The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

A Wondrous Journey

By Roger Thurow
Author and Senior Fellow of Global Food and Agriculture, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Rare is the map that would label the stretch of Interstate 80 running through Iowa as a “scenic route.”  To most drivers, it is a straight, flat, smooth track to test speed limits and challenge radar devices; for many passengers, it is a time to nod off.

But, really, cruising down I-80 in the summer is one of the most wondrous, and paradoxical, drives in the country.

It can be a journey of inspiration, traveling over the rich soil, past the verdant fields of corn and soybeans and all manner of crops and livestock. The drive provides abundant time to admire the work of the state’s farmers, scientists, researchers and advocates who share a hunger-fighting kinship with Norman Borlaug, the Iowan whose leadership of the Green Revolution earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

But it is also a journey of outrage. For who can look out the window and not wonder: my goodness, all this bounty and we still have hunger and malnutrition in the 21st century? How can one in every four children under five years old in our world today be stunted? How can one in six children in our own communities live in food insecure households, with families struggling to provide three sufficiently nutritious meals a day?

I have traversed this trail of irony often,  first as a student at the University of Iowa, and then as a journalist, having visited the farms and the agriculture labs – as well as the soup kitchens and food pantries – of this state and the Midwest. Every exit through the cornfields reveals something new about our great challenge to nourish the world.

Particularly memorable have been the journeys to the World Food Prize festivities, where the annual Borlaug Dialogue celebrates advances and examines setbacks in the global fight against hunger. And there was the reporting trip that took me to a food pantry in a church hall. The food was arranged on shelves, like a grocery store. The signs on the shelves weren’t prices but rather instructions on how many items each food pantry patron could take. I squeezed my eyes tight to hold back tears as a mother and her children discussed their choices.  A loaf of bread or a box of pasta. Peanut butter or jelly. A can of corn or a bag of rice. Such heartbreaking decisions, in the world’s breadbasket.

This summer, I headed down I-80 again to attend two gatherings on the frontlines of the battle against malnutrition.  One was hosted by Lutheran Services in Iowa for home visitation workers who offer early childhood services, including nutrition advice, for parents of young children. Good nutrition, providing the proper vitamins and minerals, during a mom’s pregnancy through the child’s second birthday – a time known as the “first 1,000 days” – is vital for the robust development of the child’s body, brain, and immune system.  Nutrient deficiency during this time can lead to physical and cognitive stunting, which often results in a lifetime of underachievement.

These home visit discussions about grocery shopping choices and cooking practices emphasize that diversified diets are of immense importance - not only for the development of the individual child, but for the development of families, communities, states, and nations. This is further highlighted by the nutrition-related accomplishments of this year’s World Food Prize Laureates, Lawrence Haddad and David Nabarro.

Helping children get off to the best possible start in life was also a central theme of the Nebraska-Iowa Kiwanis District convention in Des Moines. Since 1990, the Kiwanis have been promoting early childhood development through the Young Children: Priority One program. Wil Blechman, who launched the initiative when he was Kiwanis International President, told the gathering that the Kiwanis’ work with children during the earliest years of life helps to shape the basic architecture of their brains. Success then would help assure the organization’s ambition as proclaimed on a banner flanking the stage: “Kiwanis Kids Programs: Promote development of competent, capable, and caring leaders.”

Such young leaders may one day make their own journey down I-80 and take the World Food Prize Des Moines exit to participate in the Iowa and Global Youth Institutes, which seek to inspire the next generation of hunger fighters. On the way, they can look out the window at the paradox of hunger amid plenty and pledge, “We can do better than this.”

09/10/2018 8:00 AM |Add a comment |Comments (1)
Thanks, Roger, for being in Iowa and for sharing your experience. Yes, there's much to be outraged about but there's hope too when more and more hear the story about together we can make sure all children have a chance to live a full and abundant life. We just need to make sure the food we have is shared with all. Keep up the good work!

Diana Sickles | | 09/16/2018 7:34 PM
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