Hungry? Me, too, especially when I remember Lents of old, when adults had to confine themselves to one meal a day plus another two that together could not equal the main meal. Sundays were free days, but not for Orthodox Christians, who would ask us Catholics whether we thought the Lord took off Sundays when he spent 40 days in the desert. And then there are our Muslim friends. They have a total fast from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan. I’m forced to admit we have it easy, especially when they tell us that two thirds of us Americans are overweight, and many are afflicted with eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa.
I wonder if it will help our waistlines as well as our souls if I point out that nearby Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, has 52 percent of its people undernourished, the world’s worst rate. It had to endure a 2010 earthquake, 2012 hurricanes and a 2014 drought. Nicaragua comes in second with its political upheavals and civil corruption. Costa Rica, which has no military on which to lavish public funds, like some countries we know, trails. After them are the corruption capitals of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. And we wonder why hundreds of thousands of desperate Latinos risk their lives to enter the U.S. illegally.
South America has its own crises. A fourth of Bolivia’s children are undernourished to the point of stunted growth. About 60 percent of all Bolivians living in rural areas rely on subsistence crops but are whipsawed by droughts and floods. Columbia, Guyana, Suriname, Ecuador Peru, and Paraguay all report up to 15 percent undernourishment.
Africa is the hungriest continent. Twenty-one percent of Africans eat less than the recommended amount. Rife with civil wars and with Muslim rebels trying to overthrow governments, the Central African Republic, with its farm yields down 40 percent from 2012 to 2013 and 90 percent of its people eating just one meal a day, typifies problems like those of South Somalia, Chad and Yemen. Unreliable roads cripple Zambia and impede food transport, so only 17 percent of the rural population has access to an all-weather road. Liberia, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Cameroon, Uganda, Somalia, Tanzania, Swaziland and Madagascar all report up to 35 percent undernourishment. There are too many other nations on this continent of some 55 nations to name that are underfed up to 15 percent.
Asia’s greatest casualty in terms of the highest number of undernourished people, 191 million, is India. Showing the economic bankruptcy of Marxism are North Korea and Tajikistan, with a third of the people going without. The latter has seen the bottom drop out of the prices of its main exports, cotton and aluminum. So a majority spend up to 80 percent of income on food. Iraq is war torn with a quarter of Iraqis underfed. Not far behind are Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Timor. China has up to 15 percent of its people underfed.
The U.S., Europe (at least western), Australia and Antarctica are generally doing well.
The U.S. has up to 5 percent undernourished, in impacted cities, Appalachia and in many poverty pockets like Camden, unthinkable in the land of snacks and mountainous rubbish heaps, where it’s the law that uneaten or unsold food often must be destroyed. On a glassful of gas one could drive from the worst Berlin-like dilapidation to the finest exurban enclaves, past many people wondering whether the government services them as much as it does the well heeled contributors to political parties. Food and housing are absolute basic needs of everyone, and rights, too. In a democracy, government is supposed to see to the rights of all being respected, with an appropriation of public funds better than what we now have.
This is the kind of thing about which Pope Francis repeatedly speaks. Even though it would take little adjustment of the national budget to correspond, many in this Christian land of ours balk, saying that redistribution of resources automatically equals communism. Instead, in this nation, one of the most lightly taxed of all industrialized nations, it merely means tax the rich at a higher rate than the rest. But many object, thinking that this will bar them from the ranks of the wealthy, even though they are far from that.