Every year, we harvest new statistics on hunger. If only these statistics were edible, the poor would never lack for a meal.
Although it's a little worn with age, here is a statistic that caught my attention: The planet produced enough grain in 1982 to provide every man, woman and child with 2 loaves of bread a day. Apparently, there is enough food for everyone. It's what I hear from the Hunger Project. It's what I hear from NW Medical Teams. We produce enough grain to feed the world.
And yet the consequences of hunger are devastating. Hunger kills. Like a constant and unrelenting tide, hunger kills. Every two and a half seconds, hunger claims the life of a child. Thanks to the Internet, you can watch the roulette of starvation on a global map. There, mortality rates have become rates of probability. Reflecting the odds, one country after another grows dark. China flashes dark. Then Pakistan. China again. Then Bangladesh.
On this particular map, I've never seen hunger's grim shadow fall across the United States. But Hunger is no stranger to our shores.
The Oregon Foodbank gave food boxes to 464,000 people last year. That was an increase of 15% over the year before. In 1998, 12.6% of Oregon households were characterized as "Food Insecure." Basically, these people had to rely on handouts in order to eat. They didn't starve, but their ability to feed themselves was outside of their own control.
Isn't it interesting that Oregon leads the nation in getting people off of welfare -- and also leads the nation in this matter of "Food Insecurity?"
Are these people merely lazy? Well, imagine all the jobs in Oregon -- from Governor to shopkeeper, from grilling hamburgers to building houses. If a single adult wanted to support herself, 44% of those jobs would not pay her a living wage. And if that single adult has two kids, then 76% of the jobs in Oregon would not pay a living wage.
So, after marshaling my statistics for another year, I seem to be heading in two very different directions. On the one hand, there is enough food for everyone. On the other hand, hunger is a problem. Hunger causes anxiety in Oregon and death around the globe.
There are two loaves of bread for everyone, but some people don't get enough.
Well, at this point, we could talk about the cycle of poverty. We could talk about government corruption in the developing world. Instead, I want to talk about meat. It takes 5 pounds of grain to make one pound of meat.
If bread is missing, this has to be one of the reasons why. Instead of feeding people, we are feeding our livestock. Even if those animals wind up on someone's dinner table, there is still a net loss of food. It takes 5 pounds of grain to make one pound of meat.
An obvious answer presents itself. Instead of feeding cows, we could be feeding people. Instead of antibiotics for cows, we could be providing antibiotics to people.
The hardest part will be developing a taste for the poor. If the poor are going to take the place of cattle, then we'll have to invent new recipes.
Martha Stewart seems like a civic-minded person to me. Perhaps we can tap her as a resource for the proper sauces and side dishes. And if Will Vinton can leverage California Raisins into a media empire, imagine what he can do with the Californians themselves. Perhaps "The Donner Party" would be a good brand name ("It's not a party unless it's the 'Donner Party!').
Oh! We recoil!
Cannibalism is the practice of monsters, of barbarous South Sea islanders, of desperate haunted survivors. We would never do such a thing. We would never eat a human being!
Well, what a strange place to draw the line.
In order to save $3.50, we buy books off the Internet instead of at the local bookstore. Because it's more convenient, we buy Argentine grapes at Safeway instead of traveling to the farmer's market where we can buy fruit from a local orchard. Because it's convenient, because it saves us a few dollars, we support a system that undermines a living wage for our neighbors. We support a system where expanding corporate farms drive peasants off of their land in developing countries.
We consume the poor. We already do it.
Although our teeth do not grind their flesh, we use the poor to make our life easier. From the fields around Woodburn to the factories of Vietnam, we use their labor. We dump our toxins where the poor live, because they are least able to resist. And then, if we decide their neighborhoods are desirable after all, we move right in -- driving up costs until the poor are excluded from their own places.
Sometimes, I forget that I am rich.
It's easy to notice the things I don't have. My computer is slow. My TV is small. My car is old. My house is old. Repairs circle my head like vultures. If they all come to roost at once, I know I'm doomed.
Sometimes, I feel poor. But I know that I am rich. For one thing, I have a car. Only 8% of humanity can make such a claim. I have a house. Only four us occupy 1100 square feet of shelter. For most of the world, that is palatial.
Of course I'm rich. I drink espresso. I eat whenever I desire. I have excellent health care.
If you drive a car, if you have a lawn, if you drink coffee or soda pop, then you are rich like me. We are like the man with the gold ring and the fine clothes. When we enter the meeting, we expect to sit in the good seats. We expect this without even realizing we expect it. We are a case study of privilege.
Personally, I hate to think of myself as a person of privilege. I hate to think of myself as one of the meat-eating, car-driving elites. But the issue of hunger forces this conclusion on me. Even if I choose not to eat beef, even if I chose not to drive a car, I still have the choice. And that choice is a luxury.
For me, acknowledging this privilege is a huge and possibly transformative step.
If I conceive of myself as one of the poor, then I can absolve myself of any responsibility for change. As one of the poor, I am the helpless victim of forces beyond my control. But if I am one of the privileged elite, then the responsibility is mine.
Instead of buying the cheapest one, or the fastest one or the most comfortable, I must decide what is best for all. Because I have the power to make this choice, it is a power I must exercise. I must change the way I look at things.
I need to stop being my own favorite.
If wealth is measured -- not in cars or home theaters or real estate -- if wealth is measured in bread, then I am wealthy indeed. I need to start acting that way.
The statistics point in two directions at once. There is enough bread. And people are desperately hungry. I see two directions because I stand at the crossroads. I must decide which road to take.