“There a billion people in the world who are chronically hungry. There are a billion people in the world who are overweight.”
It’s 4am and I’m awake, actually, I have been for a few hours. This is not an uncommon occurrence for the past decade or so – always too much cluttering my mind. Anyway, I’m enjoying breakfast, my first of three fresh, well-prepared, nutritious meals of the day, sitting next to the radiator in my comfortable home thinking about the day ahead. Maybe it was a result of watching the tragedy in Ukraine unfolding on live television last night, or reflections on my own good fortune, but I just couldn’t get past that feeling of embarrassment for all that I have.
As I sipped on a hot cup of tea, I started to Google some frightening statistics that I was somewhat cognizant of, but suddenly fully away of the have’s and have nots. The opening quote from Mark Bittman – author and New York Times columnist, was a starting point. So, I thought that it might be helpful for all of us, the ones who have a computer or smart phone at the ready to read this article, to pay attention to the dichotomy.
- 10% of the world lives on less than $2 per day. Sure, I worked hard all my life and earned the comfort of retirement investments and my monthly social security check, but man – $2 per day!
- There are 56.1 million – millionaires in the world and 2,800 billionaires. Let that sink in for a minute and then re-read the previous statistic.
- The average American spends $3,000/year in some type of restaurant. OK, I shouldn’t complain about this – the restaurant industry allowed me to be where I am and “thank you” for spending your hard-earned money there, but an enormous number of people worldwide will not only never see a restaurant, but they may also not see their next meal of boiled rice for some time.
- Two billion people worldwide suffer from some form of malnutrition. Hmmm, that’s 25% of the world’s population. So, when any one of us grumbles about missing a meal or portions a bit too small we need to think about how many people wish that they were in our shoes.
- 12.5% of American families are food insecure. Wait a minute – this is the richest country in the world, we are one of the top agricultural countries in the world, we have an incredible food distribution system and more restaurants per capita than anywhere else – we couldn’t possibly have that many people wondering about when their next meal will be available. Or could we?
- One–third of world food production is wasted, and the figure is the same in the U.S. So, what they are saying is that the food is there, but we simply fail to get it in the hands of the hungry. Really? How could this be? All that food on farms, in grocery stores, and in restaurant coolers, winds up as waste? Yikes! If it doesn’t look quite as pristine, if it has a bruise, or if it is a day or two old – your local grocery store and restaurant is likely to toss it in the trash while one-third of their neighbors are hungry. How could that be? (I take another sip of my tea)
- 785 million people worldwide do not have access to potable water. Time to start my daily health routine by drinking the first of 6-8 classes of water a day, right before I take a 10-minute shower. I look out my window at the lake below my house, the one I take for granted and suddenly realize how precious that glass of water is.
- Here’s a telling statistic: 63 million children worldwide, between the ages of 6-11 will not be able to attend school. Oh, but 525 million people have a college degree – I’m one of them, in fact, I have three degrees. Talk about cause and effect. How is it possible that this many people are unable to have access to a basic advantage?
- 150 million people worldwide are homeless. I look around my house – it is small but comfortable, sits on ½ an acre of land overlooking a lake, we are able to take good care of it and occasionally change the décor in a room or two, buy new towels for the bathrooms, replace battered china and glassware, and relish the memories of raising three children here and welcoming those grandkids a few times a year. There are 150 million people who are unable to say this. How could this be? Some live in shelters while many simply curl up in an alley and try to get through another day without a roof over their heads. My tea is getting cold now.
- As I watch families struggling to leave their homes in Ukraine and find shelter in Poland or Romania, I decide to Google any data on refugees worldwide. According to the Danish Refugee Counsel there are 82 million refugees worldwide – people who are forcibly displaced from their home country (this is a statistic BEFORE the war in Ukraine.) Gulp. 82 million people who only want the basic right to live in their home country and carry on with their lives. They leave jobs, traditions, family, and generations of memories to find safety from oppression. They may very well become part of that homeless population soon. I stare out my window again and give silent thanks for the country where I live, the democracy that we often take for granted, the ability to speak my mind and even point out mistakes and shortcomings of our leaders, and shudder to think what it would be like if all of that was lost.
- I drift away for a moment and shake my head about the price of gas when I filled up my car yesterday. The price was over $4/gallon. I searched for price comparisons to other countries: France $8.23, Denmark $9.70, Germany $9.12, Italy $9.08, and this list goes on. Oh, what am I complaining about? How many people in the world will never own a car, let alone find themselves complaining about a gallon of gas.
Anyway, I’m still awake, even more so now. I shake my head and put the kettle on to make another cup of tea. How fortunate am I? How fortunate are we? We have so much opportunity, we have more than we need. My refrigerator is full, my home is comfortable and paid for, I have resources that I saved for 50 years, we are healthy, well-educated, and able to speak our minds. I drink water with reckless abandon, and plan meals with fresh, available ingredients without giving adequate thought to all who are unable to say the same.
This is a world of the have’s and have nots. A world that isn’t fair and seems unable to contemplate what that means. We must take time to understand this and find ways to help rectify the wrongs.
As a former chef and educator, I must do what I am able to do. I spread the word, support organizations like World Central Kitchen, Habitat for Humanity, and UNICEF’s Help for Ukrainian Children, C-CAP, local food pantries, and most importantly never take for granted what I have.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
SUPPORT THEIR WORK:
World Central Kitchen
Habitat for Humanity
UNICEF – Help the children of Ukraine
C-CAP – Culinary Education for underserved communities
Jake Brach said:
Good morning Chef Paul, Thought provoking article to start my week. My work at Rich Products really focuses on this topic now, and we are working everyday to reduce food insecurity in the Buffalo NY area, and across NYS to help agencies in their mission to help people in need. Would be happy to discuss this topic voice to voice with you if you would like.