Acton Institute Powerblog

Images of Plenty and Want

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The conflicting images I spoke about last week, the obesity of poor children in America, are the subject of a weekend piece in the NYT, “India Prosperity Creates Paradox; Many Children Are Fat, Even More Are Famished.”

Of course, in India these aren’t the same kids: by and large the poor ones aren’t the fat ones. Someni Sengupta writes, “In short, while new money and new foods transform the eating habits of some of India’s youngest citizens, gnawing destitution continues to plague millions of others. Taken together, it is a picture of plenty and want, each producing its own set of afflictions.”

The social problems are accompanied by the requisite calls to expand inadequate government programs. “In a rare rebuke, the Supreme Court of India this month ordered the government to expand swiftly the number of nutrition programs in the country. The programs now serve around 46 million children, at least on paper.”

Here’s a sample of what one of these programs looks like in practice.

One morning in a destitute rural district called Barabanki about 300 miles northwest of here, a dozen small children, most of them barefoot, some of them barely clothed, lined up for help at a program known as Integrated Child Development Services.

On this morning, every child received a scoop of dry cereal, a bland mixture of wheat, sugar and soy that is called panjiri in Hindi.

Some brought a plastic bag to hold their gift. Others made a bowl with the dirty end of whatever they wore. They sat on the ground and shoveled the food into their mouths.

Mothers in this village said the dry ration cereal sometimes made their children sick. No cooked food was available at this center. The center was also supposed to dispense vitamin-fortified oil to the villagers, but they said it rarely came.

These don’t seem to be practices that place a premium on human dignity or instilling self-sufficiency, but are rather based on perpetuating dependency on government.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.