When you see that spot of gray fur on a loaf of bread, do you: A) ignore it and eat the bread anyway, B) pick off the mold and keep the rest of the loaf, or C) throw away the entire loaf of bread? Depending on your current situation, your choice may change. Consider this: 1 out of 7 people in the world is hungry, with many of those hungry people living in desperate poverty levels. I think about this fact, and then I look at western culture and try to understand why people opt for this procedure:
Ladies (and gentlemen), this is the newest craze in dieting. Vernacularly, it’s called the feeding tube diet, but professionals are calling it the K-E diet. For this procedure, a feeding tube is inserted through the nostril, down the esophagus, and into the stomach. For the duration of the diet, the dieter is “fed” no-carbohydrate nourishment for 10 days, which results in rapidly reaching ketosis, or the state in which one’s body burns fat instead of sugar. However, unlike other protein-heavy diets, like the Atkins diet, for example, this one restricts dieters to a mere 800 calories a day.
By comparison, in 1945, the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp allowed prisoners between 600-1000 calories a day. This, of course, led to the starvation and subsequent death of thousands of inmates. I am not saying that being on the K-E diet is like being in a voluntary concentration camp, but I want you to be aware of this comparison. Typically, someone who consumes that few calories would be considered malnourished or underfed, even starving.
Yet, when we look around the world, particularly at developing nations, we see this amount of calories predominantly as the norm. Take this Maasai herder for example. He lives on approximately 800 calories a day, but he is 5’5″ and weighs 103 pounds, which categorizes him as “underweight.” (By the way, this image is taken from Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio’s book What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets, which is a fascinating way to see how food connects to different cultures and professions around the world. Bonus: gorgeous photography!) I can’t be sure, but I can almost guarantee you that even though the Maasai man in the above photo is getting by, he probably wishes he had more food.
This isn’t an article about how the traditional Maasai way of life is diminishing into a relic of the past, but it brings about a good point. Technically, there is enough food produced on the planet to support its billions of citizens. The problem of hunger occurs when there is not enough land to support subsistence farming, or there are conditions that prevent food from being grown or raised (war, drought), or when there is insufficient income for people to purchase food.
How much do you spend on food every week – $50, $100, $200? How much food do you waste? Consider the Aboubakar family from the Breidjing refugee Camp in eastern Chad, near the Darfur. A family of six spends $1.23 on food for one week, and somehow, that is enough to provide them with some basics. Compare this to the cost of the K-E diet which is $1,500 for ten days of rapid, extreme weight loss. Basically, westerners are shelling out big bucks in order to eat as if they were refugees. I see these facts, and I know that they are real, and yet I still can’t wrap my mind around this.
On my own part, I grew up in Africa and although my family carried white privilege with us, I still saw poverty daily and we lived on less overseas than we can/do here. As such, I have a hard time wasting food. I always clean my plate, stopping just short of literally licking it clean. Living in the US where food is easily acquired – and such quantity and variety! – it is second nature for me to indulge because somewhere in the back of my head, I am still telling myself that this won’t last, that I have to eat what I can because I can’t guarantee my next meal is coming.
Imagine how much more a person would think this way if s/he grew up with unreliable food sources. Imagine if you grew up having seen a brother or sister (or both) die from lack of nutrition. Imagine if you had to forgo any opportunity for education or advancement because you had to focus all your energy on the family farm from a young age just to make sure you had a little food in your belly. Now imagine seeing a person going through the K-E diet and realizing that it cost three or more years of (your) wages.
This prevalent idea of starving oneself for the sake of pure vanity simply doesn’t make sense. I know that, in western culture, being thin is something to aspire to. Like it or not, many of us feel good about ourselves when we’re the ideal size/shape – whatever that is. But when we achieve that goal, if we can achieve it at all, our satisfaction and sense of self-worth doesn’t last.
Therefore, I would like to suggest something else, an action that would make us feel better that would give our privilege a purpose. Take all that money and energy that we put into vanity and redirect it towards helping the world. If one person decided not to do the K-E diet and to give that money to help finance micro-loans instead, s/he would be able to make a significant impact on the world by changing not only the life of the recipient of the loan but also the recipient’s family and his/her community at large. Now imagine having done that and then looking at yourself in the mirror. I think you would be pretty proud of what you saw.
Note 1: I understand that some people require more extreme medical procedures to aid them in losing weight, whether because they are morbidly obese or because they need something to kick-start their sluggish metabolism. It is the casual dieters who want to lose 10 pounds that make me skeptical of these treatments.
Note 2: If you would like to help end world hunger, there are many ways that you can do this. First of all, consider donating food or time at a local food bank or homeless shelter. Be aware that these facilities can accept and disseminate non-perishable food items up to a year past expiration date, so if you don’t want to eat that unopened can of peaches that expired last month, don’t throw it away – give it away.
Below are several websites that can get you started in donating to causes that strive to end world hunger. They are meant as a starting point and do not represent by far the amount of NGOs and NPOs that are working to solve this global issue.
http://www.bread.org/institute/ (Bread for the World Institute)