I want to learn all I can, live as wisely as I can, and savor every moment on the journey.
One Way I’ve Been Learning Lately
For the past few years, while working full-time and writing whenever I can, I’ve taken online courses one at a time from West Virginia University. (Maybe eventually I will finish a real [accredited] degree…but even if not, I love to learn, so I consider these courses a worthwhile investment of my money and time.) So far, I’ve taken Landmarks of World Art, Introduction to Anthropology, American Indian History, and Introduction to Nutrition. I absolutely loved them all!
I took Intro to Nutrition this semester, and I am so glad I did. I learned so much about food, the body, chemistry, health, illnesses, drugs, life stages, and more—I wish I could tell you everything I learned, but where would I begin?
However, there is one thing in particular that I want to tell you about.
The Cycle of Hunger, Poverty, and Overpopulation
The very last chapter of the textbook (which is Understanding Nutrition, 13th edition, by Ellie Whitney and Sharon Rady Rolfes: Wadsworth, 2013) is called “Hunger and the Global Environment.” Among other topics, it discusses the issues of poverty, hunger, and population growth in developing countries. It presents a cyclical cause-and-effect theory of these issues that I had never heard before and that I find really interesting.
(But I know that I’m a sucker for great cause-and-effect theories, so I’m open to the possibility that this one may be flawed. But apparently, similar versions of this theory have been put forth by plenty of others, such as Bill Gates.)
“Nearly 99% percent of population increase takes place in poor countries.”
Here’s the cycle in visual form:
And here’s how it works. Obviously, overpopulation in poor areas leads to hunger and poverty by creating more mouths to feed; ever-growing urban populations also reduce land available for growing food.
But not as obviously, hunger and poverty also lead to overpopulation: in areas of unstable living conditions where there is limited access to healthcare, clean water, and adequate food and shelter, parents often choose to have many children because 1) this leads to better chances for one or more of the children to grow up instead of die in infancy or childhood, as many children do in such areas because of malnutrition and disease, and 2) children who do live can then work and help support the family.
Therefore, the solution to the problem of overpopulation is to first solve the problems of hunger and poverty. (Easier said than done, of course!) Please forgive the following long quotes from the textbook, because I don’t feel I can do better than its succinct elucidation:
“When people attain better access to healthcare, education, and family planning, the death rate falls. At first, births outnumber deaths, but as the standard of living continues to improve, families become willing to risk having fewer children. Then the birth rate falls. Thus improvements in living standards help to stabilize the population.
“The link between improved economic status and slowed population growth has been demonstrated in several countries. Central to achieving this success is sustainable development that includes not only economic growth, but a sharing of resources among all groups. Where this has happened, population growth has slowed the most: in parts of Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Costa Rica, for example. Where economic growth has occurred but only the rich have grown richer, population growth has remained high. Examples include Brazil, the Philippines, and Thailand, where large families continue to be a major economic asset for the poor.” (page 666)
Poverty and hunger are also cyclical with each other, as the textbook points out:
“Not only does poverty cause hunger,” [in the obvious sense of not having enough money to buy food] “but tragically, hunger worsens poverty by robbing a person of the good health and the physical and mental energy needed to be active and productive. Hungry people simply cannot work hard enough to get themselves out of poverty. Providing nourishment is a necessary investment in the well-being of both individuals and nations.” (page 664)
(Here the textbook cites a paper by T. Atinmo and coauthors called “Breaking the poverty/malnutrition cycle in Africa and the Middle East” [Nutrition Reviews 67 (2009): 540-546].)
So at the extremes seen in developing countries, hunger leads to poverty, and widespread poverty leads to overpopulation, which leads right back to hunger, and the cycle goes on.
To me, this information is not only interesting and eye-opening; it’s also motivating, because it gives me something to focus on—world hunger and poverty relief.
“Most people cannot grasp the severity of poverty in the developing world. Of the world’s 7 billion people, 25 percent have no land and no possessions at all…they survive on little more than $1 a day each, and they lack safe housing, clean water, and health care.” (page 664)
“Worldwide, one person in every eight experiences persistent hunger…Tens of thousands of people die of hunger-related causes each day—one child every 5 seconds.” (page 659)
This is very sad.
It’s humbling to look my privilege-guilt in the face and realize that even if I gave away every cent of my money and devoted myself to feeding hungry people, it would barely make a dent in the problem worldwide. But that also doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t make any difference and that because I can’t fix the whole problem I shouldn’t even bother my comfortable little head about these far-off, too-big-for-me-to-solve problems.
On the contrary. I may not be able to single-handedly solve world hunger, and I’m not prepared to sacrifice my life for the cause, but I can donate money now and then to one of the many reputable organizations that are working hard to make a difference. I can also donate some time and energy to my local food bank to help the hungry here at home, of whom there are far too many.
I can do something, however small. And in general, I can try to stay more aware of these problems, compassionate for those suffering from them, and open to other ways in which I might be able to help.