Enough With The Indifference

This morning, I woke up to the New York Times and this horrifying, heartrending picture on the front page: a malnourished Indian girl, so incredibly thin it is hard to believe, being fed what looks like watered-down milk by her mother. The story talks about how 60 million children in India are malnourished.

Also in the New York Times and just about everywhere else: more news about Bernie Madoff, such a vivid example of the greed that, unfortunately, permeates our world today.

I am not religious, and I really am too cynical to believe that this will ever be a world where the bad guys get their just desserts and everyone cares for the welfare of everyone else. But more and more in these troubled times, I think, we are beginning to tire of extreme and ruthless greed and indifference. The Earth’s resources are limited, and when a few of us grab at too many of them, many, many others get nothing at all.

India and China have been all over the news these past few years because of their rapidly growing economies. Yet, these two countries are also home to the kind of poverty that most people in the developed world cannot even begin to imagine. What makes the poverty worse, if you can imagine that, is the indifference of those who have grown a thick skin to it.

A man begging outside Calcutta’s Dakshineshwar temple.

When Desi and I moved out of Thane, a city just outside Bombay, to study in the United States, a huge slum had begun to sprout up on a barren piece of land next to our apartment building. It was filled, like most slums in Bombay are, with migrants who pour into the city because there’s no livelihood in the villages. Soon enough, they find out that they have no value in the teeming city of 20 million either.

When I visited India a few years later, some former neighbors and friends proudly told me that a newly elected municipal commissioner had eradicated that slum and put up a beautiful pond there instead. No one, of course, knew what had happened to all those people who had made those slums their home. All they cared about was that they didn’t have to put up with all those “filthy” slumdwellers sullying their view of the polluted highway.

There’s something terribly wrong with that picture.

So why write about hunger and poverty on a food blog? After all, we are the people who celebrate food. And yes, food’s one of the most basic pleasures of life.

But when we cook and eat and revel in our fortune, let’s take pause to think about those millions of children around the world– including in the United States– who go to bed hungry each night. Those little girls we shoo away like flies when they cling to our feet in the local trains of Bombay, begging for a few rupees. And let’s think also of that skeletal girl in the New York Times whose face must have surely shocked millions of readers here, in the United States, and who will probably never ever have a full meal in her life.

Gandhi, who I often quote on this blog, considered indifference to suffering an act of violence. It doesn’t take much effort to make sense of that. Let’s all start by becoming more conscious of the world around us and reducing the waste in our lives so we can give more to those that never had a chance.

There’s never been a better time to do it.

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  1. says

    I agree with you totally..I am also deeply disturbed by all these things happening around..Still the pic haunting me is that one,so famous,in which the stick thin kid crawls for a food,n a hawk watching it..still gives me creep under skin.Lets reduce the waste of food ,appreciate our luck n be more kind to our fellow beings!!
    Also,do smoothie qualify to Mexican event??

  2. says

    Applause! One way we as vegans can help in our own communities is to look up a local chapter of Food Not Bombs -it’s a worldwide org that feeds the homeless. I recently discovered one in my own hometown, and will be donating time for that soon!

  3. says

    Bone chilling images and we assumed such malnourished kids existed only in Africa.Thanks for such a thoughtful post ,Vaishali.Charity to poor and desperate along with our own reduction of wasteful expenditures can heal the pathetic state of the unfortunate kids.

  4. says

    Ya…funnily foodies can perhaps emphatize more with hunger and starvation! I started reading up facts after joining BloggerAid…and yup feel very ashamed at some of the pictures and facts I came across! we can prevent wastage, consume less, and indirectly contribute. While in India we used to simply cook large volumes of food, and distribute to the needy outside churches and temples. I hear a cynical statement at work when folks find a crazy big business problem …”lets not try solve world hunger here”, and I just think to myself, well some folks at least try!

  5. says

    How shocking Vaishali .. removing people from their shelters to make a pond! Going by the numbers, if every family, if not person, took up to feed a least one child, there would be much less hungry children. Callousness & selfishness has become a way of life.

