What Do the Hungry Eat?

What Do the Hungry Eat?

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It was narrated by Ibn Kathir that, once Allah inspired the spirit in Adam’s body, he desired food and could not wait till the spirit spread in his leg, and he jumped to catch the fruits of Paradise!

Allah has created for us those entirely amazing sorts of food in different shapes, colors, and tastes. Those different types and shapes of food do fulfill all our physical and emotional needs. Food has to do not only with keeping the body alive, but also with desiring and enjoying. However, what if you are in a place where the food is not healthy or widely available but only keeps you alive?

At times of war, famine, drought, or poverty, people have just one choice: to eat whatever their hands can reach in order to survive. But what do they eat?

In the past, poor people used to eat directly from the land, as it was the only place to get food from. Nowadays, even those crops are not available; the food price crisis, high rates of poverty, and climate change have made even cheap, local, fresh crops no longer available. Maybe that is why strange recipes and substitutes for food have started to materialize.

Here are some recipes that the poor around the world have developed under their tight budget or severe conditions to relieve their hunger.

In Bosnia: Eating Grass Is a Way of Survival  

Bosnia and Herzegovina have experienced long-term wars and catastrophes; during those horrible circumstances, it was very hard for Bosnian people to have food.

Mensur Ganibegovic, a 22-year-old from Bosnia, said:

“Bosnians who used to live in apartment buildings used to plant vegetables on their apartment balconies; tomatoes, carrots, and things like that can be planted in limited spaces. The people could not go outside and buy food in the city due to heavy sniper fire from Serbs and Croats — they used to kill anyone who went outside. Bosnians got used to eating small quantities of food, in order to conserve what they had.”

This was only for the lucky people, but the very poor Bosnians were forced to eat grass as there was nothing else to eat.

In Somalia: Neither Enjoyable nor Affordable Roasted Leather 

has experienced lots of tough climate changes and military conflicts. Moreover, Somalia already has a high poverty rate. Keeping oneself fed in such situations is like a mission impossible.

“There was a time where Somalians roasted the skins of animals, and they also used to sleep on them to survive,” said Abdnasir Guld, a Somalian.

“The food you have today may not be available tomorrow, and that’s why preserving food is something essential in such an environment,” he noted

“As for preserving food, we slaughter camels and preserve the meat by drying and mixing it with dates and salt,” Abdnasir added.

In Nigeria: Don’t Throw the Peel Away!

For Nigerians, preserving food is an inherited culture due to severe conditions, which have forced people to hold on to this practice for a long time. At times of prosperity, cassava — a local crop in Nigeria, like yam — has been used to make delicious dishes. Cassava has a thick skin, which is always cooked after peeling it off the vegetable. However, hunger finds other uses.  

“Nigerians used to throw the peel of Cassava away, but at the time of hunger and food shortage, the peel of Cassava can be used to make edible powder, by drying the peel in the sun and crushing it, then eating it,” said Kamal Badr, a Nigerian. They also eat lots of Pap, which is a kind of porridge that Nigerians make by adding water to ground corn and mixing them until the mix turns thick.

In Afghanistan: Survive on Domestic Animals  

In a country where poverty rate is estimated at over 50 percent and unemployment at 40 percent and where clean water, electricity and advanced medical care are luxuries and drought is a chronic problem, food remains the people’s daily and bitter challenge.

Some Afghan families get used to going to bed with empty stomachs; others would eat the dry bread that is stored for domestic animals. They buy seven kilos of bread for 40 Afghans and eat it with cold water.

For Afghan people in general, boiling rice is considered as the starvation dish, as it is the cheapest and most abundant food for the poor. What makes rice the starvation dish is that a family eats only a dish of rice, without any other additions, to the meal.

Borhan Yunis from Afghanistan affirmed this as follows:

During starvation, the Afghan people always resort to the substitutes of wheat. I remember about three years ago there was a starvation in Afghanistan, and people were depending mainly on rice as the cheap substitute for wheat. The people here in Afghanistan called that year “The Year of Rice”.

In Gaza: Dukkah used to Quiet Children’s Hungry Stomachs  

In the world’s largest prison, Gaza (the home of more than 1.6 million people, according to UN humanitarian aid officials), hunger pushes people to eat grass and leaves that grow wildly beside the roads.

Abu Mohamed Hemto, from the Gaza Strip, said that the long-term siege and severe war made Palestinians really self-sufficient. They can make their bread by themselves at home, using very simple and old ovens that are fueled by straw and firewood.

“Gazans are used to make an edible powder of wheat, sumac, and some local cheap spices. They call it Dukkah, and they use this Dukkah to make sandwiches, especially for young kids, as it can mitigate their hungry, angry stomachs,” Hemto said.

As for the Gazans’ ways to preserve food, Hemto added:

We also dry thyme and vegetables and store olive oil so as to use them when the siege is so sharp. Also, we as neighbors exchange food and help each other to keep ourselves fed.

In Egypt: Nationals Eat Bread and Lick the Bones  

Egypt, the breadbasket of the Roman Empire, nowadays finds that there is not enough bread for its citizens due to the serious shortage in flour, in one of the world’s worst bread crises.

Not only bread, but even the local cheap dishes that the poor used to depend on to survive are no longer available. The cheap, most popular falafel (a bean recipe) has become an unattainable dream because of the high prices.

The poor Egyptians prepare bread porridge, which is made by adding some water to old, dried scraps of low-quality local bread. Then, the scraps are mixed with water until the mix turns into a thick sauce, which looks like sesame sauce. They eat this sauce with another piece of bread.

Egyptians also substitute the very expensive meat with the bones of livestock. They manage to make a soup using livestock’s and chickens’ bones that are thrown away by butchers for cats and dogs to eat. They buy these bones then wash and cook them with large amounts of water and onion. They sip the soup and lick the bones. They call it meat soup, although there is hardly any meat in it!

In Haiti: People Die From Hunger or Dirt Cakes  

Although dirt contains deadly parasites or toxins that can harm health, the poor Haitians who cannot afford to buy food have got no other option but to bake cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country’s central plateau.

In Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world with 80 percent of the population living under the poverty line, women buy the dirt vegetables and meat swarmed with flies, then they process them into mud cookies. Carrying buckets of dirt and water up the ladders to the roof, they press rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then, they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun. The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets.

At times to come, when you are enjoying eating your delicious meal, stop for a moment and think about the kind of food that others are forced to eat. Imagine that you could at any moment be in their place.

Thank Allah deeply and do not forget to think about helping the hungry in every possible way.


Huda Gamal El-Din is assistant editor for Muslim 4 Humanity. She is a graduate of the Cairo University’s Faculty of Mass Communication, and holds a bachelor degree in journalism. She can be contacted through foundationsoflife@iolteam.com