Healing Our World: Weekly Comment

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

Who’s Hungry? Not Those Making the Decisions

"I have a simple philosophy.
Fill what's empty. Empty what's full.
Scratch where it itches."

-- Alice Roosevelt Longworth

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion."

-- Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

With some 780 million people suffering from chronic hunger worldwide, and with 40 million people at risk of starvation on the African continent alone, it is ironic that the people with the power and financial resources to do something about it are feasting 21 times a week. They are themselves dying, succumbing to the diseases that once afflicted only overindulgent kings and queens.


Hungry people gather at the Chilanga Hospice and Children's Day Care Centre, Zambia (Photo courtesy © WFP/B Barton)
It is particularly poignant to reflect on these issues during this time of year when millions of people are overindulging in holiday foods.

Children are the most visible victims of hunger. More than 153 million of the chronically hungry in the world are under the age of five. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, six million children under the age of five die every year as a result of hunger.

Ironically, the world produces plenty of food, more than enough to provide at least 2,720 kilocalories per day per person, which would sustain life very well. Unfortunately, one-sixth of the world’s population is poor, making less than $1 per day. These people are poor customers in a world economy that classifies everything, even life sustaining food and water, as a commodity that only goes to those who can afford it.

The majority of the people of the world who succumb to premature death used to die as the result of a variety of communicable diseases. In the last 10 years, however, that has changed; today, non-communicable conditions kill the most.

Our entire idea of what is killing people has been altered in a groundbreaking set of books entitled “The Global Burden of Disease and Injury Series” by the Harvard Burden of Disease Unit in Massachusetts. Based on a detailed analysis of the causes of the 50 million worldwide deaths in the year 1990, the authors have begun a series of volumes that draw some striking conclusions about what is killing us, projected to the year 2020.

In the less developed countries, the top killers are lower respiratory infections, heart disease, deaths from diarrhoeal diseases contracted by drinking polluted water, tuberculosis, measles, and malaria. Traffic accidents still claim huge numbers, even in less developed countries.

In the developed countries, we are dying prematurely from diseases of excess such as heart disease, which is the number one killer. Strokes, lung cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, and stomach cancer are the next top killers, followed by traffic accidents, self-inflicted injuries, and diabetes.

These diseases come from consuming too many calories, eating excess protein, particularly animal protein, eating too much sugar, and excess substance abuse. When you combine those factors with our sedentary lifestyle and our chemically polluted soil, air, and water, the result is deadly.


Grain based foods (Photo by Keith Weller courtesy USDA Agricultural Research Service)
These non-infectious, lifestyle and environmentally related diseases are also becoming the dominant cause of premature death in areas of the developing world where newly affluent people are consuming more meat, more calories, more sugars, smoking more, and drinking more alcohol. Their list of causes of premature deaths looks more and more like ours the richer they get.

Heart attack tops the list in the developed world. Every 45 seconds in the United States, a diet or lifestyle related heart attack kills someone, and most of the time, that person is a meat eater. The risk of heart attack by the average American male is 50 percent. The risk from heart attack for a vegetarian male is 15 percent and the risk to a vegan male - one who eats no eggs, dairy, or other animal products - is only four percent.

Your risk of having a heart attack is decreased by 90 percent if you eliminate the consumption of meat, dairy products, and eggs from your diet.

Unfortunately, most doctors will be unable to discuss these issues with you. Out of the 125 medical schools in the United States, only 30 require their medical students to take a course in nutrition. In fact, the average U.S. doctor, during his or her four years of medical school, receives barely 2.5 hours of training in the effects of nutrition on the body.

Are you a meat eater who is having turkey for the holidays? Do you think you are doing your part by getting your family a fresh, farm raised bird, free of hormones and additives and displayed proudly in the health food store. Well, think again if you think you are buying a fresh dead animal.


Roast turkey (Photo courtesy Freefoto)
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows the word "fresh" to be applied to a bird carcass that has been stored at 26 degrees Fahrenheit or above! Water freezes at 32 degrees F. The California poultry producers staged a protest of these rules a few years ago at a bowling alley where they used birds stored at 26 degrees F for balls. This was not exactly respectful of the dead creatures, to be sure, but highly illustrative of a maniacal redefinition of a word.

Some people will dispute the importance of taking care of ourselves by eating well and eliminating substance abuse. They will often cite their “90 year old grandfather” who smoked and drank all his life. The fatal flaw with that comparison is that most elders who have lived to that age did not have the sedentary lifestyle that so many of us have adopted. They worked hard in their youth, and that work nearly always involved extensive exercise. And they did not have all the complex substances that permeate our foods today.

Our relationship with food, just like our relationship with the natural world, is disconnected and distorted. We must first acknowledge that hunger is mostly an economic issue that can only be solved by redefining access to food as a right that every being on the planet - human and non-human - has, and is not a commodity that only those with the means can have.

Next, we must make direct connections between what we eat and how we feel, and turn those connections into profound personal lifestyle changes.

Eat less this holiday season, reduce your meat consumption, and craft a family meal that is to live for – not to die for.


1. Learn about world hunger from the World Hunger Education Service at: http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm

2. See the United Nations report on “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2002” at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/x8200e/x8200e00.htm

3. Get help changing your dietary habits from EarthSave: http://www.earthsave.org/

4. Check out Food Not Bombs at: http://home.earthlink.net/~foodnotbombs/ and learn how to feed the hungry in your community.

5. Dr. John McDougall can help you redefine your relationship with food – and maybe even save your life. Check him out at: http://www.drmcdougall.com/index.asp

6. Learn about many food issues from the Organic Consumers Association at: http://www.purefood.org/index.htm

7. Find out who your elected representatives are and e-mail them. Tell them you will not tolerate the use of food as a weapon of trade or war. You can find them at http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.asp

{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle and the author of "Healing Our World", A Journey from the Darkness Into the Light," available at: http://www.xlibris.com/HealingOurWorld.asp or your local bookstore. His new book of photographs and thoughts on interconnectedness, “Of This Earth, Reflections on Connections,” is now available. Learn about it at: http://ofthisearth.org. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at: jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his website at: http://www.healingourworld.com}