By Hugh Acheson
Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. A time to gather around the dinner table with friends and family and reflect on everything we have to be thankful for. This year, far too many Americans are suffering, some from the aftermath of Hurricane Sunday, and others from an economy that is stagnating. Yet, Thanksgiving is also a time when we should look beyond our shores and think of the millions of people around the world who are suffering and dying from hunger and chronic malnutrition. With our current technology and know-how, it is inexcusable that nearly one billion people on our planet go to bed hungry each night. The scale of the problem is unimaginable to many Americans.
As someone whose career revolves around food, it is an overwhelming presence in my household year round, but never more so than during the Thanksgiving holiday. As I gather around the Thanksgiving table with my two daughters this year, I am particularly concerned by the toll a lack of food is taking on the world's youth, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
In Africa, 40 percent of children are so chronically malnourished by the time they turn five that they will never fully develop, both physically and mentally. This year alone, more than 3.5 million children will die from malnutrition.
Despite major progress in areas such as malaria prevention and childhood vaccinations, nutrition is an issue that has historically been overlooked by the international development community. Recently, however, it is gaining traction and there are promising new innovations in nutrition that could transform the developing world.
One such innovation is the humble sweet potato, a recurring dish on my Thanksgiving table. The orange flesh sweet potato is one of the most promising solutions for combating global malnutrition. With 600,000 children dying from vitamin A deficiency per year, sweet potatoes biofortified with vitamin A and other vital nutrients have the potential to help save millions of children from the effects of malnutrition.
Last month, I had the opportunity to work alongside some of America's best chefs to help put global nutrition on the development agenda. We teamed up with the ONE campaign, a non-profit advocacy group co-founded by Bono that fights global extreme poverty and preventable disease. ONE members and foodies around the world are now working together to urge global leaders to make measurable commitments to reduce chronic malnutrition by 2016 and help 25 million children reach their full potential.
Of course, hunger knows no borders and there are too many children here at home who are forced to go without proper meals. That's why I'm also involved with Wholesome Wave, one of many American organizations working to build strong links between local agriculture and underserved communities in the U.S.
So as we celebrate Thanksgiving, let's do our part to make sure children at home and abroad have access to plentiful, nutritious foods. This is not just a hunger issue. Children who receive proper nutrients are also better equipped to fight disease, get an education, and prepare themselves for a future in which they will one day support families and communities. By supporting healthy nutrition programs in the vulnerable areas of the world, we might begin to see the end of poverty.
Hugh Acheson is a ONE Supporter, Top Chef Master and judge, the author of A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen and chef/partner of the Athens, Georgia, restaurants Five and Ten and The National, and the Atlanta restaurant Empire State South.