Tag Archives: united nations

Award for Best World Food Day message goes to Silverman.

Yesterday was World Food Day, a day to mark the establishment of the Food and Agriculture Organization at the United Nations. This organization was established on October 16, 1945 and its purpose is to make sure that the world gets adequately fed, but their latest report reeks of failures. While we would have loved to have been in Rome to hear the 6th Annual George McGovern World Food Day lecture by Marion Nestle, we were busy teaching high schoolers. And while we weren’t there, we feel good knowing that her comments about the solutions to hunger lie squarely in the social sphere, not the tech-world.

While Bill Gates, who also spoke this week (at the World Food Prize forum), firmly believes that developments in technology (mainly transgenic plants and fertilizers) will play a major role in solving hunger issues, he misdirects his frustrations by blaming environmentalists. He’s correct in asserting that technology has a role to play, but the inability of poor farmers to grow crops is only a small part of the problem facing those starving in the third world. If you want to point fingers, environmentalists are minor and largely irrelevant target. I recommend starting with someone bigger, maybe the World Bank?

For all the hype about the development of new tech-crops, like those of the Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution in the 70s, which produced high-yield rice and wheat (and won him a Nobel prize), we already know what solves hunger: Breastfeeding, clean water and safe food, empowerment of women, education, community food security, sustainable agriculture, and political stability. The technology Gates is talking about has yet to solve such problems, and probably never will (although, I’m open to it!). However, amidst all the passionate calls to end hunger, there was one voice that definitely stood out, and it wasn’t that of Pope Benedict the XVI.

While the Pope called for “determined and effective” action from Rome on World Hunger Day, and said that, “Access to food is more than a basic need, it is a fundamental right of individuals and peoples,” his own organization has the money to meet many of these needs and could do more. Even Jesus told his followers to sell what they had and give it to the poor. While the Catholic Church and its thousands of charities across the globe are known for their dedication to the poor, it’s hard for folks like Sarah Silverman to take the Pope seriously when he has a palace to sleep in. Maybe this is why Silverman decided to call him out. Even though selling the Vatican wouldn’t be enough, it would be helpful.

While the Web site Slashfood.com has recently ranked their “Top 10 Most Awesome Food Mascots,” (the Jolly Green Giant should have been #1), we are giving our own award, and it goes to Sarah Silverman for “Best World Food Day” message of 2009. While many will find her message crude, she has a point: If we say we care, we need to ante up. Which is why I have decided to take Peter Singer’s challenge from his latest book “The Life You Can Save” and give a percentage of my income each month to groups working on these issues. It’s not the only thing I plan to do, but it is one that is vital. To the pope: Do it, sell the Vatican, and feed the 1 billion people who need it. It’s just a building.

– Christopher

p.s. In other news:

Government researchers want to peek in grocery carts

Oregon launches anti-junk food TV ads campaign

Matt Damon Helps With Hunger


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Stephanie Smith, Differences in Aid, and Paul Farmer.

The conversation about food has been both lively and varied this week. Last weekend the New York Times released a feature about Stephanie Smith, a 22-year-old dance teacher whose life has been ruined as a result of eating a hamburger tainted with E. Coli 0157. This moving and educational account of the horror that results from willy-nilly food safety protocols, is a powerful reminder of how far we have to go in order to protect our food supply and our citizens. When asked to comment about meat companies like Cargill, where the meat was traced back to, Smith recounts in the video feature that accompanies the article, “I don’t know how these people sleep at night.”

While Kerri and I are vegan, and don’t eat meat, both of us were moved to sorrow and anger over what happened to this young woman. At the same time, we also, as always, understand the pain and suffering endured by the animal that was served to her. This situation was a double loss, both for the cow, and for Smith as well. As a result of reading this story, it was hard to feel sympathy for the “pain” of those who see the possibility of McDonald’s moving into the Louvre. At the same time, I totally understand their fury about the fact that fast food chain could move into the home of the Mona Lisa.

Yet, towards the end of the week, there was reason to rejoice as the House of Representatives approved an agriculture bill that increased funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps) by $4.3 billion dollars, as well adding $400 million dollars to the Women, Infant, Children feeding program (WIC), and to school aid and child care nutrition programs, who saw an increase of $1.9 billion dollars. We talk about the importance of programs like SNAP in our forthcoming book, and the challenges facing those in poverty within our country. There are those who exploit these federal assistance programs, like an extraordinary example this week where booze, porn, and viagra were being purchased, but the actual fraud rate is minimal (between 2 and 4 percent).

