What's Life Like For the More Than 1 Billion in the World Who Are Hungry? One Woman Decided to Find Out for Herself

Follow Kenda Swartz Pepper as she spends 21 days living like the billion plus people in the world who experience hunger every day.

Editor's Note: On March 20, Kenda Swartz Pepper began "21 Days for World Hunger," an experiment to try for 21 days to live like the over 1 billion people around the world who are hungry. Below is her first post, you can scroll to the end for the links to her most recent posts along the way.

1.02 billion people in the world go hungry every day according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. That’s 1,020,000,000 people.  I was tempted to round down and write 1 billion people in the world go hungry every day.  It dawned on me that I would be doing a monumental disservice to .02 billion people.  That’s 20,000,000 people.  Children.  Mothers.  Fathers. 20,000,000.  Slightly more than the entire population of Florida.  Ignoring that number would be like disregarding the entire state of Florida.  In some ways, it’s easier for me to focus on the 20,000,000 instead of the total 1.02 billion, because I cannot even conjure a picture in my head of 1.02 billion people.  I have no point of reference.

According to the World POPClock Projection, as of 18:44 UTC today the total population of the World is projected to be 6,809,695,155.  The number yesterday about this time was projected to be 6,809,529,520.  Is it possible the population increased by 165,635 people in one day?

And if these numbers are accurate with 1.02 billion people not having enough to eat, is it possible that 15% of the world population is living in hunger?  And if that percentage is accurate, how have we allowed ourselves to arrive at this global catastrophe?

Today, March 20, 2010, I am launching my second Souljourn:  21 days for World Hunger.  Today is also Meat Out Day, so it seems apropos at this time to begin thisSouljourn mostly because the majority of the world’s hungry eat primarily vegetarian fare.

According to Dixie Mahy, President of the San Francisco Vegetarian Society,

MEAT OUT DAY is an excellent way to highlight the relationship between meat and world hunger.  Since there is so much waste of the world’s resources in producing meat as opposed to raising plant foods, there is an obvious correlation between feeding morepeople on a ‘plant based diet’ than on a ‘meat based diet.’

Regarding reduction of world hunger, Mahy added,

It takes approximately 20 pounds of vegetable protein for every pound of beef; other animals require less vegetable protein per pound of animal protein but they are still utilizing plant protein that humans can eat directly and more efficiently.

These days most cattle are not gazing on grasses that humans don’t eat; they are fed grains, corn, and soy beans. Much of this vegetable protein could be given directly to humans.

Then there is the water issue.  It takes anywhere from 2,500 to 5,000 gallons of water for each pound of beef.  It definitely would make a difference to save water.  With the increasing population and world wide droughts, we have less water available for our crops let alone for the wasteful meat production.

To satisfy our country’s appetite for meat, we import over 200 million pounds of beef from Central and South America alone.  Every second per day, one football field of tropical rain-forest is destroyed for livestock.  This would not be necessary if we utilized our crops to directly feed humans rather than indirectly through animals.

There are other undesirable repercussions from animal husbandry including disposing the waste products from raising animals, especially factory farming.  Many of our diseases come from farm animals even though they are often found on plants, e-coli and salmonella for example.  Then there is the issue of fossil fuels that everyone is concerned about.  It takes 1.2 gallons of oil to make the fertilizer used for each bushel of corn.  Before a cow is slaughtered, it will eat 25 pounds of corn a day; by the time it is slaughtered, it will weigh more than 1,200 pounds.  In its lifetime, it will have consumed, in effect, 284 gallons of oil.  In addition to the corn fertilizer, there is additional fossil fuel used in farming the corn and then transporting the corn to feedlots.  Add to that the fossil fuel used to transport the cattle to slaughterhouses, to meat packing facilities, and then to grocery stores. The money saved on fuel by not raising cattle could go to paying for transporting food to people in need anywhere in the world.


Makes me nervous.

Scared even.

Sure I can recall feeling it.  I’m guessing we all have.  But it frightens me because it taps into something primal.  That core primitive part of me that instinctively knows I need food for survival.  I get shaky.  Headachy.  Light-headed.  I try to avoid hunger at all costs and so to compensate I find myself grazing throughout the day. On some days I seem to be missing that filter, you know, the filter that tells you that you’ve had enough and can stop now.

I won’t even pretend to know what it’s like to feel hunger and not have an option to eat.  I won’t entertain the notion that I’ve been so hungry and didn’t have access to food or at the very least access to water.  I’ve never (as a healthy, functional adult) gone an entire day without satisfying my hunger.  It would seem self-righteous and presumptuous to assume that I really know a hunger so real that feeling shaky, light-headed, weak and worried are a perpetual state of being.

That would be undeniably wrong.

