My mind did the most unfortunate thing today: it made a connection. I’m officially sick of black beans and rice. So much so, that my brain has now connected the smell of black beans and rice to the smell of my daughter’s urine soaked diaper. With a blind fold on, and through smell alone, I think I would fail to identify which is which if they were laying before me. Appetizing, right? The fact that I lost my appetite over this idea, led to an even more profound connection for me: I’m a spoiled brat, and I don’t know squat about what it means to be hungry.
Chronic hunger and obesity are forms of malnourishment a person can never just pick up and understand. They are the long term effects of the inability to eat, think, and live in the presence of healthy food. People who suffer from chronic hunger do not have access to a healthy lifestyle, while those who are overweight and obese have been forced to devalue it.
1 billion people on the planet are chronically hungry right now. Another 1 billion are not hungry or even overweight, but are malnourished from eating nutrient deficient foods like chips, candy, soda, poor carbohydrates, and food lacking vitamins and protein. And then we have another 1 billion who are overweight or obese because of the systemic lack of food value in their lives.
Like the majority of Americans, I’ve got about 10 pounds I can lose to get to a healthier weight for my body type. In fact, 3 billion people would have been significantly healthier today had they eaten my bowl of rice and beans instead of me. So how can something this valuable to me and so many other people be so non-appetizing to me? Shouldn’t my body crave that which is healthy? Isn’t that part of the survival instinct?
Five years ago I was in South Africa visiting family and completing the practicum for graduate school and the requirements for ordination as a minister. The focus of my education and practicum was HIV/AIDS treatment and advocacy by faith-based non-profit organizations. South Africa has the highest population of people living with HIV in the world (second is India, because they have 1 billion people in their country, but the prevalence rate is low). I visited a few townships in South Africa. Townships are small rural towns originally built during apartheid to keep white and black apart. A case worker introduced me to people in the townships who were charged with serving orphans and vulnerable children. The townships had an HIV prevalence rate of at least 60%. Complicating the situation was that most people did not have access to medication to treat their illness, so it was spreading rapidly, symptoms were not being treated, and it was destroying local economies and families. In the United States, social workers serve in many different types of fields. They can work in a school, a nursing home, a hospital, an aid agency, or a family services organization. They serve every age group and demographic. In South Africa this isn’t the case. Social Workers have time for only one thing: relocation of children orphaned by AIDS. AIDS is running rampant in South Africa to such a high degree that cases of domestic abuse cannot be addressed appropriately because the system is too busy trying to figure out what to do with all the children who have been orphaned.
I went to a Kindergarten to visit a few of these children and speak with care providers to better understand the situation. Like most children in Africa, they love visitors, so I could barely walk through the crowd of excited bodies pushing up against me. Surrounding me were bright faces full of energy, enthusiasm, and joy. We played games, danced, talked, and joked with one another. Yet, something was off. I looked around me and started to notice that I was being greeted by big smiles, but they weren’t bright smiles. They were the smiles of children who suffered from tooth decay, gingivitis, and broken teeth. After leaving I asked the case worker what was going on with their poor oral hygiene. She told me it was due to increased access to sugary sodas and candy, but that the children didn’t own toothbrushes at home. Their parents never learned the value of brushing their teeth, because the it was considered a luxury and not essential for a diet composed mainly of vegetables and corn meal. The children also suffered from tooth decay, because they were malnourished, which prevented their teeth from receiving the appropriate levels of vitamins and minerals to make them strong; hence, the broken brittle teeth. This blew my mind. For me, hunger had always been something I associated with the stomach; a stomach ache from not eating enough, or just being too tired. It never dawned on me that it was a full body problem that could even impact tooth decay.
Later that day, moved by the whole experience, I headed to the grocery store, and started piling healthy food and toothbrushes into two shopping carts. I’ll be honest, it may have looked a bit crazy. A guy walking down the aisles, hand outstretched, just piling food into the shopping cart till it overflowed. When it was too full, I went and got another cart. And when that cart got too full, I went and got another cart. Three full shopping carts later, I headed to the checkout line. Odd looks greeted me, but I was in a whole other place. The faces of the children pulled me to back, and I was not at all present in the moment. A manager of the grocery store approached me and asked for which event I was shopping. My South African family had to get my attention because I wasn’t even listening; I was lost in the zone. After exchanges between the manager and my family, the manager was so grateful for how much we had bought, that they gave us a complimentary bottle of wine for shopping with them.
