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Complexity of Hunger and Nutrition

We hear a lot about hunger and the millions of malnourished children in the world, but it is essential that we move beyond the sound bites. We should embrace the complexity of the hunger and nutrition issues. Many strategies fail to match expectations because they do not consider the complex relationship a human being has with food.

A key to understanding this is that individuals and families throughout the world have unique relationships with food, whether it is food access, obesity or under-nutrition. There is a HUGE and sensitive cultural piece that goes with all this that sound bites and one-off interventions will not touch.

Take a look at this bus as a metaphor for diagnosing and then sorting out a sensible strategy…

A bus full of people has four pieces of luggage on top labelled 'Gifts of Character', 'Treasures in our Community', 'Dreams and Plans' and 'Our New Story'. The four wheels of the bus are labelled, 'Information', 'Ability to Act', 'Inspiration and Motivation' and 'A Supportive Environment'. They bus is heading down a road toward a sign pointing the way to 'Good Health'.
Imagine we have a bus load of people willing to travel towards good health. That’s most of us. These people are not stupid, reckless or enthusiastic about inflicting needless pain upon themselves or their loved ones. They all care about their health and the health of their children, friends and family and even those way beyond their immediate circle. These people have incredible gifts of character. They are all  resourceful, creative and whole – they are not waiting for some kind of intervention to come and fix them.

This bus has four wheels – four supports if you like – and these are the following:

  1. Information (or Knowledge): we are talking about the RIGHT kind of information delivered at the RIGHT time and in the RIGHT way (so yes there is complexity in that too – enough of government pamphlets cluttering up our doorsteps, thanks!).
  2. Ability to Act upon knowledge that we have; here we may be talking skills to shop for the things we need, skills to cook, skills to hear and listen.
  3. We need the Inspiration and Motivation to respond. For whatever reason, some people with both the knowledge and skills still feel immobilised. Inspiration can come from many sources; family, friends, a church, a support group, school, work or whoever. Inspiration is a crucial part of the mix and it is different for different people.
  4. Lastly, there needs to be A Supportive Environment for making the changes. Being screamed at by government officials or development agencies about calorie intake surely is the opposite of the support most people need. Much like being screamed at to do anything by someone who likes to be authoritative, but has little to do with our lives; nor any real interest in them. It’s off-putting.

Could we use the four wheels of this bus as a diagnostic tool in our hunger or obesity strategies to identify which wheel is either needs pumping up or maybe missing altogether?

Children are part of the solution

We have to design policies and programmes that are MUCH more complex and much more subtle. It’s about reaching people and their lives in a real way where they are now. It’s about using a participatory process that triggers and then supports the change that people dream of for themselves and then to offer (as quietly as possible – any knowledge, skills and support they need). This takes courage, patience, time and a recognition that it’s not about one thing, but about many and about how each of these are woven into each of our amazing lives.

We believe that children themselves have great potential in identifying specific challenges faced by their family and friends with food and nutrition and in being part of the solution.