t afford to buy food. And the cycle begins and ends in such a tragic way. Barack in his article in the Times Magazine said, “Survival’s so precarious, life is lived at the edge of nothingness, usually pushed over the edge.” This fragility, the insecurity, the instability creates quite an impact on societies and the people who live in them.
I’d like to show you several videos that were produced regarding hunger by an organization called The World Food Program that invited individuals, amateurs for the most part, to put together videos dealing with the hunger issue, and I’d like to show you three of them because I think they’re really quite interesting and good, each of them short. I gave you the website so you can go and re-listen to these or watch them again yourself. Here’s one — let’s get going here, sorry I’m not sure why this one’s not loading so well. Okay let’s do one of the others. I’m not sure what’s wrong with the web here, okay let’s try this one maybe we’ll have better luck. Well this is turning out to be an unsatisfying experience, isn’t it? Pardon me — okay let me try — the last one ran fine this morning, let me try this one [video clip].
So let me try to show you — let’s try again to pull up one of the others and see if we can get it to load, there we go [video clip].
Okay, we’ll see you guys next class.
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