Fasting in Berlin

I have about 2,5 hours to go of my fast and am running a nice hot bath right now, to wash off the heat and sweat of my excellent day here in Berlin. I have spend the majority of it in the Berlin Zoo, watching a lot of animals. Some of them were eating, for example a panda taking in a mouthwatering piece of watermelon. He was clearly enjoying it! There was also a table on display full of lettuce, zucchini, other cabbages and more great ingredients that I could have cooked into a decent, maybe even a delicious meal. Fortunately for the chimpanzees, I didn’t get the chance, so they actually got their lunch served just the way they like it.

For a food lover like me, who has never gone on a diet in her life for that same reason, there has to be a really convincing reason to fast. It was simple though, a South African friend of mine, that helped set up the facebook group African Act 4 Africa, thought of the following advocacy action:

‘On Thursday 25th August I am fasting for 12 hours in solidarity with 12 million African women, men and children facing famine in the Horn of Africa. I am calling on African leaders meeting that day at the African Union international pledging conference to give generously and act to make sure that this is the last famine in Africa. You in?’

And my answer was simple: I’m in. Famines don’t fall out of the sky. They are a process of years of usually extreme droughts, failed harvests and scarce resources overall. By the time a famine hits the newspaper there could have been a million things a government or the international community could have done to secure people’s right to food.

A family on the run from a famine has often gone through a process, where they saw their harvest fail, for a number of consecutive years. The first year they might still be able to survive on a little capital they had of parts of the harvest they sold from the previous year and buy food with that. The next year they don’t have new seeds for a new harvest, which they then have to buy as well. This is costing them more money and then their harvest fails again. To get food they will either have to use the last of their resources or start selling what they own. This is often their live stock. They don’t even have the chance to eat it, it’s more valuable to sell the meat and buy less nutrient food like millet or mais for porridge. Their bodies are not only starving, but also running out of reserves due to the lack of diversity in nutrients in their food. By the time you see the pictures of the camps, people have resorted to their last option: leave their home – perhaps having sold the last of what they own – to look for food elsewhere.

What I didn’t spend in Berlin today will go to the Dutch Red Cross to help the fight against the famine. I’ll be honest, it didn’t feel like a real fast. I ate breakfast in the morning and then started the 12 hour fast, which will be until 10 PM tonight. Furthermore I did drink water and had a small bottle of juice, as my mom – I’m here on a weekend Holiday with my parents and brother – felt so bad for me not eating. So I still have no clue what it really means to have no food and nothing to drink – a hot bath and a visit to a Zoo watching animals eat are certainly not on a priority list of somebody suffering from hunger – but I genuinely hope there will be more actions like this and in the future much more structural efforts to tackle the build up of famines, as food security should never be a last resort, but a first priority, on any government’s agenda.

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