The interdependencies of global life boggle the mind. Last year, climate change and extreme weather led to poor harvests in major grain growing countries like Australia. Concern for the environment combined with complex political issues drove America to turn millions of acres of wheat, maize and other crops to produce bio-fuel for cars. Shortage of food gave traders in sub-Saharan Africa the chance to intensify the shortage by hoarding grain. Food riots broke out elsewhere in the developing world, leading to political instability. FAO reports that 2008 saw the biggest rise in malnutrition. Then recession stepped in and the World Food Programme was forced to take severe cuts. So the world's hungry will now be hungrier.
Around the time these reports came in, I happened to be reading "Aydaan", the memoirs of dalit writer and activist Urmila Pawar. Though she grew up barefoot and occasionally unwashed, her parents somehow always managed to put two square meals in her and her siblings' stomachs. But hunger was a permanent condition of her community. ("Will hunger-fires forge a poem? Will music die in the fire of hunger?" asks the poet Namdeo Dhasal.) Mothers, ever resourceful, found a way to satisfy the hunger of their wailing children. Pawar tells us how it was done. The mother gave the child a scrap of coarse grain bread, difficult to chew, and asked her/him to "dip" bits of it in an empty cooking pot as accompaniment. Magically the child's hunger was satisfied.
Another technique that one of Pawar's readers told her about was to feed a bawling child in the usual way but with an empty hand. The child opens its mouth and closes it with every "mouthful". After a while the child stops crying. I have no explanation for the effectiveness of the "empty hand" technique except to hazard the guess that no child, however hungry, has the lung power to cry for ever. But I have found an explanation for the effectiveness of the "empty pot" technique, thanks to Dr Yash Paul of PGI Chandigarh. We must remember here that a piece of coarse grain bhakri is a very slow thing to eat.
Dr Yash Paul, whose patients are well-fed, advises them to spend 15 to 20 minutes eating one chapati, and 50 minutes over a whole meal of cereals, veggies, dal and salad. Slow eating gives the satiety centre in the brain time to suppress the hunger centre, producing a feeling of fullness before you reach out for a second helping. The result is loss of weight and decreased risk of heart disease.
That's not all. There's an added bonus to the "Yash India Technique" which should fetch Dr Paul a Padma Shri at least. He has discovered that slow eating controls "the Alpha Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone and Malonyl COA expression, thus reducing the stress hormone in the body, which in turn leads to lesser darkening or decreased melanin deposition in the body". In plain words, this means our national dream is realised. We come up with "a clearer and fairer complexion in two to three months". Dr Paul now awaits an international patent for the technique.
If our poor had time to spare from foraging for food, they too could get a patent on their centuries-old techniques for beating hunger. This would be at least as useful in today's world as the "Yash India Technique" for the over-fed.