Grah. Anyone that has visited the Balkans would recognise its deep aroma of slow cooked pinto beans, onions, carrots, paprika and meat.
In the early 1990s, due to supply and cost effectiveness, it was a staple for many Yugoslav households. In time, and as a civil war raged, it became a symbol of the division between the haves and have nots. It wasn’t uncommon for a muslin to be placed over the bowl of delicious stew so that bread could be dipped into the juices. The beans and meat remained below, to be watered down day after day. By day five, I can testify that it tasted of very little, but it filled the belly and we were grateful for that.
At least we had grah.
Today, having steadily declined for a decade, world hunger is on the rise once more, affecting more than 820 million people. In the UK, the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the inequalities in our society, hitting hardest those who were already in the most vulnerable positions, manifesting itself in hunger for millions. Reports this week that over 100 children a week in England alone are admitted to hospital for malnutrition ought to spark widespread outrage but, like footage of queues for foodbanks and “the homeless” at Christmas time, it was a flash in the pan story that barely seemed to cause a stir.
We know there is more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone, as evidenced, in part, by the 600 million people categorised as obese and the two billion who are overweight.
Yet still, we waste a third of all the food we produce, so much so that mountains of rotting food around the world are posing a threat to us all. While consumer demand for some supermarket food items has risen as a result of Covid-19 lockdowns, it hasn’t been enough to offset steep declines in consumption in restaurants, cafes, schools, and other settings. Such is the scale of food waste that the United Nations has mooted concerns about rising levels of methane during the pandemic, and its impact on the climate.
It is more than just the hungry who suffer. The failing global food system has a detrimental impact on human, animal, economic and environmental health on a monumental scale. If ignored, according to the UN Environment Programme, it exposes the world economy to ever-larger health and financial shocks as our climate changes and the global population grows.
There is considerable appetite for, and much talk about, “building back better” as we emerge from the current health crisis. Capitalising on the abundance of opportunities for change to address hunger and food insecurity must be part of our political and economic systems going forward. Only then will we have any hope of addressing the centuries-old plague of hunger around the world.