Alumni Voices: Jonathan Rhodes '98

Stop the painful craving for food

We all get spam messages. My favorite spam is the one I regularly receive from someone trying to sell me cheap Viagra pills (do they know something I don’t?). These messages usually end up in the trash, but the other day I received a spam message at work that set me to thinking.

The subject of the message read: "Stop the painful craving for food." As a natural reflex I was just about to hit the delete button but since I’m living in Africa and working for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the largest provider of food aid to the world’s hungriest people, I thought it might be worth a read.

At first I thought it might be some clever new anti-hunger slogan from one of our very creative public relations folk. Turns out, it’s about some miracle pill that helps people shed unwanted pounds.

Sign me up! I kind of like the idea of a magic pill that makes all those nasty little cravings for things like processed Velveeta cheese and pork rinds go away. Just before dialing in my pill order, it occurred to me that the state of the world’s food situation has become extreme.

On one end, obesity, which is caused by overeating, is dramatically increasing. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.5 billion adults and 43 million children under 5 are overweight. By 2015, the number is expected to increase to 2.3 billion posing serious health and economic implications.

On the other end of the spectrum, are the almost 1 billion people who do not have enough to eat. Most of these 1 billion "food insecure" people live in developing countries. They are hungry and it’s the kind of "hungry" that stunts a child’s growth because their bodies lack nutrients needed for proper development.

With these extremes, and the expected population growth from 7 to 9 billion people in the next 40 years, we need to get smart about food production and food access, and take a critical look at the entire global food supply system. We need a frank discussion about not only the kinds of food we eat and how to expand access to the right kinds of food, but also how to create a sustainable food supply to meet rising demand for future generations, who stand to inherit a much hungrier planet.

Recently, some big names in the agriculture and food production industries came together at the World Economic Forum to launch a new vision for global agriculture. The roadmap titled "Realizing a New Vision for Agriculture: A roadmap for stakeholders" challenges the reader to think about food as our collective responsibility. It’s worth a read. The document asks the reader to think of what we can do to ensure a safe, nutritious, abundant, accessible and sustainable food supply for the coming generations. It doesn’t offer a magic pill to stop our craving for food; it calls us to have an honest global dialogue about everyone’s right to this most basic human need and how best to create a sustainable food supply. With global food prices on the rise again, this roadmap has come just at the right time.

Jonathan Rhodes ’98 has worked for WFP for five years, first in its Rome, Italy, headquarters and now in Sudan, Africa, where WFP fed 9 million people in 2010 alone. Prior to joining WFP, he served on U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln’s Washington staff for more than seven years, including as her aide for hunger issues. Jonathan is from Cherokee Village, Ark.

For more information about WFP or the "Realizing A New Vision for Agriculture"
report go to: www.wfp.org or
www.weforum.org/agriculture