In large parts of the world, going to bed hungry is a normal occurrence. In others, food is taken for granted with people over indulging, discarding half eaten sandwiches, even using it as a threat against children in hopes they’ll eat their greens.
But for those facing famine, the constant state of hunger is real.
Tuesday morning I woke up and went about my day as normal. Then around 10pm, Luca and I opened a packet of biscuits that his mum had given us during our recent trip to Italy. Biting into this little slice of heaven, I was immediately transported to my childhood, with the flavours tasting exactly like barley sugar. But no sooner had my thoughts been of this delicious treat that they were of something far more serious. Famine.
My memories of eating barley sugar went hand in hand with my participation in The 40 Hour Famine event run by World Vision. Running for over 50 years, this event has helped supply millions of people, in over 26 countries with clean water, food and shelter. The aim of the event is to promote change and education, by giving up food for 40 hours in order to understand what hunger feels likes.
After having a massive bowl of pasta for dinner, cake for dessert and later on the biscuit from Italy, I began to think about the food choices I was making and how so many individuals don’t have the luxury of dinner, dessert and late night snacks. So at ten thirty at night, I decided to walk in someone else’s shoes for 40 hours and give up food.
I have wanted to write about famine for a while now, but I wanted it to be honest and what better way to do that than to write about my own experience.
The program states that you are allowed to drink water and tea, as well as have 1-2 barley sugar every 2-4 hours. Being a last minute decision, I wasn’t prepared and had zero barley sugar in my house. But thinking about it now, that made the experience even more real. Individuals experiencing famine don’t often get warning, they can’t always prepare and stock up on certain items. It can happen in an instant as a result of a natural disaster, a drought, individual circumstance or from the poor economy of a country.
So Wednesday morning I arrived at work and instead of making my usual porridge with chia seeds and honey, I turned on my computer and began responding to emails. By eleven I had finished my first herbal tea and could feel a slight headache coming on. By eleven thirty my stomach was grumbling and I was trying to think about anything other than food. I was 13 hours into the challenge (most of it spent asleep) and had 27 hours to go. At this point I realised it was going to be harder than I originally thought.
When you go without food you’re body begins to burn stored sugar for energy. That reserve however doesn’t last long, usually depleting in the first 18-24 hours. Your body then uses muscle tissue to make glucose, but again not lasting long. Your body then maximises the breakdown of fats and your liver will start producing ketones to supply energy for the central nervous system. During this process, blood levels of cholesterol and uric acid tend to increase, due to your body stirring up stored toxic waste materials and expelling them into the bloodstream, to be eliminated from the body. This can provoke symptoms like headache, fatigue, nausea and dizziness. I was definitely beginning to experience the headaches!
My friend Emma said that I would come out of this with a healthier body due to the detoxification process. I mean, yes, that’s possible, but that’s only because I am actively choosing to do this for a maximum of 40 hours. Anything long term and my body would no longer be considered ‘healthy’. To experience hunger on a regular basis, to have no control over it, is not something I would wish on anyone.
World Vision have recently adapted their event to include things like, living out of a backpack and giving up items such as technology and furniture for 40 Hours, for those who want to participate but struggle with giving up food.
As I sat at my desk, post lunchtime, drinking my second herbal tea for the day, I was really testing myself. The hunger pains were strong and my headache was still present. I thought to myself, it would be so easy to give up, to simply open my desk drawer and eat the packet of mixed nuts I had in there. But then I told myself that I hadn’t made it 15.5 hours to just give up and that people experiencing hunger go through this on a daily basis, 40 hours is nothing in comparison.
By three o’clock I was really wishing I had some barley sugar. I needed something, anything, to fill my stomach. All I could think about was food, how I had none and how I desperately wanted some.
I’ve never given much thought to situations where people are so desperate for food or water that they’d do almost anything for it, but it got me thinking… so I hoped online and began researching. I was astounded to find multiple articles about hunger related violence. Groups of people, some of them often armed, starting fights in streets and robbing stores to take whatever they could. I honestly feel for these people. To be put in a situation where you compromise your integrity, where you become someone who resorts to crime just so you can provide a meal or two for yourself and your family. It’s something that nobody should ever have to go through.
Image Source: http://www.informafrica.com/tag/somalia/
Reality is though, situations like these are currently happening and will continue to happen for years to come. We can’t immediately put an end to it but we can help. We can participate in events like this, fundraise, donate and raise awareness. No matter what it is, it all helps.
With my headache almost gone, but my hunger still very much present, I was beginning to feel extremely tired and my concentration level was 40% at best. So at five o’clock I headed home to watch a little TV (another luxury often take for granted).
Around seven I had finished my fourth cup of tea for the day and I was surprised to notice that although I was feeling hungry, I wasn’t starving. My hunger pains were pretty manageable at this point, which I found surprising. It wasn’t until eleven when my headache had returned and multiple adds for KFC and Oreo biscuits were playing on TV that I began to really want food. So I decided to get some rest and go to bed.
I didn’t think hunger would affect my sleep, but I soon found out that it did. It took me two hours to fall asleep and I was tossing and turning all night. The constant grumble in my stomach keeping me awake. It’s amazing how hunger affects your life, so much that you don’t realise until experiencing it. It affected my concentration at work, which then affected my productivity and it also affected my sleep; which then affected my concentration and productivity at work the next day.
This morning I woke up with an empty feeling in my stomach but thankfully no headache. I was tired from the lack of sleep and after having a tea as my breakfast, I attempted to go about my day as normal. Fast forward to 2.25 in the afternoon, I was five minutes away from completing The 40 Hour Famine. The last hour, was definitely the hardest. I was feeling bloated and sooooooo hungry.
Out of everything I could have had, I opted for a bowl of porridge. This might seem boring to some, but I really missed this delicious meal that I’d become so accustomed to eating every morning. So that’s what I had and it tasted ten times better than usual! When I started eating my I noticed I was eating a lot quicker than I would have normally, so I had to consciously tell myself to slow down, otherwise I’m sure I would have ended up with a stomach ache.
To walk in someone else’s shoes for 40 hours, to experience the symptoms of hunger was a difficult experience. By hour 24 I was definitely counting down until I could eat again, but for many worldwide, they don’t get that luxury. They have no idea when or where their next meal is coming from.
The photos throughout this blog post showcase the famine situation in Africa, but there are homeless people and those post natural disaster, experiencing hunger all over the world. This experience has taught me to never take food, a warm shower and the roof over my head for granted, because so many live everyday without.
As it was a last minute decision to participate in The 40 Hour Famine, I didn’t set up a fundraiser but I will make a personal donation to the charity tonight.
For more information on famine, the below clip is from 2012, but very much still relevant today.