Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2 Days to Christmas

Most of my favourite Christmas memories have to do with food. This fact may not seem so obvious if you meet me in person, but then again, you’ll agree that first impressions have never been a reliable indicator for anything. Thing is, I have always regarded Christmas at home to be mostly a celebration of good food and great company while remembering the Babe in Bethlehem.

I suppose it’s the nature of the festivities that have made food such an important component in the way we celebrate. Hospitality is incomplete without something to munch. And memories are made that much more precious when we can share them with friends and family over an array of delicious snacks.

As far as I remember, my mother’s donuts and chaklis have been something of a standard along with homemade cakes, cookies and assorted salties. Christmas Day lunch was always with friends who were away from loved ones, and included pulao or biryani. And on Christmas Eve, there was either roasted duck or turkey or whatever game meat was available at the supermarket. There have been slight variations over the years, but by and large, good food has remained centre-stage during the season.

While I do enjoy eating and find great delight in cooking, but for some reason, I have managed to steer clear from obesity. I suppose it has a lot to do with being fussy than disciplined, but frankly, it could be anything at all.

I was browsing the web the other day and was checking a few statistics, and I was reminded of my fussy eating habits. I realised I could be fussy because I can afford to be so. Not only me, but others who share my socio-economic status as well. We are privileged even without realising just how, and yet we are the ones who complain the most when the meat is not cooked properly or the presentation is not to our liking.

And while we make a fuss over what we eat or drink, there will be people in the world who won’t have the same advantage this Christmas. For them, it will be just another day with nothing to eat. For them, complaining of excess salt or sugar will be a luxury they can never dream about or even afford. For them, even a sugar cube would do to dampen the hunger pangs.

Maybe I’m being too harsh on myself and my peers, and maybe, I need to look at the entire situation with some perspective or even squeeze in some context. I wonder if that’s even possible when the following statistics aren’t something we can smile about.

• 1.02 billion people do not have enough to eat - more than the populations of USA, Canada and the European Union;

• The number of undernourished people in the world increased by 75 million in 2007 and 40 million in 2008, largely due to higher food prices;

• Asia and the Pacific region is home to over half the world’s population and nearly two thirds of the world’s hungry people;

• More than 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women;

• 65 percent of the world's hungry live in only seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

• Every six seconds a child dies because of hunger and related causes;

• More than 70 percent of the world's 146 million underweight children under age five years live in just 10 countries, with more than 50 per cent located in South Asia alone;

• 10.9 million children under five die in developing countries each year. Malnutrition and hunger-related diseases cause 60 percent of the deaths;

• The cost of undernutrition to national economic development is estimated at US$20-30 billion per annum;

• One out of four children - roughly 146 million - in developing countries are underweight.

(Source: World Food Programme)



Since context is what is required in understanding the extent of world hunger, I want to add another nasty angle to this equation to make us understand the perspective in a much broader framework. Now I don’t know if the following statistic will shed light on the problem or offer some sort of a solution, but I would like to be deliberately naive in assuming that it might just demonstrate potential solution to the problem.

It won’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the global military expenditure is unbelievably gargantuan, and it’s unlikely that budgetary cuts will be introduced to feed the hungry millions worldwide. It would be idealistic to imagine a sudden change of heart in the powers that be.

Of course, the explanation for such a huge military budget is that we are living in a dangerously world with terrorists and rogue countries waiting to strike at a moments notice. While I don’t completely disagree with this opinion, nevertheless, I see something else, too.

When a budget runs in millions and trillion, then, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that we are facing a huge problem that only an equally huge budget will help solve. It simply means that military solutions have acquired an economic life of their own, that they are sustainable, have become an industry and like all good industry, committed to ambitious growth plans.

Summarising below some key details from chapter 5 of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)’s 2009 Year Book on Armaments, Disarmament and International Security for 2008:

• World military expenditure in 2008 is estimated to have reached $1.464 trillion in current dollars (just over $1.2 trillion in 2005 constant dollars, as per above graph);

• This represents a 4 per cent increase in real terms since 2007 and a 45 per cent increase over the 10-year period since 1999;

• This corresponds to 2.4 per cent of world gross domestic product (GDP), or $217 for each person in the world;

• The USA with its massive spending budget, is the principal determinant of the current world trend, and its military expenditure now accounts for just under half of the world total, at 41.5% of the world total;

SIPRI has commented in the past on the increasing concentration of military expenditure, i.e. that a small number of countries spend the largest sums. This trend carries on into 2008 spending. For example,

• The 15 countries with the highest spending account for over 81% of the total;

• The USA is responsible for 41.5 per cent of the world total, distantly followed by the China (5.8% of world share), France (4.5%), UK (4.5%), and Russia (4%):

(Source: Global Issues)


At the end of the day, it's a matter of perspective but more than anything else, it's a question of priority. What we choose determines what we regard as more important, and will define what we regard to be the most urgent problem. The words of Christ are relevant in such a context: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Question is, where is our heart? What is our treasure?

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