Over the next few weeks, I hope to share projects — projects that I’m allowed to discuss — I’m working on at the State Department with all of you. Anything I discuss is my viewpoint only and does not represent the viewpoints of the Department of State and the United States government.
A common meal in Bangladesh, especially for the poor, is a plate of daal (lentil soup) on top of a bed of bhat (rice) — the country’s most common crop.
Most Bangladeshis don’t regularly eat meat. Many don’t regularly eat vegetables. And, ironically, Bangladesh — a land of waterways and fishermen — doesn’t have much inexpensive fish for the average citizen.
Food inflation for the last three years has hovered around 10 percent. Incomes are not keeping up with the cost of living. And, for a country where about a third of the population falls below the poverty line, food shortages and droughts can be devastating.
The main victims of poverty are women and children, especially in rural areas. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, nearly half of all children in rural areas are malnourished.
When asked for a solution, some argue that the Bangladeshi economy, which has boomed in the last decade, will continue to pull people out of poverty. Some argue for food subsidies while others argue for increased market variety.
However, a growing number have posed a much simpler solution: make the daal thicker.
Daal consists of lentils and water. In Bangladesh, the amount of water in daal is usually greater than the amount of lentils. When daal is watered down, its health benefits dramatically decrease — from its high protein content to its iron.
According to the World Bank, nearly 43 percent of Bangladeshi children are stunted, which means that they are two standard deviations below the median height of similarly aged children.
Better nutrition, especially in Bangladesh’s most common meal, can lead to a host of health benefits.
Watery daal has become a culturally entrenched practice, but its prevalence is largely due to microeconomic choices.
As my grandmother, who has lived in Bangladesh all her life, told me: “We have to make the daal with more water. I have to feed so many people in the house.”
But, the economics of daal are favorable. It’s cheap compared to most other household commodities. And, the marginal benefits of a cup of thick daal outweigh the marginal health benefits from almost any other Bangladeshi food item.
The question is: how can we encourage more and more Bangladeshis to consume thick daal?