Like many people, I’ve heard with increasing horror about the latest emerging famine in Somalia. Tales of children starving to death after more failed harvests have shocked us in a country where food is bountiful and often, wasted. It has only been six years since the last major famine in Somalia which left a quarter of a million people dead, a shocking statistic in these supposedly advanced times that we live in. What I can’t get over though is the huge gulf between ‘us’ and ‘them’ when it comes to food.
On one side of the world, a drought occurs and the consequence is so severe that millions of people are displaced, left hungry and searching for food whilst their loved ones die along the way. There is obviously no significant store of food, no back up for when the weather or nature doesn’t behave accordingly. And on the flip-side, here in the UK (and most of Europe), we have food coming out of our ears. Our supermarkets, lit by their bright lights, are eternally stocked, drawing us in with their bargains and offers. The average family in the UK throws away around £500 worth of edible food each year (a staggering 7.3 million tonnes nationwide). Our cupboards are often stacked to the hilt with tins and packets and perishable goods. We have the luxury of choice and not just a little choice but a veritable smorgasbord of delicious edibles are on offer. We can cook from scratch, we can buy ready meals, order take out, eat at restaurants. We can feast on Italian cuisine, Indian delicacies, Mexican street food, seafood…anything our hearts or bellies desire.
We’ve come a long way from the ‘meat and 2 veg’ of earlier decades and even longer since food was simply a necessity for survival, something that was consumed for fuel with little more thought beyond where the next meal was coming from. Obviously I, like most people, am a big fan of food and love the fact that we can enjoy it more than we used to. But when I think about how primitive (and not guaranteed) it still is for millions of people all over the world, I can’t help but feel guilty. As always, I have no answers. Of course there are charities that I could donate to and I intend to try and find out who is able to directly help those suffering the most.
However, I suspect the problem is bigger, it’s systemic. I’m sure I’ve read that there is enough food for everyone in the world to survive and more. But it is not distributed evenly, not at all. And I don’t know how we can change that. It can only happen if led by governments and international governing organisations. I don’t think though that that is an excuse to bury our heads in the sand, ignore and carry on though. We can at least try to adjust our own consumer habits to make our tiny difference to things. We can stop buying food that we don’t need, stop throwing away things that we can still eat. We can try to buy food that is in season or produced locally. It’s not always possible but perhaps if we were all just a little bit more considered in our approach to food, we would start to see things shift for the better. Call me a naïve optimist if you will but I’d rather try than not. There must be a healthy mid point between feasting and famine.