|Essays on Food, Hunger, Nutrition, Primary Health Care and Development (AVIVA, 480 p.)|
|6. Ethics And Ideology in the Battle Against Malnutrition|
'Yes, but what can I do?'
For those among us, accustomed to solving problems and putting them aside, grasping a problem as intractable as world hunger guarantees frustration.
The flaw in our thinking lies in failing to realize that the solution to the malnutrition problem is not in nature, but in ourselves, in our approach to the fundamental social relationships among men (Omo Fadaka, 1979). Malnutrition should not be attacked because to do so brings mankind utility, but because such a task is morally necessary (Emmanuel Kant). What we need to fight for is equity not utility.
It seems that a full devotion to science is not enough; we need to use science to follow our conscience. We need to begin to think about ourselves as political human beings working as technicians. Experts seldom become politicians, but they can and should become activists in their fields. An important requirement for this is to seek knowledge about the real world and not only about the world we would like to see (Sigurdson, 1978). It is precisely a misunderstanding of reality (or a partial understanding) that often reinforces the amoral position of some of our colleagues. The social reality is not like a laboratory; many variables in it are unknown and unforeseen and when we look at them we often do it the wrong way, searching for the statistical 'whats' instead of analysing the human 'whys' (Critchfield, 1979).
Nutrition seems to be as good (or bad) an entry point as any other - employment. education, energy, natural resources, ecology, etc. - to get involved in questions of equity in our societies, if it is used as an ideology laden concept or tool. Since the constraints in equity are structural in nature, criticizing them from any (...) should lead us invariably to the core of social structural problems. Nutrition can lead to global considerations if not made a 'single-issue' goal. There are too many substitutes for in-depth political action in 'single-issue politics' that lead nowhere. The worst is that many people do not see this difference and a lot of political motivation and sometimes talent in scientists or lay people is lost because of a pseudo-ideological approach to global issues. Single-issue politics suffers from a lack of global vision of society.
What is really needed, is more dedication to work directly with the poor so they can tackle the causes of their poverty and malnutrition themselves. This calls for us to go, as much as possible, back to field work and out of our offices or labs. It seems to be that only there we can get the strengths needed for a change in direction and perspective in our daily work. Knowledge and scientific power created in our institutions away from the people are returning to the people and affecting them. The gap between those of us, who have social power over thinking - a very important form of 'capital' - and those who have not, has reached dimensions no less formidable than the gap in access to economic assets (Rahman, 1979). 'Knowledge is a responsibility' (Bronowski).
We need to be prepared to learn from the people and from their perceptions of the problems. We should establish links with local mass movements. We should participate in their conscientization. The choice is, essentially, between leading the masses toward social changes with an external consciousness and raising mass consciousness and their capability to make the changes for themselves.
Strictly speaking, nutritionists can go to the field as researchers or in charge of interventions. But in reality, researchers should always participate and intervene as well, even at the cost of altering some of the parameters they are interested in studying. They should enter into a dialogue with the group studied which should direct the research towards the problems that are relevant to the group.
In any event, the desirable standard role of the nutritionist in the field would be one of a monitor that does not allow programmatic interventions to proceed unchanged if they are culturally or politically neutral or biased against the interests of the beneficiaries (decision victims).
This brings us back to our original question: What can I do? A number of possible directions have been explored. Ideas appear in print well before they start to produce real changes. All that is said here just stresses the fact that the battle against malnutrition can be won, if we play our roles to their last consequences.