However, while there are 36 million people in the United States who are in need of assistance (12 percent of the population), there are billions of people around the world who have it much worse. Wealthy countries like the U.S., who give the most food aid to poorer nations, have slashed the amount they’re giving to the World Food Programme, leaving the United Nations feeding program about $2 billion dollars short. This means that 40 million people will be directly affected in the coming weeks. Josette Sheeran, head of the WFP at the UN told The Observer, that this could be the “loss of a generation” of children to malnutrition, food riots and political destabilisation. “We are facing a silent tsunami,” Sheeran said. One that she says we haven’t seen since the 1970s.

While this reality is hard to comprehend, Kerri and I were reminded on Thursday that there is hope. We had the chance to hear humanitarian and physician Paul Farmer speak on Thursday, and his level of commitment to those living in poverty across the world over the last 27 years was nothing short of inspiring. For those who have the chance to read “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” Tracy Kidder’s account of Dr. Farmer’s work in Haiti, Peru, and Russia, it is a fascinating and engaging reminder that the most important question that we can ask ourselves is this: How can I use my life to improve the world around me?

– Christopher

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Return from Gotham City.

On our trip to the United Nations in New York City, we learned about Plumpy'Nut, a high protein, peanut-based food used in famin relief.

On our trip to the United Nations in New York City, we learned about Plumpy'Nut, a high protein, peanut-based food used in famine relief.

Kerri and I were in New York City recently, and during that time we spent far more than a dollar a day on food. In fact, I had restaurant outings planned before we left for the trip. Having traveled to the big apple before, there were a few places I wanted to make sure that we visited: Hangwai, Red Bamboo, Candle Cafe, Blossom, and Lula’s Sweet Apothecary, just to name a few.

Yet, what we learned during our visit to the United Nations about feeding programs around the world stood in stark contrast to our extravagant eating patterns as trendy jet-setting idealists. While we were eating seared seitan on my birthday, millions of children were eating Plumpy’Nut; a peanut-based food used for famine relief which was invented by French scientist in 1999. I had never heard of Plumpy’Nut before, and assume that most folks haven’t, so I’ve re-printed some of the basics,

“The Plumpy’nut product is a high protein and high energy peanut-based paste in a foil wrapper. It tastes slightly sweeter than peanut butter. It is categorized by the World Health Organization as a Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF).

Plumpy’nut requires no water preparation or refrigeration, making it easy to deploy in difficult conditions to treat severe acute malnutrition. However, it must be used under medical supervision and the nutritional status of the children has to be clearly identified by a doctor or a nutritionist. It has a two year shelf life when unopened. The product was inspired by the popular Nutella spread. It is manufactured by Nutriset, a French company based in Normandy Rouen, fully dedicated to humanitarian relief, specialized in products to treat malnutrition, used by humanitarian stakeholders (international organisations and non-governmental organisations basically) for distribution. The ingredients are: peanut paste, vegetable oil, powdered milk, powdered sugar, vitamins, and minerals, combined in a foil pouch. Each 92g pack provides 500 kcal or 2.1 MJ.

Plumpy’nut contains vitamins A, B-complex, C, D, E, and K, and minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, iodine, sodium, and selenium.”

As I held the pouch in my hand, I wanted to taste it, but unfortunately they don’t sell Plumpy’Nut at the U.N. coffee shop. However, during our tour of the U.N. we were reminded of the millions of people who are barely getting enough to eat, and the millions more who get sick and die as a result of global poverty.

However, while we live a life far from poverty, New York City isn’t exactly a cheap place to visit.

Traveling can make it difficult to eat affordably, but we managed to pick up a box of cereal, soymilk, and orange juice to eat each day for breakfast. We definitely could have done more “home” cooking, as our hotel had both a refrigerator and a microwave, but part of the experience on holiday is to enjoy the foods available in the part of the world that you’re visiting; and enjoy them we did.

In addition to eating well, seeing some sites, going to The Daily Show and watching the Yankees sweep the Boston Red Sox, we were also lucky enough to sit down with the folks at Hyperion who are working on the release of our book for January. We are very pleased with everything we learned from them, and we’re really excited to have such a supportive group of people to help us bring the book to all of you.

As of now, the first draft of the manuscript is complete, and we’ll be doing editing from here on out.

– Christopher

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