Brainfood or food for thought?
‘Brain food’ is food believed to be beneficial to the brain, especially in increasing intellectual power. What happens when you have no food to eat at all, or eat just enough food to keep you moving?
Remember that time you skipped breakfast and went to work? Or that time you were just in the flow of work and forgot to eat lunch or dinner? Do you remember how drained you felt, how hard it was to concentrate, or how irritable you became? We all know that eating right can improve brain function, memory, and concentration, but you refused to allow your hunger to stand in between you and the tasks at hand. You also knew there would be another meal, perhaps a victory meal that was likely one of your choice. Maybe that victory meal served as a reward for toughing out your hunger and showing some self-sacrifice.
Living with hunger and malnutrition does not have the luxury of reward meals. Throughout the globe, people receiving meal support from agencies like the World Food Programme (WFP) face a sobering reality that consists of consuming ~1500 calories per day to walk, play and most importantly learn. The brain is a primary destination of nutrients absorbed from digested food, so food directly impacts a child’s brain growth, function, memory, and concentration.
At day 7 of my 25 day advocacy for school-aged kids facing hunger, I feel uneasy not knowing whether I can eat tomorrow. I feel the tension in my shoulders grow and the knot in my stomach tighten when I face missing meals. Despite having the certainty of eventually eating again, I have come to know how difficult it is to concentrate after skipping breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is hard to imagine living and playing as a child on little or no food at all. Adults become ‘hangry ’, easily distracted or both while facing food vulnerability. Imagine the uncertainty of not knowing when or where your next meal is coming from as a child, combined with real hunger, while trying to learn 7X9=63, the alphabet, or the capitals and history of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with nearly half in Africa alone.
Fortunately, school meal programs exist to ensure that children are fed while attending school. The WFP estimates that US$3.2 billion is needed each year to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children. As advocates, we pledged to partner with people in the fight against hunger and malnutrition of school-aged kids. With the help of nearly 2 million partners, donating US$25, the WFP can provide 3 school meals a day to world’s hungry school-age kids.
In Haiti, the problem of malnutrition affects nearly half of school-aged kids. The WFP has established ties sourcing rice and for Haitian schools’s meals directly from local farmers. The demand of the WFP Haitian school meal programs created many incentives for local farmers leading to increased stability in the community. Unfortunately, one of the largest funding sources of WFP school meal programs in Haiti will no longer be funded by the US McGovern-Dole program.
We are what we eat, but what does that mean for children that cannot remember their last meal? We stress the importance of knowing where our food comes from, but do we consider hungry people do not know where their next meal will come from? We nourish the spirit and soul by helping those around us, particularly those who cannot help themselves. Next time you’re thinking of soul food, I hope those questions are serious food for thought.