Famine, Food, Justice

10 . 07 . 11

There will be no pumpkin bread in this week’s post. No cinnamon-sugar scones, honeycrisp apples, rutabaga mash, baked spinach, and definitely no butternut squash gratin. But there will be F-75, F-100, and Plumpy’nut. This is what food aid looks like in the Horn of Africa right now. Keep Reading…

If you’re looking for a cozy autumnal meal, skip this. Today I’ve baked up a nice PSA for you.

Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti still face the worst famine in the Horn of Africa in 20 years. Remember reading about chronic drought in Eastern Africa this summer? It hasn’t gone away. Barren land and food insecurity has already caused tens of thousands of deaths, and aid agencies say four million people are still acutely malnourished and in need of assistance. At the current rate, widespread starvation and disease will take short of a million more lives by Thanksgiving.

International NGOs working on the ground to distribute medical aid and foodstuffs face immense challenges. In Somalia, a nation wraught with the woes of civil war and radical Islamist militants, aid is not reaching the people who need it most. Shabab-controlled regions continue to suffer as terrorist factions divert and hoard UN WFP food drops and hold Western assistance agencies at bay.

“Food” for famine victims is strictly functional. Plumpy’nut is generally the soup du’jour. It consists of peanut paste fortified with sugar, soy, whey, vitamins and minerals to facilitate rapid weight gain. The sticky, soft substance needs no cooking, and can be eaten straight from the foil packaging. At 500 calories a packet, it takes multiple packets a day for 9-12 weeks to return to baseline nutritional standards. For those who are too sick to eat, doctors treat severe malnutrition with therapeutic milk products like F-75 and F-100 that are made of concentrated milk powder, grease, and dextrin vitamin complexes. In “less critical” areas, rice, cornmeal, vegetable protein, and other non-perishable goods can be distributed.

How lucky are we? When most of us are hungry, we can cook ourselves food. Food insecurity exists in the States, no question, but this kind of depravity is unthinkable. Reading the death tolls in the paper, watching video footage of children gazing into the camera with bloated bellies — it’s easy to feel helpless. We’re here, they’re there. Where do I put my money? Will it even help?

Throwing money at things isn’t always the best solution. How about compassion, empathy? Sure, but without action, nothing changes. The situation in the Horn of Africa is quickly becoming one of the worst humanitarian crises since the early 80′s. Just another line-item on a preposterous list of human travesties that we just sat back and watched, keeping our fingers crossed that government would figure it out.

They won’t. Not without us. The al-Shabab in Somalia are denying relief agencies of their important work of healing the sick. Unacceptable. Not only is this a humanitarian crisis, but it’s a crime. Matt Bryden the coordinator of the U.N. Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group agrees: “without justice, humanitarian assistance alone will have the perverse effect of absolving and even rewarding those responsible for this tragedy.” Justice means food to the sick. Justice means these sick people can heal, grow strong, and take back their state. Justice means corrupt regimes don’t get away with murder. Getting food to the people who need it is step one.

What does this mean for you? Start talking about it. Make some noise. It’s not pumpkin bread. It’s not apple pie. It’s standing up and saying “hey, this isn’t right, people are starving, and there is food aid that they need and can’t get.” We’ve made noise like this before. Remember Live Aid? Well, I wasn’t born yet, but it really helped turn the tide in Ethiopia. Discussing the role of the International Criminal Court over book club might not seem trés chic, but for people who care about food (that’s you, dear reader) this issue should hit home. If donating is your gig, go here. If you’re upset, tell your government. Cut and paste Bryden’s call to action and send it to the people with power.

“The time has come for either the International Criminal Court to become engaged in Somalia, or for a special international tribunal to be established, in order to dismantle Somalia’s deadly culture of impunity. It may seem unrealistic today that leaders of al-Shabaab would ever face trial, but the same could also once have been said about the leaders of the Khmer Rouge or the Bosnian Serbs. And those who have undermined and brought shame upon the Somalian Transitional Government and its affiliates by commodifying their own people, using them as lures for personal profit, are no less guilty and more readily accessible to the reach of international justice.”

  • Kelsey, this is so well written and provoking. I want to know more. Thank you for having the strength to go there.

  • Thanks for this perspective and reminder. It’s “easier” to ignore these truths, but so important for us not to.

  • These are all very inspiring words. I hope this post encourages others to think globally and how they can help. The only way to solve these problems is to start a discourse and get people thinking, just as you did here.

  • Ive watched a number of photo documentaries on this heart breaking situation and it makes my skin crawl at the excess we have here. The obesity problems, the waste, the choices that are short of compassion on our end… thanks so much for this post. You are so right, noise needs to be made.

  • Dave

    Great post! Uncomfortable read… stirring me to do more than sit on my hands. One down…

  • There are many things I could say about this piece — not the least of which is the stated absence of all things “Fall” in a culinary sense. I’ll confess a grin over that. What I appreciate about it most is that you’ve written it and you’ve stated it so well. It’s not often that I see this level of candor on a food site and I appreciate it. Having worked in schools where the poverty rate was 100% and children lived in garages, I can say that hunger in this country is at an alarming level as well. So much needs to be done…

  • Thank you for shining a spotlight on a heartbreaking reality, Kelsey. I read on article on NPR tonight about how Americans throw out 40% of our food—disgusting. Words are failing me, but know that this post made an impact on me.

  • Thank you for having the courage to share this on your blog instead of a more typical gorgeous fall recipe. It’s made a huge impact on me this morning.

  • this is intense. thank you. you are right, food insecurity most certainly does exist here in the states, but nothing on a scale like this. WOW, I am speechless. Thank you for reminding me to not just be grateful for what I have, but to think even more outside the box when helping others from now on. It’s not just about thinking local anymore…

  • What a beautifully written post. Somalia has been in trouble for so many years, and it was years before anyone did anything at all while all the politics of the situation were weighed. And villages were dying. And the assistance now seems so minimal to the horrible reality so many Somalians live. Thanks for writing about this and providing the link to help. Great job.

  • nicely done

  • Such a thoughtful post – thanks so much for taking the time to write about we all need to remember more often.

  • A very well-written and powerful post that brings to light the reality of people who are not so lucky. I feel very grateful for all that I have. I agree that something needs to be done about this and that we can’t just accept their plight as a part of life. Good job.

  • beautifully written and poignant. thank you for sharing; too often food blogs are fluffy- i like that you have the gumption to share important issues. thanks!

  • Emmanuel Levinas says we must “give bread from our mouth”. This means sacrifice. Sacrificing some of our abundance to respond to an other’s hunger. Seems to be a similar sentiment as Tolstoy’s. I try to remember this every time someone asks me for money on the street. Translating this giving to those millions dying of starvation in the Horn of Africa is what I’ve been forgetting to do. Thanks for reminding me, Kelsey.

  • Kelsey- Kudos to you for speaking about something must don’t want to discuss. You are an amazing young woman and I am excited to see how you make your mark in this world.

  • this is a great post, i am so glad i found you in the blogosphere and wished i could share this post on my blog too. thank you so much for taking the time to write about a truly concerning topic- we should definitely be more aware of what is going on in this world.

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