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'Living off birdseed': The daily diet of a family in Gaza

'Living off birdseed': The daily diet of a family in Gaza amid Israel's war
4 min read
07 February, 2024
Gaza is starving. Families are living off crumbs and polluted water, and children are dying from malnutrition. With food so scarce, how is Gaza surviving?

Most days I eat canned beef and birdseed meant for animals. The stomachache is killing me but, here in Gaza, we have no other choice

I can't remember when I last had three meals a day; even writing 'breakfast, lunch, and dinner' feels like a luxury. 

Breakfast is usually a plate of canned fava beans and tomatoes. Sometimes we're lucky to get white cheese. The beans are often past their expiry date and the tomatoes are rotting and cleaned with polluted water: the taste is depressing but we thank God for being alive. 

The Gaza diet

Since the start of Israel's assault, the best lunch I can remember was okra and fresh salad. Still, okra, peas, and molokhia must be boiled to the point they lose all flavour — our taste buds, like our senses, are quickly losing their vigour. 

Some days we manage to get eggs. We only use one or two so we can savour the taste for as long as possible. Cucumbers, oranges, and bread are treasures: this is what Israel's genocide has done. We rarely get flour but we distribute the bread we have, usually a loaf a day. 

It pains me to think of my fridge before October 7. We used to enjoy everything, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits. Now such luxuries are beyond imagination.

90% of people in the Gaza Strip are facing 'acute food insecurity" and 25% are facing 'catastrophic levels of hunger' [Getty Images]

I've been sick since Israel's war began. I suffer from a weak immune system so must eat meat or fish at least twice a week — now impossible. Despite all attempts at a balanced diet, I've been sick nine times and contracted flu, gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, bronchitis, fatigue, and other digestive problems.

Medication is scarce in Gaza so my body must try to kill the viruses itself, a body suffering from little food and polluted water. Whilst UNRWA's role in receiving and distributing aid and medication is a lifeline, however, there remain problems: aid is simply not enough and often doesn't reach us. When it does, it's being sold to people. 

This is the symptom of Israel's war. Scarce resources have led to a breakdown of public order. We have to pay unaffordable sums for poor food, we have to pay thousands to escape at the border. We can't afford to live.


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Food prices have skyrocketed. An egg now costs $1.50, an orange $1, a cucumber $1, one kilogramme of tomatoes for $2.50, one kilogramme of onions for $10, one kilogramme of flour for $10, the list goes on and on. 

Most people also don't understand that we now cook with woodfire, gauze and alcohol — incredibly dangerous methods and destructive to the body. 

Even if you have food in Gaza, you may not have the wood to cook it. And if you have wood, you may not have any food to cook. You are incredibly lucky when you have both. 

Questions of nutritional value have long been forgotten. Besides local oranges, we've forgotten the idea of fruit. 

Most families in Gaza can no longer afford tomatoes, now $2.50 a kilogramme
[photo credit: Abubaker Abed]

Malnutrition and hunger

Dr Ibrahim Mattar of Najjar Hospital in Rafah and Dr Khalid Abu-Habel of Al-Aqsa Martyr's Hospital in Deir al-Balah warned The New Arab of the consequences of this viral malnutrition: "We have seen the number and variety of diseases coming to the hospital due to malnutrition, mostly from women and children. How can a child have a healthy life if they only eat a tiny amount of food each day?"

Dr Ibrahim continues, "It's really out of our control. But I'm so concerned about our people's health. We've seen many cases of death by malnutrition. Food is so scarce, we're reaching famine levels."

Dr. Khalid laments, "Every day I see a mother crying for food for her children inside the hospital. All they want is food and water. Neither is available and when it is it is awful quality."

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The situation in the north of Gaza is indescribable. Asmaa Syam, one of the people still in the north of Gaza in Al-Shujayya Refugee Camp barely managed to speak to The New Arab due to the non-stop bombing.

"Flour is too expensive," she sighs. "Food is too rare to find. I have three young children. They always cry hungry.

"My heart aches for them. I explained that if they eat too much in the morning, we won't have any for the evening. We can only afford a quarter of a loaf of bread and a tomato for them, once in the morning and once in the evening.

"How will they remember their childhood if they survive," Asmaa sobs.

Starvation is near in Gaza. Diseases are rife, temperatures are freezing. As we lay awake, praying for this to stop, our dreams are simple: a fresh plate of food and a cup of clean water.

Abubaker Abed is a Palestinian journalist, writer, and translator from Deir al-Balah Refugee Camp in Gaza, interested in sports and languages.

Follow him on Twitter/X: @AbubakerAbedW and Linkedin