And I’m not above having had the adolescent experience –  that adolescent experience that lasted well into adulthood – of body image issues.  While I never engaged in fad diets, I was highly aware of my food consumption at that time.  I went through a period of several years counting every calorie.  Literally.  Obsession is an understatement.  I would experiment and test my body to see how little I could eat.  I would measure my intake against my exertion.  Quantifying became a controllable fixation – a side job.  At the most dysfunctional point, I would even try to neutralize the intake in order to have a break-even.  They (that council of all-knowing individuals to whom our society often references – they) would call this behavior an eating disorder.  For once I would have to agree with them.  But I’m over that.  I got over myself…with a little help.  The pendulum has swung so far to the other side that, outside of an annual insy-outsy doctor appointment, I hadn’t (up until this morning) even stepped on a scale in about eight years.  That is freedom.  The irony in all of this is that while my mental state has changed dramatically over the years, little has changed with my physical state.  I essentially ended up right back where I started – in an okay, healthy place.  I marvel at all the time and energy I spent being consumed with consumption instead of just…being.

I wonder about the level of frustration starving people would have if they knew how many women – and yes, some men too – obsess so much over their weight that they deny themselves the very essence of survival – food.  I wonder how utterly ridiculous they find that notion.  I wonder if they feel anger about that.

In honor of world hunger, I am going to engage in potentially curious behaviors.  I have decided that for the next 21 days I’m going to eat – to the best of my knowledge and ability – like those who are living with hunger. I think I’m most nervous about this Souljourn, because I know it will entail pangs.  If you recall, that scares me.  But again, I won’t pretend to know what it’s like to be starving or malnourished.  I know there is food available if my resolve breaks.  This is an intentional experiment thus creating the confounding factor that I will still likely never have the experience of knowing the real fear of real hunger.  For this, I am grateful.

The intention of this Souljourn is to research, learn, discover and experiment in honor of world hunger.  Like my last journey, I don’t know exactly where I’ll land.  I do intend to learn more about specific diets of those in the poorest regions of the world.  I intend to eat like those folks to the best of available like-foods.  As a vegan, this may not be as far of a stretch as it may be for someone who is accustomed to eating meat.  It’s not the food I’m nervous about.  It’s the consumed quantity or lack thereof.

In preparation for this journey, I did what any living, breathing animal may do who knowingly or instinctively is about to be living in deprivation.  I stocked up.  Piled on the resources, if you will.  I felt like a bear just before hibernation.  Only I was not eating salmon.  I don’t have a thick fur coat.  I don’t live out in the cold.  Okay, so maybe that bear analogy isn’t a good one.

I’d like to say that I was clearing out the fridge because I don’t want any of my perishables to go to waste.  That would be an outright lie as evidenced by the asparagus still sitting in the veggie bin.  I’d like to say that the containers of chocolate peanut butter Coconut Bliss ice-cream that I inhaled were because my body was in need of some good fat. Again – nope. This was just me and my psyche grappling with the thought of being without.  Neither of us likes that – especially when it comes to food.  As a person who likes instant gratification, I have learned over the years that food is very useful for achieving this.  I need.  I receive.  Very easy.  While I consume a vegetable of green hue nearly every day, it still delightfully astounds me when my body craves greens.  But craving chocolate, not so surprising.  Regardless of the craving, in most instances, I rarely allow it to loiter.

A number of people have commented on how they are going to join me in the World Hunger Diet.  Well.  Okay.  So, I’m not going on a dietper se.  I suppose one can look at the definition of diet, which in our society has become loaded to mean reducing food consumption or changing caloric intake or eliminating carbs (that one is still beyond my comprehension).  Many use the word diet as a verb.  I am dieting.

According to the Merriam Websteronline dictionary, diet is defined as the following:

Pronunciation: ˈdī-ət
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English diete, from Anglo-French, from Latin diaeta, from Greek diaita, literally, manner of living, from diaitasthai to lead one’s life
Date: 13th century

1 a : food and drink:  regularly provided or consumed b : habitual nourishment c : the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason d : a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight <going on a diet>

You can see the first two definitions show a regular or habitual consumption of sorts.  It’s not until we get to the fourth definition (d) that it becomes specifically about reduction.  Long story short, I am not embarking on the World Hunger diet.  I am embarking on a 21 day journey for World Hunger.  I will just so happen to be changing my diet (as in the kind and amount of food prescribed – see definition c) as part of this experience.  While I don’t have the intention of losing weight, I imagine a change in weight could be one of the consequences of this experience.  So, this morning I dug my husband’s scale out of the cabinet and for the first time in a long time I weighed myself.  I’ll be checking my weight daily as part of this experiment.  I will also attempt to calculate my caloric intake based on the guess-timate that I generally consume approximately 2200-2500 calories/day.

Linda Cole, Executive Director of CAFWA(Community Action Fund for Women), has been extremely supportive in providing me with other resources and helping me find answers to some of my questions.  CAFWA is an organization to which my husband and I donate.  It’s good stuff.  Linda’s work helps to improve the lives of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict areas of Africa.  The result of her work allows these women to provide for their families, to educate their children, to learn sustainable income-generating skills, to receive health services including victim support and to build human rights awareness.  Essentially, CAFWA helps women learn ways to help themselves even with extremely limited resources and undeniably difficult conditions.

