Dinner, Food Riots and You

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?”

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5 thoughts on “Dinner, Food Riots and You

  1. I believe Sam and Costco have placed the limits on bulk rice sales because the cost of a 25 lb bag of rice has gone from around $15 to around $20 in the last month, and so restaurant/small shop owners are inclined to stock up before the price goes any higher, and the big chains don’t want to run out.

    We’re cutting way back on the meat we eat, and wanting to leave more food for everyone else is part of the reason (along with the environmental reasons, health benefits, and the cost, of course). Actually, if I had any self-control at all, we’d be entirely vegetarian.

    But at least we’re moving in the right direction.

    I want to smack whoever thought biofuels were such a great idea. Whenever I fill my tank, I’m taking food out of the mouths of the world’s poorest people.

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  2. My question is if America is willing to actually sacrifice for the good of people a world away?

    I wish it were so — I hope we are. But I’m skeptical that enough of us are to make a difference.

    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?

    Probably, depending on the details. Longer term, we need to fix our farm policies so that our artificially cheap food exports don’t force local farms in third world countries out of business. Exporting food to the world may be good for our farmers in the short term, but the loss of food security for people isn’t worth it. Plus, unstable countries aren’t good for the U.S’s long-term security. Don’t even get my started on our *own* food security! (Different topic…)

    Would you be willing to stop eating rice on your own

    Hmm. We eat a lot of rice (My husband being Haitian and all.) I would be willing to cut down. The brown rice we buy is from California. The white rice is imported. Is it the imports that are the biggest concern?

    or food made with corn products?

    That would be really hard, considering corn or corn by-products are in nearly *every* processed food item in the store! But then, fewer processed foods isn’t such a bad goal.

    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?

    We already do both of these things. I have to add that buying our meat, eggs, milk, and some produce direct from local growers has been such a blessing to me and my family. The environmental and health benefits have actually become less important to me than the relationship I have with the people involved. To prepare a meal and know who and where it came from is an amazing feeling — like taking into your body the connection and interdependence with your neighbor. Modern Americans have all but lost this experience. Like a lot of stuff, we don’t even realize what we are missing.

    Prayers to those who are hungry today.

    Stephanie

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