Sunday, September 9, 2012
Encourage them to try new foods.
Don't force them to clean their plates.
Make sure they don't go hungry at school.
Don't force them to eat anything you wouldn't eat.
These are some of the snippets of advice that get fed to parents in developed countries, all intended to ensure children benefit from a balanced, nutritious diet without giving them an unhealthy relationship with food.
The whole "it's your job to serve balanced nutritious foods and your child's job to decide what to eat" is a great philosophy, in theory, but it can also result in a lot of waste. The half-eaten yoghurt that comes home in the school lunch box, the rice that didn't taste good because it had too much sauce, the cereal that got soggy because they took too long to eat it, the carrots that looked good but were declared to be "disgusting" after they had been pushed around the plate for half an hour, the strawberries that were too juicy, or the turkey and cheese sandwich they didn't have time to finish at school. We salvage and re-purpose what we can, but there is still food that ends up in the compost bin or the trash can.
I already felt guilty about the food that we waste, that most people in North America waste, and then I saw this picture and my heart sank. These three children in Bangladesh are posing with a plate of food that may be the only thing they eat all day. The amount of food on their plates could easily be the amount of food my children push aside with an "I'm full" or an "I don't like this". It could easily be what I leave on my plate when I go to a restaurant that has larger-than-life serving sizes.
These three children are from an inter-generational family of seven people in the village of Baroikhali in south west Bangladesh. A couple of years ago, their mother, Azmeri Begum lost her youngest child because they didn't have enough food to feed the family. Now, the family only eats about ten meals per week, consisting of rice and sometimes a small amount of vegetable. The mother ensures that her husband and children have enough to eat, which sometimes means that she goes without.
I've written before about Water as a Right. Now, I want you to start thinking about Food as a Right. More than 7 million children under five die from preventable causes before their 5th birthday and 1/3 of those deaths are linked to malnutrition.
No mother should have to watch her child die because she doesn't have enough food to feed her. No mother should have to go without food herself because she doesn't have enough food for the whole family. No mother should have to despair when she runs into breastfeeding challenges. No mother should have the listen to the hunger cries of her children while waiting, hopefully, that her husband may have food with him when he walks through the door.
With extreme poverty and economic and political instability in much of the world, how do we get there? How do we ensure that every family has enough food on their table to meet basic nutrition needs and ensure that their children don't suffer from malnutrition?
In two weeks, I'll be traveling to Bangladesh with Save the Children Canada with the hope that I can shed some light on those very difficult questions. The infant mortality rate in Bangladesh is more than 10 times as high as in Canada and the United States, but it is improving and is better than in richer (higher GDP) neighbouring Indian states. According to The Hindu:
But what Bangladesh's experience shows is that we don't have to wait for high economic growth to trigger social transformations. Robust grassroot institutions can achieve much that money can't buy.
Save the Children, in partnership with other organizations, is one of those grassroots organizations that has been working with families in Bangladesh to help ensure they are able to feed their families. On my trip, I'll have the opportunity to travel to the villages where Save the Children Canada is working with local communities to improve nutrition for moms, infants and children under five. I know this will be a life-changing experience for me and I hope that you'll join me on the journey, as share updates about the things I see and learn.
What can you do to help? First and foremost, I hope you'll follow my trip, both here on my blog as well as on twitter (@phdinparenting) and my facebook page. I hope that you'll share the information and stories that I share with your friends, family and networks. I hope that you'll open your minds and your hearts and share your thoughts with me.
You can also help by asking Prime Minister Stephen Harper to sign a global pledge to end preventable child death by signing the No Child Born to Die petition on Save the Children Canada's website. You can also help by making a donation of $30 - the average cost of a dinner for a Canadian family - or another amount of your choice to Save the Children so that they can respond to acute hunger crises and fund programming for kids suffering from chronic malnutrition.
What do you hope I'll learn on my trip? Please leave a comment and let me know what you would like to see me report on and share during and after my journey.
Photo credit: Paulina Tervo / Save the Children