Written by Sophie Bell ’19
This blog post is written in response to Bell’s study abroad experience in Zambia during the fall 3-week led by Professors Amber Chenoweth and Emily McClung.
Overall, this trip left me with an attitude of less is more. So much of the time we feel stressed out and weighed down by things that are not necessities, or things that we don’t have that we want. Also, that we are in general a very gluttonous, self-centered, and wasteful society. I could have written many blog posts about this theme, but I have decided to focus in on one of my favorite topics, food. (And I apologize in advance because this is not a fun piece about Zambian food like I planned on writing!)
One of my first experiences in Zambia where I became pretty self aware was while my friend and I were waiting in the airport in Lusaka for the rest of our group to arrive on a different plane. We decided to have lunch at the [one and only] restaurant in the airport, and split a pizza. We had a couple pieces left, and the waitress came over and asked if we wanted a box. We said no, and she kept protesting with us, warning us about the flies that would land on the food as it sat. I found myself explaining to her that we didn’t want a box because we weren’t going to eat the rest of it. Normally, I probably would have taken the box, but since we weren’t going to have a fridge anytime soon, I said no. As a puzzled look spread across her face, I suddenly became extremely aware of my own actions. Growing up, people would always say, “Finish your food, there’s starving kids in Africa!” This idea became meaningless due to the amount that I had heard it, but then it suddenly struck me when I was literally in Africa, and I was choosing to throw away perfectly fine food.
In the middle of the trip, we visited a small local health clinic in Mfuwe, which is way out in the “bush,” meaning a very rural area. While there, we met with the volunteer doctor on site, who had been there for about three months. One thing he said, which I was pleasantly surprised to hear, was that malnutrition was not that common to see at the clinic, and was declining.
Towards the end of the trip, when we were visiting a preschool, where only children with sick or deceased parents attended, this feeling of incredible guilt for the thoughtless waste of food struck me again. It was breakfast time for the kids, who eagerly waited in line, with the girls going first, each doing a hastened curtsy and saying “thank you very much!” as they received a bowl of white rice. I sat with a group of kids while they ate, and noticed the same unspoken practice happening at every table in the classroom. I would say at least half the kids ate the entire bowl of rice by themselves. But, if a child was unable to finish their bowl, they would scrape every last grain of rice into another child’s bowl at their table. This continued at each of the tables of four until every bit of rice had been consumed. When I witnessed this, I thought back to when I worked at a country club a couple summers ago. Every night when we’d close, we’d easily throw away forty plus hot dogs, brats, burgers, etc. that had been cooked that day but not sold. I must add, that all of the children I saw at the preschool looked pretty healthy and well-cared for, so while they weren’t the “starving kids in Africa” we grew up seeing on TV commercials and being reprimanded about, they did not waste any food. They seemed extremely grateful for food, and were certainly not going to waste any of it.
As Dr. John at the clinic had said, malnutrition was not as prevalent as it used to be. Despite this it still has deeply influenced a culture, sort of like the so called “Silent Generation” of people that lived through the Great Depression, for instance, my Grandpa who insists that most foods don’t have an expiration date.
When I returned home after this trip, it was right before Christmas. Going from Zambia, where less is more and gratitude is widely practiced, to the United States, which was at the height of consumerism and overeating, was a rude awakening. When I got home, I opened the gigantic fridge at my parent’s house and was absolutely disgusted with the amount of food in it. Yes, we were hosting people for Christmas in a couple days, plus our own family of ten for break, but it was absurd. It was impossible to find anything you were looking for because it was stacked and packed to the brim. In conclusion, we should be more intentional in our portions and mindful of waste. This is more indicative of a mindset and attitude of gratitude, which is something we should all work to achieve.