Friday, June 24, 2011

Starved for Attention

USA, 2010 © Jessica Dimmock/VII Network

In the US we've done a wonderful job of providing good nutrition to low income families through the WIC program.  For those who can access the program, it provides foods with a high nutritional value -- the types of food children need to grow and develop properly.  In addition it provides good nutrition to pregnant and breastfeeding women too, to ensure even the poorest of children get a good start nutritionally.

Meanwhile we ship corn and soy to third world countries; our 'gift' of food to the world.  Women and children here are given milk, eggs, whole wheat bread and grains, beans, vegetables and fruit (and the ability to get those vegetables and fruit from local farms to boot!).  Meanwhile we pay out the whazoo to grow, package and ship nutritionally empty food to children dying of malnutrition.  In reality, these foods do nothing for a child except make him feel full.  They do not prevent stunting, anemia, or other serious consequences of malnutrition.

USA, 2009 © Antonin Kratochvil/VII
Good nutrition doesn't only help a child to grow up 'big and strong'.  It plays a vital role in preventing death from common childhood diseases, such as a cold.  At the moment, the international donors making the largest contribution to international food aid -- the United States, Canada, members of the EU, Japan, and Australia -- are providing substandard food to children under 5.  Although fortified with some vitamins, these cereal-based products don't meet the minimal nutrition requirements for young children.

Good food is a basic necessity that everyone should have access to.  It prevents illness and helps to grow strong productive adults.  We are wasting our money on nutritionally inadequate food.  If we wouldn't give it to our children, why are we giving it to children that are dying of malnutrition?

India, 2010  © Stephanie Sinclair/VII
So what can you do?  Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF/Doctors Without Borders) and VII Photo Agency have partnered to create a media campaign to raise awareness of the problem of starvation and malnutrition plaguing the children of the world.  In addition, they have created a petition asking international donors to support only programs that respect the minimal nutritional needs of infants and young children, and put access to nutrition-rich foods at the center of their efforts to tackle childhood malnutrition in the worst-hit countries.  I ask you to join me in signing the petition and supporting minimal nutrition for all children, not just our own.  In addition, I ask you to not be silent about this!  Be loud!  Spread the word through your social network(s) of choice: Twitter, Facebook, Meetup, your own blog...  At the bottom of the 'Sign the Petition' page, MSF has a list of ways you can spread the news.  If you're more a fan of face-to-face contacts you can organize your own petition-signing event!  MSF has a petition you can print out for people to sign.  Bring it to your moms' group, girlscout meeting, boyscout meeting, the grocery store, church, sewing circle, the movies -- anywhere you feel comfortable spreading the word.

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