32. We Need to Talk About Birth Control

My last post discussed how world hunger could be significantly decreased if women were to acquire equal rights and opportunities with men, if girls had education equal to  that of boys, and if all women who want to control their family size had ready access to effective and affordable contraception.  And while all three of these face uphill battles in various places, the subject of contraception is surely the most fraught.

There are voices suggesting that birth control is contrary to religious precepts.  I have read of claims that advocating birth control in poor countries or among minority populations is some sort of conspiracy to keep certain groups’ numbers down and thus keep them powerless.  Efforts to promote family planning often run counter to cultural traditions that promote large family sizes mainly because they arose in times when mortality (both infant and general) was so high that parents needed to have all the children they could just to give them hope that any would survive;  in addition, children traditionally helped work farms and were looked on as the only source of support in old age.

In the modern world, however, in which even basic public health measures provide much higher child survival rates than in previous centuries and in which more than half of us live in cities, cultural imperatives that date from the time when most humans were peasant small farmers are no longer so relevant.  The Judeo-Christian precept to “be fruitful and multiply” was issued when the human population was thin and death rates high — and really needs to be reconsidered as now being opposed to the equal precept to “dress and keep the garden,” i.e., to exercise stewardship, care, and preservation of our planet.  And calls to minority populations to boost their numbers make no sense to this writer, for as a Jew and a big history buff I am keenly aware that the rather significant Jewish contribution to world history never involved there being very many us.

I am also a woman, and as such I have had a typical female experience of deep concern to navigate dating and  the start of marriage so as to avoid becoming pregnant before the time was right for me, and then equal concern to achieve pregnancy and parenthood when the right time came.  I am glad to be a mother and stepmother and grandmother — not least because the number of children my two husbands and I raised were well within our means to do so.  In both preventing pregnancy in the early years of my first marriage, and being able to stop using contraception at will, good family planning was crucial to being able to have a family I could do right by and also a satisfying life.  From my own experience, therefore, I know how important fertility control is to every woman, and I believe that it is profoundly disrespectful to women to suggest for one second that they are not able to appropriately determine when and how often to bear children. Each woman knows her own situation better than anyone else, and being able to control her fertility as she chooses needs to be recognized as a most basic human right.  It’s also one of the keys to feeding the world.

For it needs to be recognized that fully enabling all women to exercise this right is critical to limiting human numbers to what this finite planet can support.  We can do much to decrease waste of food, to better use farmland for feeding people, to increase agricultural production in cities and suburbs.  But if we don’t stop the exponential growth of human numbers, none of that will be enough.  The human right to control one’s fertility, and the need for humans to limit their numbers to what Earth can sustainably support, go hand in hand.

On a completely different note, here is a recipe I learned just this month, which I really like.  This recipe will make four servings; you can divide or multiply it to suit your needs.

Black Beans With Rice

Ingredients:  2 onions;  olive oil;  2 15-oz. cans of black beans;  chopped cilantro;  2 limes; salt and black pepper to taste.  1/2 cup brown rice and 1 1/2 cups  water.

Directions:  1. Combine rice and water in a small saucepan, cover, and begin cooking it.  2. Chop the cilantro and set aside.  3. Chop and caramelize the onions in a second saucepan.  4. Add beans, and squash them a bit with a potato masher. 5.  Add juice from the limes, and salt and pepper to taste, and warm through.  6. When the rice is done, combine rice and bean mixture and serve with cilantro on the side (or mixed in — whichever you and your fellow diners prefer).  Add a salad or vegetable dish to complete the meal.


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