Monday, April 14, 2008

World In Crisis

I had the day off today. It is my only day off this week, since Passover is Saturday, and there are many meals to be prepared, latkes to be fried, and brisket to be roasted. It is one of the busiest holidays for me, because who do you know that wants to make gefilte fish from scratch, or mess with matzoh balls? I work in a busy grocery store, and deal with many customers who are not always nice to me, so when I have a day off, I don't really like to talk to people, or do any grocery shopping. I could, I guess shop at work, but the thought of spending a moment longer at work, just to buy some food, well some days, I would just rather be hungry. My partner A, usually does the shopping, but she has been in Miami this week, and the only thing left in the fridge is expired yogurt, and some black bananas. Yum!

So I rode my bike to the grocery store (not the one where I work, it's my day off!), and I got my dinner. I was standing in line, and the checkout lady closed the lane because her shift was over, and someone else was coming to replace her. There were four women in line in front of me, and as soon as the checkout lady put that sign out, the women began to complain among themselves. The checkout lady tried to explain that her replacement was coming, but the women in line began shouting, and wouldn't stop. I was worried, I had seen some headlines in the newspaper over the weekend about food riots, but I didn't read the articles. I wondered if a food riot was beginning right here in Washington DC. I was ready to chuck my pork chops and wild rice, and get back to the safety of my home where there were no irate customers about to riot, but then the replacement checkout lady arrived, and the shouting became a grumbling, and eventually, I made it out of the grocery store with my pork chops and wild rice bungied to my bike. One of the ladies revved her engine at me as I struggled up the steep hill out of the parking lot, and I pedalled quickly for home.

As soon as I got home, I looked for the new stories about the food riots.I learned that the rising prices of food, and the oil that it takes to ship the food, have risen so high, that people in third world countries can no longer afford them.

In less than a year, the price of wheat has risen 130 per cent, soya by 87 per cent and rice by 74 per cent. According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, there are only eight to 12 weeks of cereal stocks in the world, while grain supplies are at their lowest since the 1980s.
I guess, if you live on less than a dollar a day, as many people in the rest of the world do, if the price of food increases by 130 percent, your only choice is to eat less. If you already live on less than 1200 calories per day, to cut that by 130 percent is....well, it is a negative sum. There are all sorts of dire consequences of climate change, but none greater than food shortages. A world that faces starvation is a world that will face certain instability, and certain political turmoil. It doesn't matter who the elected leaders are, whoever happens to be in charge when people don't have enough to eat, can count the number of days before a coup, or a change in political parties. Hungry people do not die quietly.

In Haiti, over the weekend, the Prime Minister was dismissed over soaring food prices. There were riots and deaths in the streets. Probably, he had no control over supply and demand, and therefore the prices of goods, but you can bet that world leaders took note of it. Money is pouring into Haiti today, and I suspect it's not because people are hungry, but because hungry people are dangerous to the status quo.

My friend Marigolds today posted a clip from Barack Obama pleading the case for the moral part of the equation of global warming. It is certainly true that as Christians, or Muslims, or Jews, we should, as a moral obligation, protect the planet that provides the goods that are essential to our continued existence on this place we call home. We are all entitled equally to the bounty that this planet provides us. And while I'm not sure that our spiritual leaders are doing enough to awaken us to the perils of an American lifestyle that creates more carbon emissions than any other country on the globe, it is nice to hear a politician speaking of the moral necessity to take the steps that will heal the planet. I don't know that America will listen, we don't seem to be able to make the connection between 12 MPG, and the food crisis, we don't seem to understand that drought conditions created by the cars we drive and the crap that we throw out into the atmosphere cause conditions adverse to the growing of rice, and how that lack of food causes extreme hardship for people who do not live in Washington DC, but live in places where you don't have to worry about gaining weight if you eat that extra serving of rice. There is no extra rice.

I'm not sure what crisis the women in the grocery store today were facing, an extra few minutes to wait in line, or the wild rice that cost me $6.00 a pound. I don't think they knew about the cost of my rice, that it was double the price of the meat that I bought. I don't think that women who shop in this part of Washington DC, are cutting down on the amount of food that they eat because they can't afford it, or that they are even worried that the lifestyle that they live is causing the suffering of these other women who are taking to the streets because they can't afford rice for their kids. They won't worry about changing their lifestyles until the hungry people are at their back door, not asking, but demanding the portion that belongs rightfully and morally to them. We don't own the earth, we are here because of some Being who gave us the gift of an environment that could provide all of the things that we need. Equally.

As for me, I am looking at the rice and the pork chops, (sauteed with baby spinach and garlic, and the rice, steamed with dried mushrooms and parsley) and I am thinking that I'm just not really hungry right now.

How's your appetite?

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posted at 10:14:00 PM by Tankwoman

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"It is the logic of our times
No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."

-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?


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