Roger Thurow was warned that looking into the eyes of someone who was dying from hunger becomes a disease to one’s soul. When the first famine of the 21st century left 14 million people starving in Ethiopia, Thurow had finally looked into those eyes.
“I was stopped cold,” said Thurow, who spoke for more than an hour in Sussman Theater at Drake University. Almost 100 people attended his speech that was presented by The Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement. Former Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent, Thurow, had recently published “The First 1,000 Days: A Critical Time for Mother and Child—And the World.”
When Thurow stopped in Ethiopia, he grew a passion to keep going back. As a journalist, he wanted to start his focus on the issue of hunger. Throughout the next couple years Thurow started tracking specific families with newborns from Guatemala, India, Uganda and the United States.
Through his research, he found an emerging issue that nutrition from the first 1000 days of a newborn’s life was being ignored. The brain grows the most expansively during this time. Eating food that contains certain levels of content and minerals is important during this time.
“The brain takes 70 percent of the calorie intake from food which is essential for the brain and immune system,” Thurow said.
A mother from Uganda told him “the deepest form of misery was being a mother who was unable to take care of the cry of a starving child.”
While families in other countries are battling malnutrition, the United States is struggling as well with poor nutrition. In Chicago, 25 percent of children entering kindergarten are overweight, Thurow said.
Harkin Institute’s public relations manager, Sarah Mattes, was in shock when Thurow discussed a family from the United States. Mattes, a Chicago native, read beforehand about the family Thurow tracked from the United States who happened to be from Chicago.
“It blew my mind,” Mattes said. “To think that there are children with stunted and low cognitive abilities because of poor nutrition, in what’s considered my hometown, was startling.” Kathryn Allen, senior student staff who helped organize the event, was not as taken back
by Thurow’s discussion of the United States but more of the fact he addressed the situation. “I think a lot of times,” Allen said. “We want to believe that it doesn’t happen here.” What brought the most attention to Allen was Thurow’s discussion of the ripple effect.
When one throws a rock into a pond, the ripples come back to his or her own feet. A stunted child anywhere is a stunted child everywhere, Thurow said.
“It’s not just happening over in Uganda or Ethiopia,” Allen said. “Its happening here in Des Moines.”
Allen and Mattes both found importance of informing the community about this subject.
“Being in college we tend to live in our own bubble,” Mattes said. “We don’t know what’s going on in the world around us.”
After a few years from first meeting the four separate families, Thurow had gone back to see how they were doing. He was happy they were still alive, but as predicted, the children had
stunted growth and a low cognitive abilities. Thurow continues to travel for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs as a senior fellow for global food and agriculture.
Written by Maric Salocker