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.
*please note that this post contains images of famine that some might be sensitive to
Tuesday morning was routine as normal. I woke up, went to work, spent more money than needed at Sainsbury local on snacks to get me through that afternoon lull. Came home, had dinner and then Luca and I sat ourselves in front of the TV, turned on YouTube and opened a packet of biscuits 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. The flavour hit was instant, reminding me exactly of the barley sugar lollies I ate as a child. But no sooner had my thoughts been of this delicious sugary candy, 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 run by World Vision. Each year my primary school encouraged us as students to participate in the event, which utimately involved us giving up food for 40 hours, in order to understand what hunger feels likes. I remember having 40 Hour Famine slumber parties with my friends, watching movies, gossiping, whilst trying to survive on one piece of barley sugar every two hours. It was hard, but for a few years running, I managed to do it.
Reflecting on my current day’s meal – breakfast, followed by mid morning snacks, lunch, more snacks, a large bowl of pasta for dinner, cake for dessert and then the biscuits from Italy, I began to think about the food choices I was making and how so many individuals don’t have the luxury of breakfast, let alone snacks, dinner and dessert. Walking to the kitchen cupboard and putting away the half eaten packet of biscuits, I made an impromptu decision. I was going to walk in someone else’s shoes for 40 hours and complete the 40 Hour Famine.
I’ve wanted to shed some light on famine for a while now, but as I’m no expert on the subject, I wanted it to come from an honest and authentic place, as best as it could. So what better way to do that, than to write about my own experience of hunger.
The program states that you’re allowed to drink water and tea, as well as have 1-2 pieces of barley sugar every 2-4 hours. Being a last minute decision, I wasn’t prepared and had zero barley sugar in the house. But thinking about it now, that made the experience even more real. Individuals experiencing hunger don’t often get warning and 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.
Here’s How It Went…
9.00 am (29.5 hours to go)
Wednesday morning I arrived at work and instead of making my usual bowl of porridge with chia seeds and honey, I turned on my computer and began responding to emails.
11.30 am (27 hours to go)
I had just finished my first herbal tea of the day and could feel a headache coming on. 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 significantly harder than I originally thought.
According to various reports I found online, when you go without food you’re body begins to burn stored sugar for energy. That reserve however doesn’t last long. 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, a result of your body stirring up stored toxic waste materials and expelling them into the bloodstream, to then be eliminated from the body. This can provoke symptoms like headaches, fatigue, nausea and dizziness. And I can tell you, I was definitely beginning to experience the headaches.
My friend Charlotte commented that I’d end up with a healthier body due to the detoxification process. Which, 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 and to have no control over it, is not something I would wish on anyone.
1.30 pm (25 hours to go)
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 had yet to disappear. 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 that were in there. But then I told myself that I hadn’t made it 15 hours to just give up, and that people experiencing hunger go through this on a daily basis. Forty hours is nothing in comparison.
3.00 pm (23.5 hours to go)
At this point, 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.
Previously, I’d never given much thought into situations where people are so desperate for food or water that they’d do almost anything for it. But my current state of hunger really got me thinking. So I hoped online and began researching. I was astounded to find article after article 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 never connected any sort of violence with hunger before, but now that I’m more educated on the subject, I know it’s a very real thing.
To be put in a situation where you resort to crime just so you can provide a meal or two for yourself and or your family, well, it’s something someone should never have to go through. Reality is though, situations like these are currently happening and will continue to happen for years to come, all over the world. Some parts more than others. 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 we do, it all helps.
5.00 pm (21.5 hours to go)
My headache had surprisingly disappeared, however my hunger was still very much there. I was beginning to feel extremely tired and my concentration level was 40% at best. So I switched off my computer and headed home to relax.
7.00 pm (19.5 hours to go)
I had finished another cup of tea, bringing my total to four for the day. I was surprised to notice that although I was feeling hungry, I wasn’t starving. My hunger pains were actually quite manageable at this point.
11.00 pm (15.5 hours to go)
My headache had returned and adds for KFC playing on multiple channels had my mind fixated on food. So I decided to get some sleep, hoping to pass the time. And my hunger.
I didn’t think hunger would affect my sleep, but I was quick to find out that it indeed did. It took me a good two hours to fall asleep, the constant grumble in my stomach keeping me awake. The hours that followed, I was tossing and turning non stop. It’s amazing how much hunger affects your life. So much so, that you don’t really realise it until you experience it first hand. 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. It’s a continuous and vicious cycle.
8.00 am (6.5 hours to go)
Waking up, I felt a prominent emptiness in my stomach. The headache was gone but I was extremely tired from the lack of sleep. Replacing my breakfast with a cup of herbal tea, I attempted to go about my day as normal. Which was a huge struggle.
12.00 pm (2.5 hours to go)
I was feeling extermely bloated and extremely hungry. Time was going by slowly, and I mean SLOWLY. I was watching the clock every ten to fifteen minutes, just wishing for the time to speed up. All I could think about was the amount of minutes until I could eat again.
2.25 pm (5 minutes to go)
When it came down to that last five minutes, I was already in the kitchen preparing my food. Out of everything I could have had, I was surprised that what I wanted, what I was craving, was 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 a thousand times better than normal.
When I started eating though, I noticed I was eating a lot quicker than I would have normally, so I had to consciously force myself to slow down, otherwise I’m sure I would have ended up with quite the stomach ache.
To walk in someone else’s shoes for 40 hours, to experience the symptoms of hunger was a difficult experience. By the 37th hour I was counting down the time until I could eat again, but I know for many, they don’t get this luxury. They have no idea when or where their next meal is coming from.
The photos throughout this blog showcase the famine situation in Africa, however there are homeless people and those post natural disaster, and so many more, 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 program, I didn’t set up a fundraiser, but what’s great, is that my work colleagues saw what I was doing and are now going to participate in the program. They’re all setting up their own fundraisers, and I’m so happy that I was able to inspire them to get involved. Because any money raised, any awareness that’s spread, makes a huge difference.