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.)
The contrast of the starving Nigerian child and the hamburger-eating contest would have been even more striking if the latter picture had been of the family pet gobbling its gourmet chow. Nearly $30 billion is spent annually in America on our little household companions. Surely the starving children of Nigeria deserve as much as our pampered pets.
– Ann Compton, Edina.
Yes, well, it’s because we can. Does the letter-writer mean to suggest we euthanize all of our pets and send the money we spend on kibble to Africa? Ms. Compton of Edina, Minnesota, PETA knows where you live. This assumes a zero sum game; if someone has more that means someone else has to have less, regardless of the conditions and circumstances that might be involved. This is like telling me not to breathe so deeply because people on Pike’s Peak don’t have enough air.
The fact is most famines are man-made, either out of ignorance or maliciousness or both. Yes, drought and natural conditions have an impact, but does every drought result in a famine? Not hardly. The policies of the Brits, first out of ignorance and then indifference “fed” the famines of India and Ireland in the 1800s. The Ukrainian famines of 1921-23 and 1932-33, the Chinese famine of 1958-61, and the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s were instigated by, at best, bone-headed, and at worst, evil, government policies that destroyed resources and the means of production and the ensuing disasters were used to deliver death and punishment on political opponents in order to bring entire regions into line. In Africa the theme has been embellished by the same governments then turning to the rest of the world and holding out an empty bowl. It’s a new twist on the tale of the murderer who killed his parents and then asked the court for mercy because he was an orphan.
The hands of the U.S. and European governments are not clean when it comes to propping up these dysfunctional and corrupt (sorry, that’s redundant) governments, but the margin for error in these countries is already so thin through incompetence and greed that disaster blows in with a strong breeze. In Niger, the current crisis could be seen coming a long way off, yet the government sold 167,000 metric tons of reserve grain last year (whether for its own purposes or at the World Bank’s behest is still being determined). Meanwhile, the long-time breadbasket of the region, Zimbabwe – with abundant and fertile lands – can barely produce enough food for its own people (or at least the people Robert Mugabe likes) because Mugabe has driven off the farmers and landowners who knew how to produce and turned everything over overnight to people on the shallow end of the learning curve.
Solutions? Ask the SCSU Scholars, or start with Jay Reding. In the meantime, however, by all means continue to send money and food. It’s just that we have to hope to send it in such overwhelming amounts that a small portion of it can wash over the dikes and “levies” of corruption and past the warlords who siphon it into their own irrigation systems, and then, perhaps, get to the people who need it. (Oh, and meanwhile thousands of tons of U.S. grain sits in African warehouses, protected by guards and the European Union’s sensibilities because it has been genetically modified and, ostensibly, a potential threat to health and ecology. Good lord, a hungry man isn’t going to worry about getting cancer in 30 years if he thinks he will starve to death in 30 days! And if there’s fear that some of the grain will be used as seed and potentially contaminate other crops, then grind it up and distribute it. Send mills, not millions of dollars! Methinks, however, the EU is more concerned with protecting markets rather than mankind).
My mother used to tell me to clean my plate because there were children starving in Africa. Too bad there wasn’t FedEx back then; I could have taken those lima beans and shipped them overseas, where they could have been confiscated and consumed by some red-handed potentate. That would have taught him a lesson.