Let's Put Hunger on All Our Plates

May 18, 2012
Chefs for HumanityChef Cat Cora meets 6-year-old Mahlet at a health post in Bishofutu, Ethiopia.

As a professional chef, the sign of success for me, in many ways, is an empty plate. If someone enjoys my food well enough to taste the last morsel, I have done my job well.

As a global citizen, an empty plate symbolizes something much more heartbreaking: hunger.

In my travels, I have been blessed to experience the sights, smells, and tastes of vibrant markets around the world. This is the stuff of life; it’s where I get inspired. I love to connect the many beautiful spices, textures, color, and flavors I’ve encountered across the globe, and to create dishes and recipes to share that experience.  

But I have also borne witness to hunger in places like Haiti and Ethiopia, where undernutrition is still a very real challenge. In fact, nearly more than 170 million children under age 5 suffer from undernutrition, a hidden crisis that robs them—and their countries—of a healthy and prosperous future.   

It's critical to tackle this problem, placing a particular emphasis on the first 1,000 days from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday as this is the time to ensure healthy growth and development. 

In the next few days, leaders from the world’s biggest economies (the “Group of 8” or G-8) will be meeting on critical global issues. I'm thrilled that fighting hunger and poverty remain high on the G-8 agenda, with President Obama expected to highlight G-8 efforts to promote food security, improve nutrition and alleviate poverty during an opening keynote at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs’ Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security on Friday, May 18.

Fighting hunger is a serious issue. We need to beat it together, and I truly believe we can. This is why I started Chefs for Humanity and why I am so heartened to see global leaders coming together to address it. It's why I am so supportive of the work of groups like Save the Children, which creates lasting change in the lives of children in need in the United States and around the world.

And in wishing for and working to contribute to a healthier world, I think of the children and families I met recently in Ethiopia, where the government and partners like Save the Children are working together to reduce hunger and undernutrition through Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative. 

Every child deserves healthy, nutritious food. As a mom, I think about what I put on my kids’ plates all the time. Are they eating enough of the right things? Is their meal balanced and nutritious? I want what all parents want: for my kids to grow up healthy and strong.

Feeding people brings me joy. And nothing motivates me more than the idea that one day, everyone will have access to the healthy food and other nutritional interventions they need to survive and thrive. It’s something we all need to talk about and take responsibility for. And it’s easier than you might think.

As you prepare dinner tonight, think about the ingredients you’re using, where they came from, and what inspires you. Your recipe can be a perfect start to dialogue about health, nutrition, and what’s happening in the world today.

As for me and my family, tonight we’ll be talking about a special—and delicious—protein source that can help boost nutritional outcomes of kids and families from India to Indiana: the legume. In the form of lentils, specifically.

Here’s the recipe I’ll be using: it’s simple, spicy, inexpensive, and—most importantly—healthy. Join me in bringing the issue of hunger to the table!


Curried Orange Lentil Soup

Serves 4 to 6

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped
  • Fresh ginger (see above)
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon pure chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 pound split orange lentils
  • 2 cups low-sodium stock
  • 6–8 cups water
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup nonfat Greek-style plain yogurt or light sour cream
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  • 1 large lemon, cut into 8 wedges

Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook slowly, stirring frequently, until golden and soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and all the spices and stir well. Cook until the ingredients form a fragrant paste, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lentils. 

Add the stock and 6 cups water. Stir well, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally and adding more water if the soup becomes too thick, until the lentils are soft, 40 minutes to 1 hour (check sooner if you used a different variety of lentil). 

Taste and add salt if necessary. Ladle the soup into bowls, top each serving with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, and garnish with the cilantro and scallions. Set out the lemon wedges so guests can squeeze in as much juice as they want. 

Chef’s note: I like to add a lot of ginger to this soup, but you can use less or leave it out altogether, if you like.  I also prefer orange lentils for this particular soup because they don’t taste as earthy as brown lentils, and they’re prettier. You can use small French green lentils, if you like, but begin checking after 30 minutes of cooking to see if they are done.