With the sweet potato on the menu and nutrition on the agenda, ONE hosted an event to commemorate World Food Day in Denver at the CU Anschutz Health & Wellness Center. According to its Chief Strategy Officer and Associate Professor at the Center for Human Nutrition, Dr. John C. Peters, the center was developed to begin to help fight the problems often associated with over-nourishment – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc. The irony, he said, is not lost. Despite our best efforts, we don’t actually know how to cure the diseases associated with over-nourishment. But the solutions to under-nourishment are very simple and very affordable. We know what it takes and what it costs.
“We stand at a momentous time in history,” Dr. Peters said. “For the first time in human existence, there are just about an equal number of people on the planet who are under-nourished as they are over-nourished.”
In the past, we used to think of malnutrition as a simply a lack of food. While that still may be the case for some, many more are actually suffering from what’s been termed “hidden hunger,” or a chronic lack of essential micronutrients. So while some children get enough calories, they aren’t getting enough micronutrients to fully grow and thrive.
Former Colorado Governor and current Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University Bill Ritter witnessed communities ravaged by malnutrition in the 1980s when he and his wife Jeannie spent three years as Catholic missionaries in Zambia. They ran a nutrition center where 35 percent of the children were malnourished or seriously undernourished. The things we often reduce to a statistic, Gov. Ritter had the opportunity to see in the faces and physical being of the children suffering the effects of malnutrition. “Their quality of life and ability to reach their potential was impeded in a serious way by nutrition issues.”
As Dr. Peters said, “There are kids on the planet who are stunted in growth but have excess body fat…and they will never reach their full potential because they don’t get enough micronutrients to survive.”
What a solution we have, then, in the sweet potato! Dr. Peters went on to describe how it is full of complex carbohydrates, high in fiber, contains a spectrum of micronutrients including calcium, iron and vitamin C. It provides more potassium than a banana and more vitamin A than a stack of carrots. One-fifth of one 200g sweet potato (that’s a pretty small portion) prepared with the skin would meet the daily requirement for vitamin A. Yet 600,000 people die per year from vitamin A deficiency.
Chef Hosea Rosenberg, winner of Bravo’s Top Chef Season 5, added that the sweet potato is easy to grow, thrives in environments where hunger largely exists, stores well, is easy to cook and is very versatile: “You can fry it, you can bake it, you can grind it, you can dry it, you can boil it, you can steam it, you can do so many wonderful things with sweet potatoes.”
Chef Rosenberg said he was honored to lend his voice to us today. “I chose to [be a chef] because it’s something that rewards me…to give [people] joy and nourishment and happiness with food. I never thought of it as something that could actually save lives.” But today he used his celebrity to do just that: bring awareness to the issue of nutrition in ending hunger. Chef Rosenberg is actively involved in the community both in Boulder and Denver where he has restaurants, and owning a small farm, supporting local agriculture and organic farming practices.
Governor Ritter reminded us that we celebrate World Food Day in the midst of an election where two candidates are focused on domestic issues, and when they talk about foreign policy, the conversation is very far away from what we are speaking about today.
Yet we are the richest nation in the world. “We have so much in the way of good grace that’s been given to us. And as the world’s leader, we have to confront what is our moral responsibility to the rest of the world.” His words echoed the parable that Pastor Michael Hidalgo of Denver Community Church and our event’s Emcee opened our time with, the story of the rich man and a beggar named Lazarus found in the Gospel of Luke.
“Jesus paints a picture here that every day this wealthy man walked past Lazarus and ignored him. He had the means to help but he didn’t. Richard Sterns of World Vision observes this story and says the rich man did not abuse Lazarus. He did not beat him or mistreat him. He simply ignored him. Passing by him day after day with indifference. His sin was not one of commission but one of omission. He was aware of the beggar’s plight, had the power to relieve his suffering and yet chose to do nothing. I see this parable as a great metaphor for all of us in the third millennium…What the ONE campaign has done is they have pointed to the beggar outside of our gate and they have brought awareness and education to the critical issues in our world. And so today we have a choice, to do something or to do nothing.”
Megan Marsh, Colorado Springs, CO, ONE Member and CO-5 District Leader