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This got me thinking . . .

It's kind of a ramble behind the cut - you've been warned!



34,000 children die of malnutrition a day

goddessrockgeek posted an entry with this subject today, prompted by her studies. As she says, that's just under 13 million a year.

An appalling statistic. But what's even scarier is that I'll bet a fair proportion of these deaths are happening in so-called "developed" countries.

The Australian Red Cross launched a radio campaign this week to promote their efforts to, among other things, raise money to provide breakfasts to an alarming (and growing) number of Australian children who are going to school on empty stomachs.

I'm a long time supporter of the Red Cross, because they do good work, both in Australia and assisting overseas. And because I believe that charity should start at home.

The Good Start Breakfast Club provides a healthy breakfast and nutrition education to those children, primarily in primary or grade school, who are coming to school without having had breakfast.

Poverty is an insidious thing, and things must be pretty bad if you can't afford to buy breakfast foods for your kids. A box of cereal and some milk. Or a loaf of bread for toast. I'd also suspect those kids are going without lunch as well. There aren't school cafeterias in Australia, generally. And if there are (they used to be called "tuck shops" in the dim dark ages when I was in primary school), the kids have to pay for food. No money for breakfast food probably means no money to buy lunch either.

I'm not gonna get on my soapbox and rant about parents who can find money to drink, smoke, use drugs or gamble but can't feed their kids - that's a whole 'nother story.

But what prompted this entry was the radio ad I heard for the Red Cross this week. Now, as I said, long time supporter, so I do care about what they do. And if they're about to start their annual doorknock appeal, I need to get out my chequebook and send them a donation.

So the ad's talking about their "power of humanity" and how they're raising money for kids who go to school hungry because there's no money or "no time" for breakfast.

Buh?

I mean, it's dreadful to think of kids in such poverty in my own country that their parents can't even afford to buy breakfast foods for them, but what the hell kind of parent can't find time in the morning to get their kid a bowl of cereal before school?

And Kitty's entry this morning started me thinking about this. Hence my ramblings here.

I get the "no money for breakfast food", although it does appall me. I mean, breakfast cereal isn't cheap - my current supermarket has boxes ranging from $3 for 350g to $4 for 620g on special this week. They're not the sugary "name" brands kids might think they want from the ads on TV, but when I was growing up, you ate what mum bought, and that was the end of it.

And milk's likewise not cheap, although most supermarkets do a "homebrand" that saves money on that. And milk's milk, in my view.

But if you've got three or four kids, particularly boys, they can plow through a big box of cereal in a few days. Ditto for two litres of milk. And so the price mounts.

Buying bread and some kind of spread for toast might work out a bit cheaper - supermarket no-name bread runs you around $2 a loaf, and that might go a bit further filling boys' tummies. Add the cost of margarine and some kind of spread and okay, it's mounting in price too.

A sole parent, perhaps one on government income support, could definitely find that a challenge. Plus there's the added wrinkle of lack of basic nutritional knowledge, particularly in lower socio-economic families. If mum or dad's never lived in a household where anyone cooks (and believe me, that's increasingly common, sadly), then they're probably not up to the challenge of looking at what can be cheaper options, like cooking oatmeal the old fashioned way, baking your own bread, or making homemade muffins or the like.

Hell, they probably don't cook at all and rely on fast food, which in addition to being appallingly unhealthy, is very expensive in the long run. But again, a topic for another ramble.

What really has me beggared beyond belief is the "no time" thing.

I'm probably not the best one to talk - I got the "be on time" gene big time. I'm usually most comfortable getting up way too early to make sure I've got enough time to do what I have to do.

But I know there are people who couldn't be on time if you paid them for it. And mostly, hey, that's their deal and I'm cool with it. Pisses me the hell off if I've got to wait for them, but I'm not above telling them we need to leave half an hour earlier than we really need to, so that we've got a fighting chance of getting away on time.

But if you've got kids? I'm sorry, but they've got to come first. If that means you have to get up earlier so that you can feed them, then set the alarm clock and do it! If that means you don't get to read the paper and have a coffee, then take a teaspoon of cement and harden the fuck up, sunshine - you're supposed to be the responsible one.

Getting your kids to school with breakfast in their tummies trumps just about everything except for the most dire of emergencies. You not wanting to get up because you wanted an extra lie-in doesn't qualify.

It kinda pisses me off to think that there might well be families with enough money to feed their kids breakfast who end up sending their kids to a program like that because they can't organise themselves to get them fed before school.

I'm thinking, for example, of my brother-in-law. He's making very good money, but his partner does absolutely fuck all in the house, including cook. They live on take out for dinner, and she shops in dribs and drabs at the convenience store. And from the mess in the kitchen, there's not a whole lot of cooking or even eating at the kitchen table going on.

His kids might well go to school without breakfast - he's a habitual night owl who forgets he's got to get up for work and farts around til the wee small hours. I can imagine the household's a bit of a disaster area in the mornings, and it's only too likely that the kids are late to school and unfed when they get there.

There's a big difference between that and a single mum who's struggling to make ends meet and maybe just can't make the budget stretch far enough to cover three meals a day.

I'm curious if the breakfast program is in any way means-tested, to rule out the "couldn't be bothered getting organised to feed my kids" while still helping the "I have no money to feed my kids". Because I'll be damned if my donation's going to enable parents who need to grow up and accept their responsibilities for their kids to continue to be unfit parents.

I mean, when I was a kid, both my parents worked. Mum in particular started work at 6.00am, so she wasn't there to supervise breakfast. So she set the breakfast table at night before she went to bed - to save doing it in the morning when the noise might wake someone. When we got up, the cereal boxes were on the table, along with bowls and spoons. All we had to do was get the milk from the fridge and we were set.

Dad supervised - to the extent of making sure we actually ate. There was no TV on - before school, we had to eat breakfast, make our beds and get dressed. He dropped us at school on his way to work, or as we got older, we could walk if we wanted.

Neither of them got to sleep in and let us fend for ourselves. They accepted that's what it meant to have kids. And we were never rich - I'm sure there were times they struggled for money with four kids. But I don't recall ever going without a meal. Even if sometimes that meal was a casserole with a lot of vegetables and precious little meat.

I'm saddened that our society's gotten to a point where we have kids who are second, third and even fourth generation welfare - there's never been anyone in the family who's worked for a living. No one's ever sat down with them to teach them that if they cooked for themselves, they'd get better meals than what MacDonalds serves up.

Even sadder to think that there are parents out there who can't (or can't be bothered to) make sure their kids have enough to eat.

And while the Red Cross are doing what they can, I'm not sure it's enough. What good are lessons on nutrition to a child who's parent or parents simply can't afford food, good or otherwise? Or to a parent who can't be bothered?

I used to work for the government welfare agency, and every year we invited public submissions for ideas on how to improve income support. Food stamps was a perennial one - the idea being that it would prevent irresponsible parents from spending their welfare payments on booze or other non-essentials.

It always got knocked back, because the cost to administer the scheme would outweigh any potential benefits.

In the years since then, the government's set up schemes that allow welfare recipients to have expenses like rent taken directly from their payments so that they aren't tempted to spend the money on other things.

Maybe the time is right for food stamps, and some basic nutritional education for kids and parents. Maybe the government needs to look at the price of foods - while we pay no tax on fresh food, the cost of that is still way higher than buying a bunch of processed crap. Ditto meat, poultry and basic seafood.

I don't know what the answer is. I just know something needs to be done.