Prior to moving to Africa, I failed to understand what food security meant on a personal basis. Though I grew up in a household that didn’t have a lot of money, we always had food. I never went hungry.
However, during PST, the first few months of training in South Africa, I lived with a family and ate what they ate. I didn’t truly realize it at the time, but the family I stayed with was food insecure.
Let me be clear, I never went hungry. But I often wasn’t full. Our meals were limited in choice and greatly emphasized cheap carbs like pap (stiff maize porridge), rice, and bread. Though we had protein at almost every meal, the servings were quite small. I didn’t eat many fruits and vegetables, and sometimes would go days without either.
Peace Corps delivered a food parcel every two weeks. The first few days after it was delivered were great-we had fresh fruit, green vegetables, and our meals were varied. The rest of the week, the fruit was gone and the vegetables started to peter out. The second week meant I was often hungry after lunch, and meals were mostly comprised pap and chicken. My family almost always had chicken at the evening meal, which was great, but the portions would dwindle during the second week. Some of the meals I had included penne pasta noodles with ketchup and chicken; lettuce and cheese sandwiches for lunch; pap and baked beans; and eggs, bread, and homemade French fries. Not exactly nutritious or delicious.
I remember times when I would open my lunch at 10am and frown because I was already hungry from breakfast and there wasn’t much for lunch. There were no snacks. There was no junk food. During PST, trainees are given a tiny stipend of about $15usd a week, so I was not able to supplement the family’s food often with my budget. I would occasionally buy some fruit to share or some chips to eat at lunch, but with such a small stipend, and it didn’t go far.
I lived in a food insecure household for 8 weeks, and that experience will never leave me. I can’t imagine living that way for the rest of my life, but at least 12 million people in South Africa do. I have no idea what it would have been like if Peace Corps hadn’t provided food parcels to our host families. Those food bundles ensured our food security while I was living in the household, and it troubles me that this wasn’t necessarily the case prior to my arrival.
Food insecurity has become an important issue for me since I arrived in Africa. Food security ought to be a basic human right, but at least 12 million people in South Africa are denied it. Most of the people in my village live in food insecure household. I’ve spent most of my service trying to ensure that, in some small way, families in my village can learn to be self-sufficient and ensure their own food security. Yet climate change and its impact on villages like mine concerns me, and threatens to undo all the work I’ve down over the past few years. Sadly, there’s no easy answer.
I can’t wave a magic wand and fix these problems. But I can give people the knowledge to improve their own lives and ensure a better future. And I’m trying to do that on a very small scale.