Grave of the Fireflies

TW – Starvation and Spoilers.

I once starved.

See starving isn’t just having no food. It isn’t like that. It rarely is like that. Where there is absolutely nothing to eat. Starving is not knowing when and where your next meal will come from and how much you are going to get. It’s not eating what you need to eat. It’s eating what you can.

I was a picky eater. My mum told me I wouldn’t eat things when growing up.

My first taste of meat was aged 5. It was rat and raw fish. We ate it to survive. To live. I starved as a refugee during a war. I am no longer a picky eater. I have dislikes and likes. In fact most of the Tamil people are puzzled. I hate Pongal and Rassam. A overboiled rice porridge and a pepper soup. I just don’t like the taste. But if forced I will eat it all up.

In that single year I lost a lot of of my weight. My parents say the day I stepped back on England’s shores I couldn’t even stand. I weighed 10 Kg. Nearly half the weight a 5 year old boy should be. In a year I had lost 8 Kg. Not a big deal for the 90 Kg Avicenna. That’s 10% or so. But what if you are 5 and only 18 Kg to begin with?

I picked up a habit when I was younger. I ate soap. Like detergent soap. I don’t know why I did it or why I chose that but I did. It’s called Pica. I have grown out of it now and kind of know eating soap is weird. But Pica is seen in children who starve.

But I never realised that until I grew older. Food is sort of an obsession. I can chill out for hours just watching cookery shows. Hell I cook really well because I know the value of food. I am pretty experimental as an eater for the same reason. I ate stupid stuff because I had to, I can’t really sit on a high horse when someone eats rocky mountain oysters or haggis or tarantulas. I mean? I ate Tide and Surf and Lux for a while. What does it taste like? Slippery and sour with a chemical twang at at the end if you must know.

Starving is a reality though. It isn’t this drastic, this was a war after all. Mostly it is slow and malign. There are kids in the USA who are malnourished. It’s why I think food stamps are so important and free school dinners too. To guarantee a child at least ONE real meal a day. Starving is a thief of potential. It robs you of intellect and it permanently damages the things you could grow up to be.

I remember my pica from my parents telling me they had to be very careful about leaving soap powder out. But I forgot until I saw a movie. The name’s in the title. Grave of the Fireflies. An anime. It’s a harrowing watch.

Long Story Short? Two children in WW II Japan survive during the final days of the war. Because of everything that’s going on, the young girl starves to death followed by the young boy who has lost everything he lived for. The young girl dies eating mud because she has pica.

I realised this post was languishing in my “to post pile”. It was for world food day to be fair. But you can’t fill your stomach with soap or mud, some people fill it with stories.

I have often been incredibly impressed by the powerful story telling and short films that come out of India. For all it’s Bollywood silliness and fantasy there are things like this. Simple stories that tell us things about India. They are right.

Tonight millions of people will go to be without food and that is something we can change and avoid if only we thought smart and did things that were productive.

It’s why I think the first and last thing I eat on my travel is a Big Mac. It’s understanding what it represents and not taking it for granted. It is cheap, delicious food. It’s bad for you.

But so is eating mud and soap.

If you haven’t seen Grave of the Fireflies, I urge you to watch it. It’s not light viewing. And think carefully and responsibly about food.


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  1. says

    I’ve had Grave of the Fireflies in my collection ready to watch for a long time now … Knowing how harrowing it is I’m sure I’m put off playing it. Having young kids yourself also makes you a complete wimp, starving children about the same age as mine? I’m going to be crying my eyes out :( .. Unfortunately I’m pretty sure its the same need to avoid unpleasantness like that which makes it possible to ignore all those starving on a regular basis in reality, let alone on a DVD.

  2. Pen says

    It’s not quite on the scale of your experience or Grave of the Fireflies, but it’s been said the reason British children’s books of the mid-20th C dwell so much on food is because a lot of the readers were rarely getting quite as much to eat as they wanted, let alone nice things like tinned fruit (!). My parents certainly related to that theory.

  3. says

    I’ve only seen the animated version of Fireflies, but it is deeply moving and disturbing to think about it even now. So please to forgive me a little if i don’t watch this other short film.

  4. HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr says

    I saw Grave of the Fireflies last year, and the heartbroken silence from the entire theatre as everyone left is still with me. I made it to the bathrooms before I started crying.

    I never starved so much, but I’ve had periods of food insecurity when I was younger. I foraged for wild things, and ate a lot of ice cubes, and fantasized about food all day and all night. I can’t imagine what it would be like to starve as a child, or to have zero food access, instead of very little.

  5. says

    That’s starving mate. Most people who are “starving” have that sort of problem with food. It is almost never “zero access”.

  6. HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr says

    Nah, I had friends who sometimes fed me, and I could have told people and gotten food. I just… didn’t. For a lot of reasons.

    I mostly remember not dreaming anymore when I slept, and thinking all day about cheeseburgers.

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