Part V of our Stunting Story suggests scenarios to restore harmony and balance in the war between those simply profiteering from ultra-refined foods and nutritionists alarmed by the declining health of our children.
We started this series on stunting by saying that every powerful story has two parties, one doing its utmost to restore harmony and balance; and the other, sometimes unwittingly, powerful forces often shaped by ignorance or greed, determined to keep things out of kilter.
We discussed how government’s policy of centralised school nutrition has been a complete failure; it could have been no other way. Recently two million pupils, mostly from impoverished families were profoundly affected when the contractor failed to supply the (second rate, highly-refined) pseudo food and the Education Department cancelled the deal. The sum involved was over R2 billion rand. Will government continue to throw good money after bad?
There has been much in the media recently how NGOs have helped schools establish their own gardens, integrating the academic curriculum with what was happening right on their doorsteps. Children are learning to measure out the length of a row, how many millimetres deep a seed should be planted and the distance between plants.
How many millilitres of water each plant needs and the number of kilos in a tank. They weigh out the potatoes lifted and the beans harvested, learning basic arithmetic not from a textbook but by doing.
They learn how carbon can be sequestered from the atmosphere by a compost heap, and about microorganisms that bring about decay; about vermiculture in a worm farm and about the power of humus enabling the growing plant to harvest minerals and water more effectively from the soil. Could parents bring a bucket of cow manure and a bag of grass cuttings or leaves for mulch when they drop off their children at school?
They learn about the power in a tiny seed, the mystery of creation, as they plant mealies and then watch the sheer magic of tiny shoots that grow into towering giants; about pollen, stigmas and stamens. Stalk-borer control, weeding and hoeing are not simply onerous tasks for the very poor; and how delicious, satisfying food can be grown without toxic ecocides.
And the first rudiments of engineering; the power of the stays that keep the maize plant like an Eskom pylon upright. The science of pollination and the simplicity of keeping back some of your own seed for planting in the next season.
They can learn about diseases like cholera carried by water and how for millennia humans have stored pristine rainwater in cisterns; about wells and wetlands. About chemistry, how alkyl halides and pesticides attack the nervous system, how America and even more so China have made fatal flaws in planning by allowing toxic chemicals to poison first their rivers and then their brains.
One in an astonishing four Chinese adults over 65 are dying from the fastest growing brain malady in the world; Parkinson’s disease. And how South Africa is all set to follow this monumental blunder of so-called civilisation; it is possible to protect ourselves.
Children can learn how the disciplines of life, like weeding a row of carrots can become a time of stillness rather than a chore, of connecting with the divine; it's our variation of what is generally known as forest bathing.
By connecting with Mother Earth harmony and balance can be restored to their lives, not by some distant billionaire trucking in third grade polished rice from the East but in their school gardens. And taking the lessons learned back to their own homes.
Stunting story suggests scenarios to restore harmony and balance to our lives.
New potatoes are rich in resistant starch; much reaches the colon supplying nutrients for the microbiome. They have a far lesser effect on blood glucose.
Growing legumes in the home garden is not difficult, neither would it be in schools. They supply dietary protein; and important vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. More, they could provide an income for families and because of their ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, replenish soil fertility obviating the need for fertiliser.
Beans and peas can with ease be grown year round for hungry, starving stomachs and stunted bodies; the start made in school gardens and the knowledge carried home. Our favourite is the broad bean because it is the only legume that can supply all nine of the essential amino acids; it’s a complete protein like milk, eggs and meat. And they are prolific, each plant providing a huge amount of food for months.
By connecting with legumes in the garden, children can learn about the gases in the air, how rhizobia bacteria attached to their roots capture the nitrogen in the atmosphere for the amino acids that form our protein; and the divine process of photosynthesis that takes carbon dioxide and water, releasing life-giving oxygen for us and all animals.
This is not just hot air; at Our Green Home we have walked the talk. We enjoy green climbers and limas in the summer, broad beans and peas in the winter; every single day of the year from a suburban garden.
It’s of great significance that both China and Ethiopia have cottoned onto the benefits of the broad bean; they have become the largest growers in the world. Could the humble fava as it is called in many countries be part of the reason that Ethiopian Air has flourished and SAA is in the doldrums?
All it would take would be for each and every hungry family to plant six seeds per member. They do require considerable attention; staking, tying and regular watering. Is it too much to ask unemployed hungry people to spend half an hour each day tending their beans and carrying buckets of water from the shower or stream to the garden? In return they will have a complete protein for nearly six months of the year; longer if they freeze the surplus.
And then many other legumes could be grown year round; the common green climbing bean, limas and peanuts, for example. All have their own unique nutrients; iron, zinc and calcium. They are also rich in folate, niacin and many other vitamins.
Growing starches like maize, potatoes and butternut in school and home gardens would be so simple. No family should ever go hungry; nor any child be stunted. Building great big compost heaps is part of the deal. Biodegradable material is available everywhere. There are leaves, grass cuttings and vegetation at each corner; manure from goats, chickens and cattle too.
Just one susu plant, also known as chaote squash provided us with 150 gourds this year; we ate one almost every day for seven months. They are absolutely the easiest and most prolific food in Our Green Garden; a true highly-nutritious staple.
It is so simple to have ample greens from school and home gardens throughout the year. Spinach, kale and broccoli are the mainstays; many varieties of lettuce obviously. Rocket and coriander grow like weeds, in all providing far more than an average family could ever eat. The surplus could be used to feed rabbits and chickens for meat and eggs.
There is absolutely no reason why even one child should be hungry; and stunting could be a matter assigned to history. But which of the two forces at work will overcome? At present greed, lack of knowledge and sheer laziness are winning hands down.
All of this is counter big business. They want us to buy food from supermarkets, seeds in little packets and fertiliser in bags; at a huge markup in price and an equally massive drop in nutrient value. It's time to protect ourselves from the serious diseases caused by ecocides; and the additives use to flavour and preserve our refined meals unto everlasting life.
Stunting story suggests scenarios to restore harmony and balance; the success of all nations lies in the hands of their children. Without good food for their kids countries will inevitably become places without hope or a future.
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