At a recent meeting with a community-building group, the question was raised: what causes can we focus on without triggering the extreme divisiveness that seems to characterize post-Trump America? There are plenty of things that used to be non-partisan, but that list is growing smaller all the time. One thing I think we can all agree on is that childhood starvation is a great evil. Sharman Apt Russell has written an important, and ultimately hopeful book about it: Within Our Grasp: Childhood Malnutrition Worldwide and the Revolution Taking Place to End It. This is a wide-ranging book with a general orientation toward Africa and a somewhat more specific emphasis on Malawi. Not limited to that nation, it also addresses childhood nutrition in countries such as India and Vietnam and Brazil.
Russell points out the many developments taking place through the selfless efforts of mostly doctors who’ve seen the effects of malnutrition first-hand. These individuals aren’t content to let things take care of themselves—their names and organizations are in this book, if you are able to help—and have worked on producing solutions. One is ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF). These are inexpensive, fortified compounds that can be distributed to severely malnourished children and very effectively prevent stunting and starvation. Russell points out that efforts have been made to make such products profitable, otherwise even companies that have some vestiges of social consciousness tend to stay away. There has to be a way of making money or shareholders just won’t like it, no matter how many children are saved. Alas, we live in a capitalist world!
A standout, for me, is how much such efforts rely on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Governments are often too busy concentrating on power. We see this world-wide. Although this book was written before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, one of the things Russell points out is that war is one of the primary causes of childhood malnutrition. The Putins of the world initiate wars for their own selfish reasons and condemn children to death. It’s the NGOs that step in and try to make the world a place of a little less suffering. When I worked in Manhattan this was written on the skyline. Buildings dedicated to helping were small brick structures huddled next to corporate profit-making giants. Guess which is dedicated to making the world a better place? This is a hard book to read at times, but it is ultimately hopeful. Progress is being made, but we can do more. And one way to do so is to spread word about Within Our Grasp.