Thanksgiving, And How Not To Shop For Groceries

Pushing my shopping cart hurriedly through the supermarket aisles, I paused briefly to glance at my watch.

Four-thirty. Great, I still had time to get what I needed and make my doctor’s appointment.

Weaving past carts filled with food, expertly avoiding strollers,

Little April has been sick for 6 months, her body wasting away from a lack of good food.
Little April has been sick for 6 months, her body wasting away from a lack of good food.

and randomly placed boxes, I barely slowed down to grab each item off the shelf and toss it in my cart. I was on a roll; a can of peanuts, lightly salted of course … a bag of washed potatoes … risotto rice … a bunch of fresh celery … a dozen free-range eggs … and the list went on.

Within ten minutes I’d finished my shopping, proudly looking at the pile of groceries that now spilled over the side of my cart. I’d checked off every item on my list, and managed to find a checkout aisle with less than four people waiting. I am the greatest shopper in the world.

Out of breath, I now stood impatiently in the checkout line, waiting to now unload everything that I’d just put in. Well, at least they would repack it for me. It was around the time I was contemplating whether I wanted the 2 for 1 candy bar offer that I thought of April. Not the month, but a little one-year-old girl I’d been reading about earlier that afternoon.

Before my frantic trip to the grocery store, I’d spent a few hours with little April. She lives with her mom in a small village in Myanmar. I wasn’t physically sitting with her, but reading her story it sure felt like it. I read about how this precious one had been sick for over six months. That’s half her life.

Her mother shared April’s story with a colleague of mine, and told of how hungry they both were. She earned enough to buy the very basics; rice, and a few vegetables every now and then. But they were never fresh, and something always had to be sacrificed in order to afford them. It was clearly April’s health.

I unpacked my cart, haphazardly placing each item on the belt as the checker scanned, and dropped them in a paper bag. My thoughts were not on whether my eggs were cracked, but firmly focused on April, and the dire situation she was in.

April and her mom had been screened for malnutrition, and the results were not good. In villages across Myanmar (and elsewhere in Asia and Africa), World Concern staff visit children like April and test them for malnutrition and other illnesses. It’s a free service, and the results (while often shocking) can save a child’s life.

I read about how April’s mom carried her to the mobile clinic, sitting quietly on a chair and waiting for the volunteer to call them. April did nothing but cry; not a wail or an impatient tear, but a whimper, as if there was simply nothing left to cry about. Her mom did everything she could to comfort April—making faces, singing, and bouncing her on her knee—nothing worked. So she sat there, totally defeated, and waited for her daughter’s name to be called.

When it was April’s turn to be seen, the nurse first weighed April in a sling, kind of like a hammock, recording her weight before moving onto the next, and most

Baby April is gently weighed before a final test showed how quickly help was needed.
Baby April is gently weighed before a final test showed how quickly help was needed.

important test. The nurse delicately threaded a paper tape around April’s upper arm. This measures the mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) and diagnoses the level of malnourishment according to a color scale—green is considered healthy, yellow shows that the child is malnourished, and red indicates severe and acute malnutrition.

April’s arm was in the red. And by a long way.

The cheerful grocery checker had almost finished packing my groceries, but at this stage all I could think about was April, and all I could hear was the beep … beep … beep … beep … of my food being scanned. Then I saw my total.

I quickly moved my eyes to my two bags of groceries. How is that $181.91?

Little April was starving, and here I am buying $181.91 worth of groceries. Her tiny immune system simply didn’t have the energy to keep on fighting, and so it was slowly giving up. She needed nutritious food, and quickly.

Thankfully, that’s exactly what World Concern is doing for hungry children in Myanmar and other communities like April’s. So after the clinic visit April’s mom was given an emergency food kit and told lovingly to come back when the basket was empty to receive more.

An emergency food kit gives a hungry child locally-sourced food, for just $22.
An emergency food kit gives a hungry child locally-sourced food, for just $22.

