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The Real Impact Being Constantly “Hangry” has on the Development of Societies

Written by Laila Gad

Edited by Sanjana Ahmed

“You’re not you when you’re hungry,” a phrase well ingrained in our minds after watching hundreds of Snickers commercials. But, it is true. After sitting in a three-hour lecture, the term “hangry,” referring to being “bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger,” becomes all too familiar. Essentially, you lose all sense of control: you forget how to think before you speak, you’re highly irritable, and you make rash decisions, all simply because your brain is in survival mode and is running low on energy. And, in that moment when you finally reach a vending machine, it’s hard to imagine that hundreds of thousands of people across the world have been suffering through this constant loop with no end in sight to cure their own “hangry-ness.”

In light of the world’s first climate-caused famine in Madagascar, the implications of hunger on the development of societies has become one of the indirect effects of global warming and the slowing of the AMOC systems. These famines are not even caused because of a lack of food; mainly, it is caused by the egregious mismanagement of distribution when it comes to food sources, excessive waste of perfectly good food, and simply the inability of residents of the area to keep up and adapt to the changes in agriculture and ways of life they were once used to. This essay will explore how being constantly hungry and surrounded by a food-insecure society affects the growth of society, populations, and specifically, children.

Just this year, the UN has announced that the famine being experienced in Madagascar is directly related to the aggressive changes in climate all over the world. The World Food Program reports that almost 1.14 million people living in the southern part of the island nation of Madagascar are facing food insecurity, with 400,000 people already approaching famine. With the land covered in dried sand, lack of rain, and monsoons coming later than they should be, families are reaching a point of desperation, trading whatever they have for inedible foods, and even worse, eating wild leaves and locusts that lack any real nutritional value. With Madagascar being one of the poorest countries in the world, it doesn’t seem likely that they will be able to afford the innovations needed to overcome this issue on their own.

Before delving into the nutritional significance of food in these impoverished areas, climate-change caused famines bear more significance than simply the lack of easily accessible food sources. While food serves as a means of replenishing bodily energy, it also bears a deep rooted cultural meaning in these small agricultural based communities that rely on both the presence of different weather patterns, like monsoons, and cultural/religious dishes that tie their communities together. From an article written in the LA Times in the 1980s, “ For the one billion people of South Asia, the monsoon time is the most important time of year. Moreover, it is a cultural mainstay, the creative source for art and literature ranging from cosmic Hindu myths to simple tribal paintings, such as the pointillistic rain sketches of the Worli Tribe from Maharashtra.” The article goes on to share that these monsoons also serve a unique purpose: “PMTs--pre-monsoon tensions.” It explains that in places like India, before monsoons, there is always a bout of violence, which is ultimately resolved by the appearance of the monsoon (ie drought before the monsoon causes hunger, leading to violence, which is ultimately resolved by the rain that enables the growth of crops). While there isn't an obvious scientific link between monsoons and violence, it is important to note that changes in weather and climate have great effects on these tribal communities that look to it as a form of spiritual guidance and food sources.

On the surface level, constantly being hungry has a few main implications when it comes to impeding the growth of children, such as slowed neurocognitive development and health issues like asthma. Studies conducted in America show that hunger faced in the first five years of a child’s life can result in the build up of toxic stress, malnutrition, and limited cognitive bandwidth. The American Psychological Association reports that the build up of these issues can lead to impeded physical growth, severe anxiety and depression, and chronic colds and other illnesses. Hunger faced by children in their early developmental years has proven to have a high mortality rate, with the Global Development Commons reporting that a child dies every three seconds globally (a number you can’t even wrap your head around). As the children that do survive grow up, they are unequivocally behind their food secure peers, both health and education wise, directly impacting the future generation of adults that will lead their perspective countries.

Just like discussed above with the example of the monsoons and lack of social development in hungry children, constantly being “hangry” may be able to explain why impoverished children act and feel the way they do. A hypothesis and theory paper posted in Frontiers of Psychology introduces the “hunger hypothesis,” which applies “in particular to impulsivity-hyperactivity, irritability-aggression, anxiety, and persistent narcotic use, all of which have been found to show socioeconomic gradients.” The hypothesis demonstrates that hunger is a strong role playing factor in the mediation of behavioral/psychological outcomes and socioeconomic variables. Being hungry leads to a lowering of fitness ability and a redirection of that energy into finding and detecting stimuli that give the body a similar feeling as the action of eating does, like narcotics abuse.

The discussion throughout this article has proven that being “hangry” plays a great role in the successful growth and development of a child, and the implications it has on the future of their perspective societies when their access to food is limited. With climate-caused famines slowing popping up globally, it is important to consider the effects it will have on the cultural, social, and political aspects of the future generations society. Direct links between lack of food and altered, aggressive, and anxious behaviors have already been determined; it is now time for action to remediate these issues before it becomes too late.

Below are Some Interesting Readings:

“Social Responses During Severe Food Shortages and Famine”:

“Does Hunger Contribute to Socioeconomic Gradients in Behavior?”:


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