Back during the holidays, I did a story on the “Silent Guest Program” that fought hunger after World War II. Americans were asked to set a place at their table during the holidays and “take in” a guest from one of the starving war-torn countries. Donating the cost of feeding this “silent guest” would result in a CARE package delivered to a needy person.
A once-aspiring actress, Iris Gabriel, was the founder of “Silent Guest.” She was part of the food for peace movement which emerged after the war.
Gabriel saw the “Silent Guest” as an example of how food “would bind all races, cultures, and religions in a common goal—peace.” This is a message worth repeating again and again. For it is in building food security that we can make our best investment toward peace.
There are nearly one billion people worldwide today who suffer from hunger. A “silent tsunami” of high food prices or a natural disaster like those we’ve recently seen in Haiti and Pakistan can raise that number very quickly.
Hunger can crush a society, and even entire generations. There are millions of infants each year in developing countries whose lives are on the line because of lack of nutrients. Malnutrition in infants can cause severe and lasting physical and mental damage.
Next month is the “Feeding Minds: 1,000 Days Plus” conference in Egypt, which will be hosted by World Food Programme director Josette Sheeran and Egypt’s First Lady, Suzanne Mubarak. The lead-up to this vital meeting will be an opportunity to bring attention to infant feeding programs that are facing major funding shortages. Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Afghanistan are some of the affected countries.
There must also be increased emphasis on feeding school-age children. The World Food Program USA says, “There are currently 66 million children in the world’s poorest countries who attend school hungry.” If food could be provided at school for every child in the world, this would have a remarkable positive effect.
Food improves nutrition and learning capability. Food can keep the kids coming to school and learning. Food can encourage parents to send kids to school who might otherwise be kept home to work.
Also, increasing the education level of girls can have long-term benefits for reducing child mortality rates. Improved education levels create a domino effect of good things for a society, and food is the catalyst.
In short, if you want to change the world, start with a school lunch for all kids; and for newborns, their own feeding program to ensure proper nutrients.
Does this sound expensive for the international community to fund? Well, in 2009 the world spent $1.53 trillion on military forces. Even if you shaved off $5 billion from that, you could make a huge dent in the child hunger crisis.
Investing in Food for Peace is a relatively inexpensive foreign policy initiative and it can produce some lasting results. When you combine food programs with boosting agricultural productivity in a given country, then you are really cooking.
Improving nutrition across the globe will save a lot of money over the long term. Coupled with more education, better nutrition will result in a lower incidence of disease among world populations. It will also serve as the foundation for enhancing economies.
Countries struggling from hunger today can someday realize a goal of being food sufficient and secure. Iris Gabriel once wrote of Americans, “silently eating a few kernels of parched corn just before the Thanksgiving feast begins to remind them of the starving time of the Pilgrim Fathers. America…started from very humble beginnings a little over 300 years ago.”
In 2011, food for peace should be the theme, for the pursuit of food security is one all nations share, and one we can help each other to obtain.