The basket they carried home that day was filled with locally-sourced, highly nutritious, fresh food—a bag of potatoes … nuts and beans … rice … fresh vegetables … free-range eggs—pretty much everything that I’d just bought.

And the cost of the emergency food kit? Only $22. I could feed 8 hungry children with what I just bought.

Collecting my receipt and trudging out to the car, I cringed at the abundance that was around me. Food was readily available. I had money to buy it. And I was about to visit my family doctor.

Later that evening I spoke with my son about April, and how we could give a hungry child basically everything I’d bought at the supermarket, for just $22.
My son is seven, and his response to me was exactly what ours should be:

“How many hungry kids will you feed?”

Host a potluck for famine relief this Sunday – World Food Day

Preparing food in Somalia famine.
A mother prepares a simple meal for her hungry children in Somalia.

Food. It means so many things.

Flavor. Sustenance. Abundance. Gluttony. Scarcity. Family. Togetherness. Celebration. Famine. Starvation. Comfort. Fullness. Luxury. Emptiness. Health. Sickness. Generosity. Survival.

I love to ponder the famous question: If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have one type of food with you, what would it be?

Would it be something sweet? Savory? Healthy? Fattening? (It would be your only food, after all) Mine changes based on my mood, but alternates between avocados, giant prawns, chocolate and filet mignon.

I also love to cook and share food with people. What better occasion to spend time with people than over a meal?

However, it’s difficult to celebrate food on this World Food Day, Sunday, Oct. 16. The world is facing a food crisis of unimaginable proportions. The famine in the Horn of Africa is the worst in decades. Four million people in Somalia don’t have enough to eat. The majority of those worst affected are children – 450,000 under age 5 are malnourished.

Even as the rains begin in Southern Somalia and Eastern Kenya, the ground is too dry to absorb water. It will likely take several successful rainy seasons before crops can be supported and the effects of drought are diminished. Meanwhile, food prices will continue to rise – and people will continue to die.

Preparing a meal in Laos.
A family prepares a meal in rural Laos.

So this Sunday, I encourage you to think about food in a new way – and take action to help those affected by this famine.

Host a potluck meal on Sunday. Share the video Eyewitness to the Famine with your friends, and invite them to donate whatever they would have spent on a meal at a restaurant that night to help feed families caught in this crisis.

There. You’ve made a difference. It’s so simple.

Help us bring sustainable sources of food to the hungry. Give the gift of food.

Core Causes of World Hunger

world hunger in kenya
A boy in Embu, Kenya, eats a meal with humanitarian workers from World Concern.

I continue to be amazed at the complex causes of hunger. But whether a crumbling economy or prolonged drought is to blame, the result is the same: Families starve. It is immensely helpful to identify the root problems so that solutions can be found.

So with that being said, I enjoyed an article in Christianity Today about the hunger crisis. It both incorporated the necessity of Christians and humanitarians to act and attempted to identify some of the current causes of malnutrition, especially in Africa.

Below is an excerpt:

This new reality comes after 45 years of steady progress in global food production. Last year, for example, there was a record production of 2.3 billion tons of grain. But production has been unable to keep pace with demand. Grain stockpiles are at 30-year lows. Globally, 850 million people are chronically hungry. Experts cite the following reasons:

  • Failed harvests. Since 2006, multi-year drought, cyclones, and other natural disasters have dramatically cut harvests in some food-exporting nations. A six-year drought in Australia’s rice-growing region, for example, has caused its harvest to plummet.
  • Rising fuel prices. Demand for new oil and gas sources has triggered price spikes, thus increasing the cost of food production. Despite a recent decline from the $147-per-barrel peak this July, oil prices are still 60 percent higher than they were in 2005.
  • Increased demand for grain. About 100 million tons of grains and oilseeds are being diverted to produce biofuels every year. China and other developing nations are annually using millions of tons more of imported corn, wheat, and soybeans to feed cattle, pigs, and chickens.