  6. says

    I disagree. The slum dwellers in Thane were all relocated and it is unfair to make allegations without checking up the facts. There is a relocated colony near my place itself. Most of these people however sell their rooms and set up camps on roads again. It is easy to comment when you reside abroad, Vaishali. But I think you should come here, and if possible contribute as much as you can. This is not to say you are wrong or I am judgmental but I really hate it when people who have migrated keep harping but will not come out with active help!!

    Most people help but would you be selfless? Are you selfless enough to come back, give up your comforts and put an end? The problem here is not so easy as it sounds. It is a very twisted thing!!

  7. says

    You see and read such things and you feel so helpless and frustrated…I have witnessed women in the ladies compartment in the locals verbally abuse, beat and literally kick kids and women out…just makes you mad. This pic is going to haunt us for a long time.

  8. says

    It is deeply saddening and frightening to think what we have gotten used growing up in India.
    Instead of acting smug about our new found economic importance, we should try to leverage that to uplift the poorest one third of our country, in a sustainable way. Sadly, the rich and powerful who call the shots, don’t really want that and the huge middle class is too caught up with its own clambering to the next social strata to care.

  9. says

    Thank you for your post !
    Honestly, that is the reason, why I decided to become a vegan… as much as I love animals (I am member of a group that rescues animals from Spanish killing stations)and want to avoid any suffering on their side, ultimately it was the welfare of mankind (as pompuous as that may sound, it’s for lack of better words… I am from Germany), that made me take that final step and choose veganism over vegetararianism. I hope many more people will understand the incredible chances we have in our choices and simple ones even, like what we eat.
    There IS a way we can both help our fellow humans, our fellow earthly creatures and our children and children’s children.
    We are not powerless!

    Like I read in a mag about ecologically grown food.. “what we choose to buy is a political statement.”

    I’ll put it one step further.. what we choose to eat is not only more of a political statement than the aforementioned, but also of our actual commitment to our present and future.

    And it is so SIMPLE.

    I could kick myself for not accepting the truth sooner.

    Please, keep posting such inspirational thoughts. They are highly appreciated!

    Hugs, KiKi

  10. says

    Once again I totally agree with you!Very well said!I believe that the current global crisis is exactly the result of the imbalance of our actions,urging us to look inwards as a society and re-check how what we do affects others.We must change our attitudes and understand that we are all in this together!
    I also think that this is actually the ideal place to look at this issue.While having the advantage of being able to prepare lovely dishes,we should have the responsability of having in mind those who do not have that luxury..It would be nice if each and every one of us could choose a way in which he would like to contribute back to society as a form of expressing gratitude to what we have.Sometimes we do not realise that every small act does count..thank you for your inspirational words.

  11. says

    Sunshinemom: Most Indians who reside abroad give back a lot to help disadvantaged Indians and many actually go back and do hands-on work there. So just because people choose to relocate, does not mean they do not care or that they should stop caring.
    Second, Bombay and its surrounding suburbs and cities have millions of slumdwellers. I lived in India long enough to know that when the government speaks about relocating the slumdwellers, it is usually a tiny percentage. And given the deep corruption among those that implement such plans, an even smaller percentage of the neediest people actually gets help.
    I often hear that one– the slumdwellers got flats, and they sold them and went back and set up more slums. But doesn’t that make you wonder if putting them in flats is the right answer? Shouldn’t the solution be deeper, like finding them a livelihood? Does anyone in India really question the government about that, except, maybe, a handful of social workers and grassroots activists?
    I wrote about India’s problems because the story in the New York Times moved me to say something, and as someone born in India I understand those issues. But poverty and misery are everywhere, including here in my adopted country which I care about just as much as I care about the country of my birth. In the end, the only thing that should matter to any of us is not where the people we help are, but do we help at all?

  12. says

    Hi Vaishali, first time to your blog and thank you for the comment at krishnaarpanam. No comments on this post as words cannot describe the helplessness we feel being abroad and its not a “Raathon raath daadi lambi” story. Hope u understand.

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