By now you’ve probably heard about the hardships caused by rising prices on staple food items for poor people around the world. There have been protests and riots in Haiti, Bangladesh, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Indonesia and Senegal. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Sam’s Club and Costco have also placed limits on the amount of bulk rice which can be purchased at one time.
My question is how do we respond to these sorts of problems. President Bush has announced an increase in food aid, which might help NGOs whose work feeding people in danger of starvation continue their work in the face of rising food prices. However, it is hard to see how $200 million is going to fix the problem of people who are working and who had been self-supporting a few months ago, but are now priced out of the food market. Besides, we know from long experience that while food aid may be a necessary band-aid to prevent starvation, it doesn’t provide a long term solution and tends to come with many negative unintended consequences.
My question is if America is willing to actually sacrifice for the good of people a world away? Would you support a moratorium on the import of rice for 60 days (accompanied by tax breaks to help those in the industry who would be negatively affected) to take pressure off the international rice market? Would you be willing to stop eating rice on your own – or food made with corn products? Would you consider paying more for locally grown meat, milk and produce to reduce the amount of oil being used to produce and transport food for your family? Would you be willing to serve your family vegetarian meals a couple of times a week?
The problem we have is that there is just nothing other than a sense of obligation which would compell us to change our eating habits for the benefit of people living on the other side of the world. And really, how many of us find this sense of obligation compelling enough to spend more or eat less when it is so easy for us to get what we want?
So what do you think – can you/will you make changes which you do not have to make and which will result in more money and less pleasure for your food consumption as a result of rising food prices around the world? Would you support government moves such as temporary bans on the import of certain food items to reduce food prices world wide? If not, what would it take for you to start eating in ways that are more sustainable and less likely to cause pain around the world?
Actually, this reminds me of a conversation I had earlier this week about the number of people who seem to think that they are exceptions to the rule. When I was growing up, my parents sometimes asked me, “what would happen if every one did what you are doing?” This was their way of pointing out that although it might not seem like a big deal if I stole a candy bar or double parked the car, the world would fall apart if everyone did that. So perhaps the question we should be asking is, “what would happen if everyone lived/ate like we do?”