Later that day, three full shopping carts worth of food and toothbrushes were dropped off with the Kindergarten, enough to feed the children for at least 2 months. Two months of food to feed a kindergarten! The total cost? Less than what I spend going out on a Friday night in Denver. Seriously, it cost less than a meal of sushi, drinks, and dancing. I don’t understand that. I don’t think I want to understand that.
The world needs to change. No doubt about it. But the changes I want to see in the world always seem dependent on me first changing the way I approach the world. I’ve developed a habit of being blind to my body’s needs as well as to the needs of others. This habit is so strong, and has been going on for so long, that I don’t even recognize it as a habit anymore—it’s just what I like to call, “my life”. If I can be honest, I’ve lost my appetite for my life. I don’t want to take another bite of life, unless innocent people around the world get to have their share too. So, on this day of rice and beans where I lost my appetite, I commit myself to be the change of a world revolution.
Andre, your words are a 5-star gourmet meal to my soul. The kind of meal God would make if He were cooking. Someone recently told me “Robin, if you want to change the world you’re going to have to learn to (fill in the blank)” The reason I say “fill in the blank” is because I can’t remember what he said, because it doesn’t matter. I don’t want to change the world – I just don’t wan the world to change ME. I want GOD to change me – into what HE wants me to be. But He is always going to have opposition from a world that wants me to be what it wants me to be. The problem is, we are sold a lie, but we work very hard to protect that lie, because we WANT to believe it. I don’t want to change the world, but I won’t live the lie. That makes me dangerous to people that want to keep right on living the lie, because all it takes is for one person to expose it as a lie, and it shatters the delusion for everyone. I won’t force truth on people who aren’t ready to hear it, but I also refuse to continue to live the lie. I’ve finally come to understand today what it is about working in reality television – in the entertainment industry as a whole – that I can no longer tolerate. I refuse any longer to invest myself in making television shows that the advertisers use to tell your daughters that they are too fat, ugly and/or have bad skin, but can sell you a product that can fix it all. I refuse to participate in an industry where people are hired and required to work 12 – 15 hour days often for $75 a day. Yes, that actually happens right here in our good old USA. PA’s are “independent contractors” and therefore have no laws protecting them. Just remember that the next time you watch “Amazing Race” – they work people 15 hour days and pay them $75. And that’s a network show – they have the largest budgets, and still essentially employ slave labor. I can’t count how many shows I worked on where days are 12 – 15 hours, and you’re LUCKY if you make $150 – which often doesn’t even cover your gas. I also don’t want to make the shows that sell all those sugared snacks, drinks and foods that are rotting children’s teeth and giving them cancer. I don’t want to be that person, but I have recently begun to believe that if I won’t be that person, I’m going to have to resign myself to being alone, because I just can’t sympathize anymore with someone complaining about the cost of filling up their enormous SUV with gas. I can’t really get excited anymore about people’s $300 concert tickets or the $200 they blow between gas, food, alcohol and a lift ticket going skiing for the day. I want to be kind, I want to be gracious, but I have a hard time being around people when pretty much everything they talk about – everything they do with their lives – kind of makes me want to throw up a little in the back of my mouth. I don’t want to look down my nose at them, I don’t want to become “holier than thou,” I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade or be Debbie Downer, but I just CAN’T get excited about most American passions. And I’m just as sick of the “poor” by US standards complaining about never having any money. I will never forget working with a homeless ministry and watching men pick through vast mountains of clothing and discard most of it as not being good enough for them. That’s when I knew we don’t really understand what poverty really is in America. Thank you for not trying to just change the world, Andre, but for trying to change YOURSELF. You have helped me believe that perhaps I am not as alone as I feel. I don’t want to change the world, I’m not real interested in people who want to “change the world” – because more often than not, what that means is they want to change everyone but themselves. I’m not interested in being changed by anyone but God, which means I’m not interested in people who want to change the world, because “the world” would include me, and that means they want to change ME – generally into what THEY want me to be. I’m just not interested. I am deeply, inordinately, PASSIONATELY interested in people who want to change THEMSELVES – because they are generally the ones that often DO end up changing the world, and it generally ends up being a bette place as a result – because changing the world was never the goal, it’s simply a happy by-product. Thank you for working on changing YOU, not “the world.” (And P.S. Black beans are one of the healthiest and all around most nutritious beans you can eat!)