According to Cole the meals are usually heavy on starch, which fills the belly.

Most poor people rely on food they can produce and store for 6 months or more, such as peas,beans, sorghum, cassava, maize.  Some people also grow fast maturing foods such as vegetables.  People who live near swamps or lakes will catch fish while others hunt for small animals such as edible rats and birds.

Cole added that from her experience in Uganda,

Most food is usually boiled with salt.  If it is flour, like millet, sorghum or maize it is made into a porridge or bread.More interesting foods are peanut sauce, boiled vegetable mixes like greens, onions, and tomatoes.

Very few of the women I work with eat meat.  But when people do, and poor people generally don’t, it is goat, chicken or beef.  And it is the whole chicken, beak, claws, everything.

There is a difference between living in poverty and living with hunger.  Most of the women I work with live in poverty and go in and out of hunger.  During a hunger period they might eat once a day or every two days.  People eat at the end of the day to be able to go to sleep.

For the next several days my focus will be on those people in Africa who are living with hunger.  Yesterday I went to the market and purchased the following African food staples and spices based on a list I found through Afroland from what Linda shared with me:

  • Peanuts (groundnuts)
  • Ginger root
  • Ground cloves
  • Ground corn
  • Nutmeg
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Millet
  • Kettle salt and pepper potato chips (hey- how’d that get in there?  Not to worry, I ate those salty delights on the drive back from the market)
  • Yams (I happen to already have sweet potatoes, the closest equivalent to cassava that is locally available)
  • Lentils
  • Spinach
  • Plantain is also considered a staple, but the market didn’t have it

I spent $38.94.  I’m curious to know how many meals I can get out of that.

Today Day 1

I weigh in at an exact well-eaten 120 pounds (I was sure to remove my socks…).

Cole sent me a recipe for the one meal my husband and I will eat at about 6:00 pm.  Posho,  a maize porridge eaten all over Africa.  I am going to add a groundnut (peanut) sauce from a recipe I found online.

Ground Nut Sauce

2 oz shelled and roasted but not salted groundnuts (I will be using 1 cup of peanuts and playing with the remaining ingredients to create a sauce-like consistency).
2 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground chili pepper
2 tablespoons groundnut oil ( will be replacing peanut oil with water)
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

Grind the nuts finely until they become a paste. Then put the paste in a sauce pan with the water, salt and chili pepper. Heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, fry the onion in oil until soft and then add it to the sauce. Stir well and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Serve with starchy or vegetable dishes.

This total nutritional value for this meal is:

Food amount calories fat carbs fiber protein sodium
Cornmeal 1.5 cups 660 9 132 6 18 60
Peanut Sauce .5 cups 440 36 16 6 18 0
Spinach 1 cup 7 0.1 1.1 0.7 0.9 24
    1107 45.1 149.1 12.7 36.9 84

My husband has volunteered to join me these 21 days.  As the main meal preparer in our family, I think (just between you and me) he’s incentivized by the mere fact that I am going to be spending time in the kitchen – even if it’s only for one meal and even if that meal is a simple one.

Throughout the next 21 days I will be researching and learning about world hunger.  I’ll share as I go.  I will be communicating with experts and organizations who work in sustainable agriculture and who work with those living with hunger.  I will talk about malnourishment, stats on world hunger, regions of the world – their plights and solutions.  Admittedly, I am naïve about some of this stuff.  I’ll even share that.  I welcome any insights, comments, thoughts.  While I intend to post every day, at the very least I will write every day and post as often as possible while doing my best to hang onto my day job.  Fortunately I work for myself, and my boss promises to give me a little break…she doesn’t usually do that.  Sometimes she’s not so good about keeping her word around those types of promises.

My goal for this Souljourn is to continue discovering for myself and share with others the incredible suffering of starving people in the world and the sustainable measures that can alleviate that pain.

Converting calories to create change.  Even if you decide to remove meat from your diet and even if it’s just for one day a week, won’t you join me?  You can check out Amy Considine’s post on Meatless Mondays for more information.

Many thanks to Dixie Mahy and Linda Cole for their support and responsiveness.

Burden not yourself with the suffering of others.
Acknowledge not the presence of anguish in the world.
Ask not the truth.
Fear not the consequences of inaction.
Believe not in the worth of each hungry soul.
Give not of yourself for the common good.
Exist not in the presence of peace.
Want not.
Be Not.
See Not.
Do Not.

Why Not.


21 Days for World Hunger:  Day 2

21 Days for World Hunger: Day 3

21 Days for World Hunger: Day 4

21 Days for World Hunger: Day 5

21 Days for World Hunger: Day 6

21 Days for World Hunger: Day 7

21 Days for World Hunger: Day 8

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