Hunger in the world persists. It is tempting to think of it as a really complex, at times overwhelming problem. It involves issues including overpopulation, distribution of resources, education and politics. It brings up strong emotions of despair, fear, greed and guilt.
And yet, world hunger, more than any other ‘problem’ may be the opportunity for us to experience our interconnectedness in an unprecedented way. When viewed from a global perspective the inequities seem glaring and the solution obvious. Consider these statistics:
- It has been estimated by the UNDP, UNFPA, and UNICEF that the total cost of providing basic social services in the developing countries, including health, education, family planning, clean water, and all of the other basic social goals agreed on at the World Summit for Children, would be in the region
of an additional $30 to $40 billion (US) a year, two thirds of which would come from the developing countries themselves.
- In America, the National Institute of Health estimates that the annual cost of obesity related health care is 39.2 billion dollars. In addition Ameri- cans spend 33 billion dollars annually on weight-re- duction products and services, including diet foods, products, and programs. Based on NIH criteria, 58 million or about one third of Americans are over- weight. (I am using 1995 American statistics here because they are readily available. Obviously the combined figures for ‘developed’ countries would be much larger, and this is not a problem confined to America.)
- The Hunger Project estimates that some 10 million people die every year due to hunger related causes.
A causal relationship could be seen here, i.e. people are starving on the planet because others are eating too much. This view makes the ‘have too muchs’ automatically responsible for the ‘have nots’ and results in feelings of guilt and helplessness – not only do they have to live with being overweight, they now have to take responsibility for others starving.
The radical idea is to entertain the reverse notion as equally true: ie. People are eating too much on the planet because others are starving!
There is actually some good scientific support for this idea. In the 1930’s, a Russian called Sergei Speransky conducted some interesting, if unpleas- ant experiments on mice. In one experiment he divided a community of mice in half, placed them in different locations and proceeded to starve one group.
The amazing thing that he found was that the other group began to eat much more even though they had sufficient food. It was as if some subtle sympathetic communication was at work. (He next started killing one group, and the other group began reproducing at an increased rate, but … let’s leave that issue for another article on over-population.)
This idea has powerful ramifications. It indicates that there are deep connections at work between biologically-related beings, even though ap- parently separated by geographic or national boundaries. Perhaps the fact of our essential unity communicates itself unconsciously through our biology.
In the light of this idea, those with overeating issues could begin to view themselves, not as those ma- jorly responsible for world hunger, but as those most sensitive and unconsciously sympathetic to it. Their weight issue is a symptom, then, of their sensitivity to humanity, not of their lack of humanity.
The balanced point of view is that many food related problems from starvation to overeating, anorexia, etc, may at least in part be attributed to the same underlying root – the lack of realisation of our essential unity.
Our illusion of separateness is the origin of fear, and the fear is what generates the uneven distribution of resources on the planet.
Many proposed solutions to the issue of world hunger also have fear or its offsider, guilt as the driving force behind them and often result in a further division between the ‘giver’ and ‘recipient’ of ‘aid’.
It is the developed nations, where there is plenty, that the greatest contributor to illness and death is overeating. Those in the developed nations are dying just as quickly from overconsumption as those in the underdeveloped nations are dying from ‘underconsumption’. If we become aware of our relationship, our biological interdependence with the rest of humanity, we see that it is in each individual’s best interests to distribute food more evenly.
The next step would be to allow the unconscious sympathetic response to move out of the body and become conscious by addressing it directly. Instead of spending money on diet and exercise programmes which do not address the underlying issue, that money could be used to respond consciously to the food needs of others. Instead of charity, money given becomes a real investment in human welfare, which directly impacts the health of the giver. Giving money to those in need becomes the new dieting programme!
This ‘radical’ view of the relatedness between hunger and obesity has the capacity to generate a partnership that recognises and acts on our underlying unity. If we are, at root, One, expressing through many diverse bodies on this planet, it may help us to remember that at mealtimes. When we hear that little voice inside wanting an extra slice of pie, we could ask ourselves, ”Which part of Us is hungry?”