By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Home from an afternoon at the beach, my brothers, sisters, cousins and I would sit crowded on the front porch, still in our swimsuits with our feet crusted in sand, eating ice cream made with heavy cream, sugar, eggs, vanilla and fresh peaches. My first summer living in Senegal, I found a cast-off barrel freezer, bought mangoes from the market and a block of ice and sea salt from the local fishery, then invited my friends to an ice cream party, which brought back those memories from the beach.
Food is far more than just nutrition; it’s also a universal symbol of hospitality. Sharing a meal creates community. Food comforts us when its scent or flavor triggers emotion and memory.
Comfort food is generational as well as geographical. Senegalese children take comfort in a knobby green fruit called corossol, with flesh the color, flavor and texture of custard. Ugandan children scoping out street food choose kabalagala, a deep-fried doughnut made of sweet fingerling bananas and cassava flour. And children in Guinea suck on small bags of frozen bissap, gingembre or pain de singe – hibiscus, ginger or baobab fruit juices.
Food shortages throw families and communities into crisis, and it’s mainly a distribution problem because we have enough food to feed everyone. Food shortages result from climate change, waste or spoilage, poor infrastructure, unstable markets, conflicts, politics and disease.
We rarely consider disease as a factor in hunger, but epidemics dramatically affect food availability. HIV and AIDS, by primarily killing adults between ages 25 and 45, leave the back-breaking labor of farming to the children and elderly. Annual bouts of malaria reduce a farmer’s capacity to plant and harvest. And the Ebola outbreak in western Africa threatens food security through human response.
Ebola spread as people moved freely around the Western Guinean Lowland Forest that spans southern Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This shared ecosystem is home to ethnic groups whose family members extend across all three countries. Borders in the rainforest are unofficial and permeable. Initially, Ebola cases clustered in the triangle where Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia meet. But in time, as the infected sought treatment elsewhere, Ebola was transmitted to every district in Sierra Leone and to all but two of Liberia’s southernmost districts.
An early approach to limiting Ebola involved closing land borders. This tactic threatened thousands with starvation because more than three-quarters of Liberia’s produce comes from Guinea. Sierra Leone cannot cultivate enough crops to feed its population, either, and relies on trade with Guinea.
Also, Liberia quarantined towns and Sierra Leone locked down the country for a time. Because many western Africans lack a reliable source of electricity, they have no refrigeration and must purchase food daily. Otherwise, it perishes.
In October, the blog is focusing on the harvest and traditional foods. Stay tuned this month for recipes from some of the countries where we work.