As a North American traveling and doing research on hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, I’m often struck by the contrasts between the United States and whichever country I happen to be in. The abundance and cheapness of food in the U.S. is something, I have to admit, I miss.
In Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, where I’ve spent the last month, drought has exacerbated already high food prices, millions of livestock have starved to death, and 23 million people in the horn of Africa are at risk for starvation. But when I opened the paper on Monday, I was struck by the irony of just how similar Africans and Americans can be.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity in the United States, the richest country in the world, is at a 14-year high. Forty-nine million people in the U.S. lack what the USDA calls consistent access to adequate food. This increase of 13 million over the last year, according to the New York Times, was more dire than even the most pessimistic predictions about how the economy was impacting peoples’ daily lives.
While Americans aren’t starving because of lack of access to food, it’s troubling that poor families are cutting back on food purchases, which can have a whole range of impacts on child health. Single family homes headed by women, says USDA, are the worst off—another reminder that, just as here in Africa, women and children tend to suffer the most from poverty and food insecurity.
Meanwhile the World Food Summit is wrapping up in Rome this week and very little has been said, so far, about environmentally sustainable ways of alleviating hunger and poverty in rich and poor countries alike. As the effects of climate change become more and more evident and the global economic crisis continues, the world needs better ways of producing food that nourish both people and the planet.