personal reflections on human rights...and other stuff

World Obesity & World Food Days: Gross lima beans, or a gross sausage on a stick?

I'm sure the timing is not coincidental: World Obesity Day is this Friday, October 15. The day after is World Food Day. Browsing on Twitter this morning, I came across AlertNet's "6 Revolting Breakfasts That Might Just Kill You Before Lunch." The clear winner for me in this category goes to Jimmy Dean's Pancakes and Sausages on a Stick. With chocolate chips, no less. How desperate must one be to scoff down a processed chocolate-meat flavoured Pogo to start their day?

The juxtaposition of the World Obesity and Food Days should give us pause for reflection. Here in Canada, 17.9% of adults reported height and weight that classified them as obese. Recent statistics from the World Food Programme indicate that 925 million people around the world do not have enough to eat; 98% of them live in developing countries.

When I write "pause for reflection," I like to think of some action or actions that would actually make a difference, at least for those in developed countries. Growing up here in Montreal, my mother put food on my plate and, well, I had to eat it. All of it, no matter how gross it was (lima beans are gross). If I didn't, she pulled out the lame argument that there were children dying in Africa who would be happy to have the meal I found revolting. While that worked on my guilt to a certain extent, after a while I thought, I can't bring this food to Africa anyway, so what does it matter?


It does matter in terms of the demand that we as consumers have for food. To take but one example, the cost of meat production around the world has risen in a staggering way in the last few decades. And the hidden costs of a kilogram of meat are significant, from the amount of grain produced to feed the livestock, to the amount of water required for them, to shipping costs. The United Nations food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one fifth of the world's greenhouse gases are attributable to livestock production. So if you want to save the planet (at least in one small way), try to cut down on your meat consumption. It might be better for your health, too, but since I'm not a vegan, I'm not in a position to weigh in on that. I love the smell of bacon in the morning.

When days like the upcoming obesity/food combo creep up on my calendar, my mind has a tendency to focus on stories that help shape my thinking on the issue. In 1993 I went to live in Malawi, and within three months dropped over ten kilograms because I ate so poorly. (My cooking skills were limited to pressing buttons on the microwave.) One day I asked my worker Jonathan to go to the local grocery store, the Kandodo, to buy a few items. On the list was spaghetti. He asked me what that was, so i described it as best I could. He came back with a package of noodles labeled "spaghetti," locally made in Blantyre. The package was filled with weevils. I told him thanks, but I couldn't eat it and threw it in the trash. Upon leaving he took the package out of the garbage and put it in his bag. It was easy back home in Montreal to throw away food I didn't want, it was another to realize that my trash was someone else's meal.

All right, time to feed my kids breakfast.



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