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Practical Solutions to World Hunger
By Paul Turner
IVU News - August 1999

World Poverty

A mother and her children receiving a free meal in Vrindavan, India

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than one billion people in the world today live in poverty. Jeremy Rifkin, author of Beyond Beef - the Rise and Fall of the Cattle Industry, comments: "Increased poverty has meant increased malnutrition. On the African continent nearly one in every four human beings is malnourished. In Latin America, nearly one out of every eight people goes to bed hungry each night. In Asia and the Pacific, 28 percent of the people border on starvation, experiencing the gnawing pain of perpetual hunger. In the Near East, one in ten people are underfed."

In Somalia, a United Nations report states that a majority of the rural population has already exhausted food supplies and is at present limited to eating one scanty meal a day. In the war-torn regions of Kosovo, tens of thousands of refugees still struggle with meager rations.

World hunger is a serious problem. We have given just a glimpse of this escalating human tragedy. The compelling truth is that never before in human history has such a large percentage of our species - nearly 20 percent - been malnourished. Between 40 million and 60 million people die each year around the world from hunger and related diseases. Sadly, the toll is heaviest on the world's children.

Malnutrition

In his forward to UNICEF's 1998 "State of the World's Children" report, Secretary General Kofi Anan spells out a simple but most pressing truth.

"Sound nutrition can change children's lives, improve their physical and mental development, protect their health and lay a firm foundation for future productivity. Over 200 million children in developing countries under the age of five are malnourished. For them, and for the world at large, this message is especially urgent. Malnutrition contributes to more than half of the nearly 12 million under-five deaths in developing countries each year. Malnourished children often suffer the loss of precious mental capacities.

Malnutrition is now readily linked to the poor growth of children and adolescents, low-birth weight babies, and a child's capacity to resist illness.

The right to good nutrition

However far-reaching the benefits of nutrition may be, ensuring good nutrition is also a matter of international law. The right to proper nutrition receives its fullest and most commanding expression in the UN's 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Under the Convention, virtually every government in the world recognizes the right of all children to the highest attainable standard of health - specifically including the right to good nutrition.

Under the Convention's pre-eminent guiding principle, good child nutrition is a right because it is in the "best interests of the child."

Article 24 of the Convention specifies that States parties must take "appropriate measures" to reduce infant and child mortality, and to combat disease and malnutrition through the use of readily available technology and through the provision of adequate, nutritious foods and safe drinking water.

Considering the above, we can only conclude that every human being on the planet is obligated to alleviate child malnutrition on the basis of international law, scientific knowledge, practical experience and basic human morality.

Hunger in a world of plenty

At the United Nations World Food Summit in Rome in 1996, the theme for the large international gathering was "Hunger in a World of Plenty." United Nations representatives and NGO's from around the world met to discuss ways to solve this pending global crisis that continues to escalate and challenge the conscience and sustainability of humankind in the twenty-first century. The meeting's secretary general Dr. Kay Killings-worth explained that the problem was not insufficient food production but inequitable distribution. "The result is that the food does not reach the needy."

Making our lives expressions of our spirit

Author of the bestselling Diet for a New America, John Robbins writes: "The existence of so much hunger in the world is a reality we cannot deny. It is a reality that challenges us deeply: it asks us to become more fully human." Robins argues that the world hunger problem is not only the responsibility of the United Nations, but of every human being on the planet. "When we remember those who are without food," says Robins, "something is awakened within us. Our own deeper hungers come to surface - our hungers to live fully, to bring our lives into alignment with our compassion, to make our lives expressions of our spirits."

A worldwide mission to feed and educate

Food for Life, a humanitarian mission of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), is one vegetarian group trying to make a difference in the lives of the world's hungry. Their mission "to bring about a peaceful and prosperous world through the liberal distribution of sanctified vegetarian food" has a twofold strategy:
  1. Feeding programs
    1. Free food restaurants
    2. Budget restaurants
    3. Emergency relief
    4. Home delivery (meals on wheels)
    5. Shelters (homeless, single women)
    6. School and college feeding programs
    7. Food distribution at temples
    8. Cultural/religious festivals
  2. Moral Education
    1. Sales of vegetarian cookbooks
    2. Interfaith meetings
    3. Networking with church groups
    4. Media relations
    5. Religious publications

How can vegetarians and vegans contribute?

Since malnutrition is such a fundamental factor of world hunger, every year vegans and vegetarian groups spend large portions of their budget educating the public about the value of plant-based nutrition. However, is this really enough?

Having visited more than fifty countries to help establish feeding programs, my experience has shown me that the more practical solution of directly serving a hot vegetarian meal to a hungry person has a far more tangible effect on their stomach at that time than any million dollar education program. Don't get me wrong. Both programs have their merit. The saying that by teaching someone to grow food you can feed them for life still holds true. However, the right circumstances may not always be available and so aside from the efforts of groups like "Food not Bombs" and "Food for Life" there has not been much "practical" relief activity from the vegetarian/vegan community.

I feel there is a need to change this imbalance. Here are some practical steps to do just that.

  1. Feeding programs
    The vegetarian/vegan community could take the following actions:
    1. Budget vegan restaurants
    2. Home delivery (meals on wheels)
    3. Shelters (homeless, single women)
    4. School and college vegetarian clubs
    5. Financial support for existing relief work
The practical strategies outlined above are very similar to Food for Life's with the exception of free restaurants, emergency relief and temple distribution. Offering financial support to vegan/vegetarian relief agencies is a simple way to achieve the same.
  1. Nutrition education to Opinion Leaders
    1. UNICEF
    2. World Food Program (WFP)
    3. Networking with relief agencies
    4. Networking with church groups
    5. Media relations
    6. Government publications
    7. Education Department
    8. Health Department
All of the above organizations and publics could be presented with professionally packaged kits containing the latest scientific studies supporting a plant-based diet. These kits could be produced by IVU and sold to member agencies. A very important consideration in information distribution programs is the need for consistency. The information should come from one source, IVU.

Conclusion

We strongly believe that it is the responsibility of every human being on the planet to take action to eradicate malnutrition that is killing upwards of 12 million children every year. This has been pointed out by many leading vegetarians and confirmed by the United Nations 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. Despite the efforts of many relief agencies, world hunger is on the rise.

Vegetarian and vegan communities around the world should accept the challenge to establish local feeding programs and educate not just the masses but the world opinion leaders about the global benefits of a plant-based diet. The hungry children of the developing world are depending on you.

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