“Basically everything gets better when women are running the show.”
Feminism takes many forms.
And, according to Melinda Gates, one such form is apparent in the kitchen, the heart of many homes, where nourishment is given from parent to child.
Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Sam Kass, a former senior policy advisor for nutrition to President Barack Obama, spoke to Global Citizen for World Food Day about that connection.
Gates got right to the point, explaining why food and hunger is also a feminist issue.
“Worldwide, women usually are the person at the centre of making decisions about what the family eats: what gets cooked, what gets served,” Gates said. “So her being empowered in that role to both know what nutrients are in food and what is available and what she might add to her or her family’s diet is incredibly important.”
“When you empower a woman and she has the ability to grow something different on her farm, it can make an enormous difference to her children’s health and her health, particularly as a pregnant woman, and have a generational effect on the kids.”
“Basically, everything gets better when women are running the show,” joked Kass.
“Pretty much!” Gates replied.
At first the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t think nutrition would be a priority for them, Gates said. But as they began work delving into the issues with global health, they quickly understood that everything was connected. In particular, Gates points to pneumonia and malaria as specific examples of diseases where positive nutrition can often be the best form of protection.
“If you have a healthy immune system, which starts with having good nutrition, you’re less likely to get those diseases,” Gates said. “That underpinning of good nutrition actually accounts for about half of global health.”
Nutrition is the vital first step to achieving the majority of the Global Goals. Gates has committed her whole life to this mission, and feels intimately connected to it from her own personal experience. Case in point: creating an environment where every woman can have a healthy pregnancy.
“Pregnant women having access to the right nutrients is just vital,” Gates said. “I will tell you: I was hungry all the time when I was pregnant. I was just constantly eating and trying to put the right things in my body. But also if you’re well fed it does help with the fatigue issues. I cannot imagine being iron deficient and pregnant…. You feel like you just can’t go on.”
Unfortunately this exhaustion is a reality for a millions of women all over the world. But positive nutrition can change the game: it can offer the option of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of infancy, which in turn can drive down infant mortality rates.
The Italian government is leading a nutrition summit in Milan on November 4, where political commitments are set to be announced that will accelerate progress towards completing the second Global Goal. Gates told Kass that every issue will be on the table — and will be an opportunity to bring men into the conversation too.
Gates closed by asking Kass what inspired his work.
“Originally, when I was a young chef, I just wanted to see the world,” said Kass. “I loved food — it’s a language that’s universal. But when I started to dig into it, most of the big challenges that we’re facing comes back to what we’re eating and how we’re producing it.”
It’s in that universal language that we must speak now — to everybody, everywhere. Nutrition is far too important to fluff our lines.