Ours is a world of paradoxes when it comes to food and nutrition. On one hand, incomes around the world are on the rise. This globalized economy, however, threatens indigenous food cultures in many places, with communities adopting more Western—and less healthy—diets.
And the adage about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer rings true in the food world too. Worldwide, more and more grain is being fed to animals, leaving less to feed humans. Despite an explosion in development and hunger relief efforts, food insecurity is still pervasive. In Nigeria, 27 percent of families experience days without food. In India that number is 24 percent, and in Peru it is 14 percent.
All this makes today's World Food Day, with its “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition” theme, crucial to the on-going conversation about the global food system. Events happening today and throughout the week will focus on food resources and, more specifically, how we can feed more people, better. As a means of both celebration and public forum, Oxfam encouraged people to gather in solidarity with the world's farmers at a series of dinners scheduled to take place across the country.
Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder of Food Tank, is participating in an Oxfam dinner in Ames, Iowa, and says the 2013 Food Day theme fits perfectly with the UN’s designation of 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming.
“World Food Day can call attention to the crucial role that small-scale family farmers play in creating a more sustainable global food system—and it couldn’t come at a more opportune time,” says Nierenberg. “As the global population approaches nine billion by the year 2050, nourishing the world and preserving diminishing environmental resources presents a daunting challenge.”
World Food Day commemorates the Oct. 16, 1945, founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which runs the World Food Program. In a world where 3 million children die from malnutrition annually, the WFP provides school meals to 22 million children in 60 countries every year. Writing passionately about the program for Forbes.com, Kenyan Olympic marathon silver medalist Paul Tergat said the impact of receiving WFP meals throughout his childhood played a key role in his development and success.
“The WFP school meals program changed my life,” he writes. “I went from a boy who couldn’t concentrate in class to one who literally ran to and from school each day. This helped unlock my athletic talent that led me to set the marathon world record in 2003.”
But while such programs, funding for which has diminished over the years, remain crucial for so many people like Tergat, Nierenberg emphasizes that family-run farms are also crucial to feeding the world. She says they not only produce food, but generate incomes, provide social stability, and protect soils, water, and biodiversity.
People like Nierenberg may think about these issues everyday, but she sees Oct. 16 as an opporutnity to engage with a larger community. Having dinner together seems like a good place to start.