Monday, August 29, 2005

Harvest, Starvation, and Cheap Shots

This really was a cheap shot in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a week ago Sunday:

The print version of the newspaper found it profound that the wire services sent pictures of a hamburger eating contest in Wisconsin and malnourishment in Niger only a minute apart. This is a cheap shot against Jesus Haro, the winner of the Green Bay contest. Every culture has some sort of harvest festival. In America, the celebration of the abundant harvest lasts from the county fairs all the way through Thanksgiving. Some might view this as a positive thing about our country. A better newspaper might have noted that a man named Jesus won a contest in Northern Wisconsin eating a delicacy that originated in Germany. Again, this might be viewed as a plus for America.

The Star Tribune is attempting a guilt trip that parents have long used to get their children to eat vegetables. The implication is that the children in Africa wouldn't starve if we Americans weren't so greedy. But the Sahel region of Africa, which includes Niger, actually had a grain surplus as a whole for 2005.


Blogger Derek Jensen said...

Did anyone else notice that the woman standing next to the baby in the bucket seems to be NOT malnourished, judging on the thickness of her legs?

August 31, 2005 1:29 PM  
Blogger chrisheadrick said...

I always wonder when a photo like that is taken, so did the photographer give the child food?

The predictable answer from the photographer would probably be something along the lines of "there were so many starving children, if I helped one, there would be ten more hands to feed". Some would say (not me) that this metaphor can be applied to states as well as individuals.

But, I mean, did the photographer bring food for one child? Or were they just there to record the tragedy? What's the photographer having for dinner tonight now that they've returned home? A hamburger? The photog might say they did their job by "raising awareness" of the tragedy, but I say when you're there, it's your duty to drop the camera and try to feed the kid.

Photos like this tell that there's a segment of the population who simply wants to document human suffering in kind of a reverse shadenfreud: that they almost derive a kind of pleasure from documenting others' pain, feeling guilty about it, and then gaining a kind of sense of importance by shaming the world about what they've 'discovered'.

Peter, your comment about the wheat surplus is excellent: I remember as a teenager seeing Sally Struthers on TV weeping about famine in Cambodia, and Bob Geldof crying out for help in Ethiopia. What they failed to tell their audiences was that in both cases, famine was being used as a tool of civil war to starve opposing minorities into submission. I recall that when Geldof finally arranged all of his trucks full of supplies and mounted his convoy, he was stopped by Communist-backed Derg forces at the Ethiopian border, the supplies were taken, and he and his entourage were thanked and turned back home. From now on, when I hear of famines, I first ask if there's a war there: then I know that food aid won't get to the people who need it until the conflict has resolved itself or the international community shames the aggressors into dropping starvation as an extremely cheap and effective weapon of war in the Third World.

September 03, 2005 4:31 PM  

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