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Food for thought

Food is the most basic need for human survival. It is vital for our existence and yet we fail to understand its significance. People waste a lot of food. “It doesn’t taste good” or “I am full” are the typical tantrums we throw. See the little girl in the picture, on the other hand. The picture shows a hungry and malnourished girl  being stalked by an equally hungry vulture as she wriggles her way towards a relief camp. This Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph was shot by Kevin Carter in the village of Ayod in Sudan during the 1993 famine.

According to Carter, he waited for about 20 minutes for the bird to spread its wings but it did not, so he shot the photo and then chased away the bird. After chasing the vulture away, reports say, Carter sat under a tree, lit a cigarette, talked to God and cried. 

First published in the New York Times, the picture made Carter a world-famous photographer. But he was depressed as hundreds of people wrote and called the Times asking what had happened to the child. Even Carter didn’t know if the child finally made it to the relief camp. Carter was so affected by what he had seen that after returning home to New York he committed suicide.

Carter died at the young age of 33, leaving behind a picture that is  as moving today as the day it was first published.

The little girl knew the true meaning of food, and of life. Isaac Asimov captures this well in one of his short stories called `Vultures’, in which alien beings from another planet circle the earth in their spaceship watching humanity propel itself to its doom, and waiting for the final burnout of the planet. If Asimov had seen this photo, he would have known that ‘Vultures’ is not science fiction but  reality.

The girl in the picture is just one example of the real-life situation. Think of the millions of poor people dying of hunger every minute. About 27% of the total food grown simply being thrown away even as 1.2 billion people go underfed. This photograph compels us to think more forcefully about food security.

-- Sushant Sharma

(Sushant Sharma is a student of class X at the Apeejay School in Pitampura, New Delhi)

InfoChange News & Features, August 2006

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