Roger Marolt: Roger This
July 3, 2009
It’s a small world after all, my foot. Running into a college friend of a friend in the Milwaukee airport 25 years since I last saw them isn’t enough to change my mind about this. In fact, it is this foolish belief given credence at cocktail parties and baggage claims that causes us to believe that what we see is what we get.
One billion people clinging to this piece of Big Bang shrapnel are suffering from starvation. I have never met one of them. Even Walt Disney might think this odd considering that one human being out of every seven on earth is going to bed hungry tonight. But, I live in a country where a person who consumes 66 hot dogs in 10 minutes is crowned a champion on Independence Day at a place called Coney Island. This doesn’t make for an appalling story. It is sport. You might even feel compassion for The Champ when you see the pain in his face after the competition. The suffering is real. His stomach hurts. He worked damn hard to get to where he is today, and he deserves it!
It is really hard to grasp how big a number 1 billion is. For perspective, it is all the residents of Aspen, plus all the rest of the people in the United States, multiplied by three, with several million extras thrown in for good measure. I figured this out at the neighborhood picnic while waiting in line for a burger. (Incidentally, The Champ polished off 103 hamburgers in eight minute once; probably without cheese.)
I got my juicy, grilled, pink-in-the-middle patty and loaded it with extras. There is little sense in having a burger without cheese, bacon and all the rest. There is less in leaving a monster like that alone on a plastic plate. I put a pickle next to mine and filled the rest of the large partition of my plate with chips. In the two smaller cordoned off spaces I heaped potato salad and beans, with a cob of corn marking the depths. I needed to float a slice of watermelon in the middle, but had to let go with one hand to reach it. As I did, the rim of the plate snapped where my thumb and forefinger pinched it. I was embarrassed because of the mess I made and because I had to start over at the back of the line.
This happened before the egg toss; you know, the picnic game where contestants line up to play catch with raw eggs, at ever increasing distances, trying not to break them in the process. In the end every egg gets broken, including the winner’s, which usually gets cracked over the head of the closest bald person paying more attention to his beer than his friends.
So, starvation is a thing I do not know about. I have never been hungry except by the circumstances of my own doing. I fast according to the customs of my religion. I have been trapped in a tent on the side of a mountain with slim pickings for my troubles. I have skipped meals on transcontinental airline flights. I have also eaten an entire quart of chocolate ice cream during an episode of Gilligan’s Island and used up a gift certificate for six at a local rib joint with two of my buddies, but these events happened a long time ago.
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However, if I was going to flagellate myself for being a waster of food, do you think I would write a column like this? Of course not. If that was my objective, this story would be all about you. In this business, your guilt is my exoneration.
As I see it, the problem with starvation in this world is not about any shortage of food. If we can make iPods that hold 5,000 songs, three feature-length movies and allow us to communicate with friends in France with our thumbs, I have no doubt that we can make our obesity problem pandemic. So, go ahead and enjoy that third slice of blueberry pie this weekend, with extra whipped cream and a regular Coke. Anything you can’t finish and have to throw away wasn’t going to India anyway.
No, starvation is a problem in allocation and prioritization. Allocating food is not a priority for people who aren’t hungry. That happens to be us; you know – the people with the money. We can imagine war and we can imagine lethal viruses, biological and electronic; but hunger? If we all knew a loved one who starved to death; if it was only a matter of time until we came down with the rickets; if empty bellies and hunger pains were contagious, nobody would go to bed tonight without a meal. You can be sure of that.
By contrast, I would guess that there are not a billion people on the planet currently suffering the ill effects of global warming, and yet we are willing to spend trillions of dollars haphazardly to dubiously ensure that nobody ever will. What a luxury it is that we are able to worry about the possibility of our grandchildren’s grandchildren foraging a heated landscape wondering why their forefathers built windmills and solar farms where changing weather patterns have made the land ideal for growing rice. I know that a lot of people think that many more people may starve in the future if we don’t fix global warming, but there are a billion people out there right now that don’t think it can get any worse.
It is easy to fight future catastrophes because it is potentially our asses that are going to be toast. It is just as easy to ignore the crisis of hunger because the big buns in the plaid Bermuda shrink-wrap are not anywhere near the fire.
It is not a small world where people believe that they are only seven persons removed from anyone else, yet some people die because not one of those connections figured out a way to give them a pound of beans. That kind of thinking is from another planet. It’s time for those of us living there to come back to earth and figure out a way to get some food to somebody who is starving.
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