Improve the world from our kitchen table

Maurice Bloem | February 14, 2013

Briana Concepcion, 7, sits in front of grain silos that are part of CWS-supported work in Aguas Calientes, Carazo, Nicaragua. Photo: Sean Hawkey/CWS

Briana Concepcion, 7, sits in front of grain silos that are part of CWS-supported work in Aguas Calientes, Carazo, Nicaragua. Photo: Sean Hawkey/CWS

People who know me have heard me say at more than one occasion that ending hunger and malnutrition is possible in our lifetime. I know that there are still skeptics but we really do know what is required to make this a reality. For one we need to ensure that we give a child the proper start by ensuring that a child in the first 1,000 days (from conception until the child is 2 years old) gets the proper nutritious food.  And we need to recognize that root causes of hunger and malnutrition are multi-factored and rooted in poverty and inequality.

While we work directly on those root causes, we know what the strategies on preventing chronic malnutrition are. In the short term it means that we need to ensure adequate nutrient intake by adding complementary food and food supplements to young children’s diets. Of course, we also need to advocate for strengthening social protection systems and including a focus on women’s roles.

And maybe we need to go even as far as totally reframing and rethinking the global food systems, as Ellen Gustafson believes.

Ellen Gustafson is CEO and co-founder of the FoodTank and 30Project. In herTedTalks she further explains her thinking. I was fortunate to hear Gustafson speak recently. Gustafson said (and I agree with her) that it is not only about feeding the world, but more importantly about feeding the world well. This problem is not only leading to almost 1 billion hungry people, but also to 1 billion obese people. These two phenomena are both seen in and outside of the United States. Globally, the WHO projects that by 2015, about 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese.

Gustafson thinks that the problem can only be solved by changing our broken food system. She mentions a number of problems that we are facing today — for example, that three-quarters of products on supermarket shelves contain soy, corn or wheat which are the result of agricultural subsidies. These subsidies are part of the U.S. Farm Bill. This support of the federal government started during the Great Depression and was of great importance in giving temporary assistance to U.S. farmers by paying them extra when crop prices were low. At present though, the benefits flow mainly to large producers of corn and soy who really don’t need extra support. Gustafson rightly points out that the export of U.S. corn is a key reason why since 1980, the production of corn in Africa has fallen 14 percent.

Gustafson would like to see easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables for every person on the planet – instead of corn-laden chicken nugget or corn syrup-sweetened drinks. Some experts say that this could be achieved in the U.S. if subsidies and insurance programs would be more widely extended to fruit and vegetable producers as well.

Indeed as Ellen Gustafson says: we have the power to improve our health, our communities and the world… from our kitchen table. She is expected to elaborate more of her vision in her first book, expected in the spring of 2014.

My own personal drive to buy and eat more sustainable products came after seeing the film Food Inc. One way of doing this is by direct farm-to-consumer purchasing, something that is also available in the CWS NY office building or in many cities and towns in the U.S. If you Google “community supported agriculture” or “community shared agriculture” you will find out where you can purchase vegetables and fruit on a weekly basis while supporting one or more local farms. I hope that more people will follow Gustafson’s advice.

By Maurice Bloem, Executive Vice President of CWS
Follow Maurice on Twitter:  @mauricebloem