Honor the Hunger

“It honors the hunger in the world when we’re grateful.”

I had the opportunity this weekend to attend a workshop with Nischala Joy Devi, a yogic master who studied for many years under Sri Swami Satchidananda.

One of the things that stood out to me that she said was:

“It honors the hunger in the world when we’re grateful.”

She told us a story about a woman who was visiting a small rural village, and was given a tour by a local boy. He pointed out the important places, like the school and the clinic. They came to a house and the boy stopped. “And in that house,” he said with awe, eyes bright with wonder, “They eat every day.”

For two years, I lived in that village – well, probably not the village in the story, but a village like it. The village was in Niger, in Sub-Saharan West Africa, where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Niger is one of the most food-insecure places in the world, and the Peace Corps mission there was Household Food Security – very simply, working to see that every home consistently had enough to eat, in terms of quantity and quality. It might sound simple, but in a region where farming is very precarious, the Sahara is ever-encroaching, and erratic rain (too much or too little) and locust plagues can destroy a crop and create a famine, it is anything but simple. Hungry Season, the other name for rainy season, is the time of year during planting and field work, the most labor-intensive and food-scarce time of year, when last year’s harvest is running low and this year’s harvest has yet to produce its fruits. It is during Hungry Season when meals are particularly scarce, and it’s not uncommon for people to spend all day in the field and eat, at best, one meal.

When you are accustomed to three square meals a day, plus snacks and whatever else you want, is very easy to forget that not everyone eats every day. It is very easy to forget that you are among the lucky few who have an abundance of food on their plate. Not only do we get to eat, but we have choices – at times, an overwhelming amount of choices. It is easy to take these choices for granted.

When returning to the US from Niger, I remember feeling acutely aware of the overwhelming amount of choices. There is a cliché story about Peace Corps Volunteers coming home and having nervous breakdowns in the supermarket. I, and pretty much every other returned volunteer I knew, had this experience. After living for two years with little choice and little waste, going into a Wal-Mart or a big box supermarket chain is completely incomprehensible. It is hard to imagine how so much plenty and so much want can exist on the same planet, and the juxtaposition is literally mindboggling.

In my first trip to a supermarket, I was with my mother, and after a few minutes of my head wanting to explode, I decided to focus and try to find the one thing I knew I needed – shampoo (not food, I know, but the food part was too much to handle). I stood in the shampoo aisle (because there is an aisle for shampoo), staring for what must have been a long time, at the myriad of choices before me. In Niger, I would have bought the shampoo. The choice was simple because there rarely was one. A woman stood next to me, probably noticing that my jaw was dropped and said, “Too many choices, aren’t there?” Oh, I thought, you have no idea…

The biggest (and only) supermarket in Niger was smaller than the vegetable section of your average supermarket chain. Food was purchased in weekly markets. What was in season was for sale; what wasn’t in season couldn’t be found. You could find select imports, like pasta and tomato paste. But by and large, it was millet, rice, beans, peanut products, okra. Not to mention, people grew most of the food that they consumed. Market was for trading, for selling what you planted to buy something that you didn’t.

Another shock upon return home was the food waste. In Niger, nothing is wasted – there is no such thing as food scraps, as everything has its place. Dinner leftovers become breakfast, rotten food (which rarely happens anyways) or parts that are inedible to humans go to the goats. With this fresh in my mind, I sat at the table and watched leftover pasta get thrown down the garbage disposal. “Nooooooooooo!” my mind screamed, and like a slow-motion scene in a movie I wanted to run to the sink and stop the pasta from ruin. But I knew that stopping the food from going down the drain wouldn’t solve the problem of food inequality – of food waste here, of food lack there; obesity here, malnutrition there; of lack of awareness.

We can honor the hunger in the world by being grateful, but our honor and recognition of hunger need not stop at gratitude. At a personal level, we can be aware of food waste, and try to waste as little as possible. We can also honor hunger by being more aware of and involved in food justice and food security issues, both locally and globally. Unfortunately, no matter where we live, hunger is not far away. Find out about local food issues and see how you can help, such as by donating healthy food to a food bank or volunteering at a soup kitchen. Hopefully if enough of us can honor the hunger in these ways, and more, we might live to see a world where hunger is obsolete.

What are ways that you “honor the hunger in the world”?

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3 thoughts on “Honor the Hunger

  1. Pingback: PeaceMeal with a Yogic Twist, Part 2: Continuing with the Yamas and Niyamas | PeaceMeal Project

  2. Pingback: The Yoga of Food | The Heart of Living Your Yoga

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