Saturday, July 9, 2011

Focus on Mauritania: The Fattening of Girls

Poverty Food asks the question, is the consumption of food a pleasure or a torture? 

I recently saw a program on CNN on the fattening of girls in Mauritania, one of the poorest countries on the planet. The fattening practice is centuries old in this western African nation. A young woman who is thin or normal sized by western standards is considered not only un desirable by men in some parts of Mauritania and therefore, difficult to marry off, but she is also considered unloved by her husband if she is married. In Mauritania, many men, particulary in more rural areas, want to marry a plus sized girl and keep her that way through their married life. "In Mauritania, a woman's size indicates the amount of space she occupies in her husband's heart," said Mint Ely, head of the Association of Women Heads of Households" in an article from the Guardian in 2009. A large sized girl is so highly prized, that mothers will conduct the force feeding of their own daughters. The punishment for not drinking the fat rich milk, a staple fattening drink, or to be constantly consuming food, is to have another woman crush the child's feet between two wooden poles. And if the girl simply can't stand it any more and vomits, she must also consume the vomit. Sound unbelievable? 

Fortunately, this practice is not widespread in most of Mauritania but it is feared that it is making a comeback. Across the atlantic, in the USA, this kind of treatment of a child, both the force feeding torture and the foot crushing torture, would be flat out considered child abuse and prosecuted. We look at it and say, "how barbaric"! Yet, are we really so different?  How many people allow their children and themselves to consume food almost non-stop?  It may not be force feeding, but it is permission to over feed with the same disasterous results. It may not be torture but can it be considered a kind of violence to the body to over consume? For many of us anything that interrupts our constant snout-in-the-feed-bag-lifestyle is the real torture.

What do you think? Do you really need to eat an 16 ounce steak when you go out to eat?   Must something like a hamburger or sandwich have to weight two pounds? Does anyone really have a thirst that can only be quenched by a Big Gulp?  As one Mauritanian woman recalled in an interview from CNN, "My mother started fattening me forcibly when I was 13-years-old. She used to beat me to eat more oiled couscous and fat lamb's meat. Each time I thought my stomach would explode."  A lot of people in the first world feel like that all the time! And we still go back for more.