Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Vive la Peanut Butter

Do you ever wonder just what it would take to make a noticeable difference in the world? I do. I think it’s some terribly large, difficult thing that would take my whole life, and for which I would only be recognized posthumously.

I now think I’m wrong. Sometimes, it just takes seeing a problem for what it is, not all its ancillary problems.

Remember the Nestle baby milk fiasco of the mid-90’s? Basically, makers of baby formula were telling African mothers that their products, rather than breast milk, created healthier babies. Notwithstanding that this is simply false, it also failed to take into account that many African women are/were illiterate and thus cannot read the directions, they had limited access to clean water with which to mix formula, and the price of formula was often equal to half or more of the family’s income per month. All this led to badly mixed, unclean, or diluted formula, which led to babies starving.

There’s now a WHO/UNICEF code to prevent such things from happening again, which is the traditional way of remedying a problem; pass a law.

However, the law does not relieve many of the problems of infant-feeding in poor countries. Most milk-based formulas spoil easily and are difficult to get to places that lack refrigeration. They’re also still expensive. Africa’s women are also largely still illiterate.

Enter two French daddies, who feed their young children an usual European breakfast food, toast with a hazelnut-chocolate spread (common brand in the U.S. is Nutella).

These fathers are also scientists and noticed a curious thing about their kids’ bread spread. It had the same nutritional profile as many baby formulas.

So, they invented a peanut butter-based version, packaged it pre-mixed in a foil wrapper, and called it Plumpy’nut (they’re French, what can I say).

It doesn’t spoil, it adds pounds to children as well as milk-based supplements, and it’s cheap. Medecins Sans Frontieres ran a relief campaign in 2000 that helped only a few thousand children. This year with Plumpy’nut, they will feed over 30,000 children in one country (Niger), and more across Africa.

Thinking outside the breast; it’s a good thing. It’s also culturally sensitive, since much of West Africa relies on “groundnuts” as a protein source. What’s a groundnut? It’s in the same family as the goober pea, or peanut . There are several different species, but the entire group can be generally referred to as groundnuts.

Somewhere, the Great Circle of Karma triumphs yet again, as we can credit George Washington Carver for inventing peanut butter in the first place. A man that turned down a huge salary to work to benefit his countrymen (Americans), ends up saving uncounted future babies from starvation on the very continent from which his ancestors were kidnapped into slavery.

Ironic in a good way, eh?

So, merci beaucoup Monsieur Lafayette y la peoples Francaise, for the Louisiana Purchase and for breeding smart scientist daddies who read bread spread labels, rather than wondering how on earth they could make a difference. Perhaps they are right now saving the life of the next George Washington Carver. Vive la France!


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