One Book One Northwestern author talks world hunger, poverty in keynote speech

Annie Bruce, Reporter

More than 100 Northwestern students and community members gathered Wednesday to hear One Book One Northwestern author Roger Thurow discuss the ongoing problem of global hunger in the 21st century.

Thurow is the author of “The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change,” and Wednesday’s event was part of a series of programs related to the book held on campus during the school year. 

Throughout his keynote speech, Thurow reminded audience members of a Nelson Mandela quote, “It always seems impossible until it’s done,” and emphasized the importance of putting a face to statistics. 

“It’s not only an agricultural issue,” he said. “It’s not only a health issue. It’s a human issue.”

Thurow emphasized the human element by showing videos and pictures of some of the subjects of “The Last Hunger Season.” 

Weinberg freshman Andrea Zuleta said she appreciated getting updated information about the people she read about in the book. 

“It’s just nice to see that they’re being very successful in their lives now, thanks to One Acre,” Zuleta said. “It gave me a lot of hope that there is a way to solve problems like this.”

“The Last Hunger Season” focuses on four farmers who joined One Acre Fund, a nonprofit designed to help impoverished farmers. The organization was started in 2006 by Andrew Youn (Kellogg ’06), who Thurow described as a “kindred spirit.”

“We were thinking so much alike,” he said. “I had also seen this cruel irony — I think it’s Africa’s cruelest irony — that Africa’s hungriest people … grow food to feed their families and are not able to grow enough food to do that.”

Thurow first became passionate about world poverty when he was reporting on the first famine of the 21st century, in Ethiopia in 2003. When he first arrived, he spoke with a relief worker who warned him that “looking into the eyes of those dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul.” At the time, Thurow was a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. 

“And there, for the first time as a journalist, I looked into the eyes of someone starving,” he said. “I knew I needed to stop and do this story of hunger in the 21st century because what I saw infected my soul, ignited my passion as a journalist.”

Thurow’s mantra became to outrage and inspire. He dubbed himself a “factivist,” a term coined by U2 frontman Bono to describe someone who advocates with facts. 

Thurow has since written two books — including “The Last Hunger Season” — focusing on world hunger and has another in the works. His next book will discuss nutrition during the 1,000 days from when a woman becomes pregnant until her child turns two.

“It was also cool to hear about his next book because you can see where each book has shaped him into wanting to talk about a new topic,” Weinberg freshman Haley Dunbrack said. 

Brian Hanson, the interim director for the Roberta Buffett Center and the faculty chair for this year’s One Book program, introduced Thurow at the beginning of the event. Hanson said people from across the NU community can find elements of the book that speak to them.

During the talk, Thurow encouraged everyone to make the impossible possible.

“These are issues that confront all of us,” Thurow said. “No matter what you’re studying, you can make a difference on this issue.”

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