Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hunger: Some Thoughts

Around Thanksgiving Day in the US it is common practice among do-gooding citizens to shuffle over to their local church or relief agency and work the soup line or volunteer as a dinner server to homeless or less fortunate souls. As worthy an act as that may be, often it doesn't come from a reflective position that considers the human condition: greed, politics, economic structure and all the other messy stuff.

It's as much a human need to help others as it is to feed ourselves. But make no mistake, Thanksgiving in America has become less a commemorative celebration and more a homage to gluttony. That might sound harsh, but the day is little more than "Turkey Day" to most, and at best, a time to spend a long weekend with family.

Within the framework of eating and indulging, little time is spent thinking about hunger, even among those doling out sweet-potatoes at the rescue mission. A new book, however, explores hunger's thorny aspects, and its role in our lives -- and I mean all of our lives.

Sharman Apr Russell's Hunger: An Unnatural History delves into the topic from a variety of angles that reveal what a universal and complex issue hunger can be -- while being very close to our doorsteps daily.

In her informative, non-judgmental vinyettes Russell explores :

• Famine, fasting and skipping eating
• Digestion, appetite
• Glucose, obesity, poverty and hunger
• Religious fasting, starvation, caloric restriction
• Hunger strikes as social protest, starvation experiments
• Mass famine, medicalization of hunger
• Anorexia Nervosa
• New ways to feed malnourished children
• Social causes of hunger, United Nations Hunger Task Force

and many other topics. Its exhaustive, yet still the New York Times said:
That we have deep-seated and contradictory feelings about our appetites is undeniable. That hunger for food can be a force more powerful than reason, common decency or love itself even overfed Westerners can well believe. As a scientist once said to me, "Most of us are only nine meals away from murder." Yet in making sense of this sovereign, pitiless, archeo-urge, "Hunger" only whets the appetite; it doesn't fulfill it.

I say, read this book, and feast on its grains of wisdom. We can all learn a thing or two about hunger, and ourselves.