Win that hamburger eating contest, there are children starving in Africa!

Last Sunday the StarTribune’s OpEx section featured two photos side by side that the paper had downloaded from its news service. The photos had come one right after the other and though they were for unrelated stories the editors couldn’t help but notice the juxtaposition: one photo was of a starving child from (I believe) Niger and the other was of competitors chowing down at a hamburger eating contest.

My copy of that section has long since wrapped fish, but my recollection of the text is that the Strib mainly pointed out the interesting coincidence of the order in which the photos arrived and let the contrast pretty much speak for itself. No doubt there may also have been an implied message of, “look how decadent – no wonder they hate us,” but maybe I’ve just become sensitized and cynical. My own thought would be, “no wonder so many people want to come here.”

I expected a flood of letters to the editor to appear declaiming American wantonness in the face of suffering and based on logic as thin as refugee camp gruel. Only a couple were printed, however, and they were not as mealy-mouthed as I would have expected.

The Sunday Op Ex pictures of a starving child in Africa vs. the American pig-outs at food-eating contests are stark! How often I’m reminded of our national feeding overindulgence when I see the leftovers at restaurants, especially at the “breakfast-special” restaurants or the “all-you-can-eat” buffets, with enough pancakes, toast, bacon, sausages and hash browns left behind to feed a Nigerian family for days.
– George Mayerchak, Long Prairie.

Yes, there is no doubt we Americans take our abundance for granted, are wasteful and even profligate. (At least in the Household of the Night we don’t believe in throwing good food away. We wrap a leftover and put it in the refrigerator and wait until it becomes bad food, and then we throw it away.) The reason is because food is so cheap. Say what you will about our culture, but our economic system has mastered the growing, raising, harvesting, processing, shipping and buying of food to such a degree of efficiency that something so essential can essentially be dirt cheap, even though everyone involved at every step in the process takes their cut. Am I going to save that last ear of corn from dinner when I can go to Cub tomorrow and buy six fresh ones for a dollar? (You might be able to tell that I didn’t grow up during the Depression.)

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