Saturday, April 26, 2008


There is a lot in the news about food lately. Food riots, food shortages, food costs rising, etc.

We even hear about food "shortages" here in the good old United States, breadbasket to the world. These are mostly currently centered on rice, and when you get down to the bottom of it, you find that, yes, it is a shortage, but a shortage of CERTAIN kinds of rice. The people most likely to eat that kind of rice would not be likely to eat any other kind. Many articles have mentioned that rice is a highly segmented market. I don't know if I totally buy into that completely, or they are just saying that to avoid panic. Only time will tell.

Here is just one example - people fleeing Haiti to get away from grinding, horrible poverty.

This is heartbreaking for sure, but disgustingly enough, this is nothing new for this nation. This has been going on for years and years and years. In 1988, I was on Coast Guard ships that were doing the same things for the same reason. The time that has gone by with nothing changing is enough to make you want to cry.

A lot of these famines and food shortages are sometimes driven by corrupt, ineffective governments, lousy infrastructure, poor agricultural planning (sometimes a lot of it centralized in capital cities by the corrupt ineffective governments cited above).

A lot of these "crises" are part of a news cycle, then they go away, and the people forget. Remember Somalia in the 1990's (astonishingly THAT country is in no better shape today either)? We sent troops there just to move the food, and then got involved instead in an ugly little war.

There are a lot of reasons being tossed around for this latest round of food insecurity. Higher fuel prices. Changing diets in India and China (more meat eaten, causing more grain to be used to raise that meat). Commodities markets out of control. Globalization. Overpopulation (although I believe a country like Haiti would struggle to feed her people with even a quarter of their population).

I waiver between believing some of these reasons and not believing some of them. I also waiver between believing this is just more of the same, or crisis of a differing, more permanent quality.

In the final analysis, I believe that at the bottom, this is not necessarily a food "shortage" (although there might be shortages of specific food stuff items), but a recurring system wide distribution problem.

I have read a lot about this over the past few weeks. A lot of the experts (in governments, NGO's, the UN, academia, etc) say that if you take the amount of food produced in the world and divide it between the world's peoples equitably, there is enough.

It should be noted that the UN is asking for more MONEY to distribute the food. There is a HUGE distinction between saying that there is a food crisis and needing more money and a food shortage where no amount of money will do the trick.

I'm not smart enough to know how to solve the problem permanently. I do know that the richer countries will have to get serious, and more importantly REMAIN serious (not just throwing money at the problem when a crisis situation erupts and then forgetting about it after the crisis passes) if we are to eradicate world hunger. I do believe that what is going on now is certainly a setback to progress that might have been made so far.

We like to claim we are a Christian nation. A lot of us tend to balk at the foreign aid that goes to feed a lot of the worlds peoples (although very few Christians seem to have any problem with the spending of billions of dollars in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).

Why is it my problem if Haiti (or any other country) can't feed her own people because of their own mismanagement?

Recall Jesus' words in Matthew 25 (from the New International Version, not my favorite translation, where he talks about at the final judgement, separating sheep into goats):

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give your something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?

The King will reply, I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

It goes on at length about them not doing these things for Christ (feeding, clothing, etc), and they want to know when they saw Christ in all of these situations. Christ finishes with:

"He will reply, I tell you the truth, whatever you DID NOT DO (emphasis mine) for one of the least of these, you DID NOT DO (emphasis mine) for me.

Who would be considered the "least" right now? Haitians, Africans, Asians, Central and South Americans, and the poorest in this country.

If we are the Christian nation we claim to be, we simply have to be an integral part of the solution to this problem.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Way Out West

Just finished a week in Las Vegas.

I spent an entire week, and did not check e-mail once. I did not read really anything news wise on the internet that I normally read daily (the person we stayed with had no internet access). I didn't really watch the news at all only in bits and pieces (I did see enough to see that Barack Obama made a MAJOR misstep in Pennsylvania and left the door open for the Clintons).


The thing that strikes me about Las Vegas both this time and when I went two years ago is that Las Vegas seems entirely unsustainable as a community in the long term.

There are people on top of people (and the automobile traffic is horrendous creating a lot of haze), huge hotels, swimming pools in almost every yard (you can see it when you fly in - and oh, by the way, Phoenix the same thing (we had a short layover in Phoenix on the way back).

There are also a lot of homeless people wandering around (great place for it - good warm weather all year round). Of course they were not on the strip where all the tourists are (they are sent away from there - who wants to pay several hundred dollars to stay in a huge opulent hotel and meet homeless people when you walk out the door), but are all around the city on the fringes.

When you go to Hoover Dam and see how low the lake is after a seven year drought cycle, you understand that at some point there are going to be pretty serious water issues (and there are already water issues). This small water source called Lake Mead is the water source for several million people, and billions of dollars of agriculture over several western states. And there is not much to it, and it's getting smaller every year.

To top it all off, they are building several MORE mega-hotels on the strip. They are building these hotels 24 hours a day - we watched them working at 10:30 at night one night.

I had a great time, and there are a lot of neat things to see (and one of my favorite sights is the Conservatory in the Bellagio), but Las Vegas, at some point will be gone. All those people cannot continue to live there without something giving.

One other thing. People are always walking around like zombies on the strip day and night. One flight attendant I talked to said she HATES flying out of Vegas - people come out of there having not slept in days, consumed massive amounts of alcohol, are dehydrated and have usually lost a good sum of money (probably money they can in no way afford to spend - NOBODY wins in Las Vegas, especially with all the machines now being digital and electronic). In short, they are damned cranky.

It is a place that I think capsulizes most Americans desire for instant gratification and consumption. The amount of food eaten and wasted and the opulence of the hotels borders on the obscene.

I'm not moralizing or sermonizing or saying that people who go there are bad or anything, those are just my observations.

We took a side trip to the Grand Canyon (South Rim). Now, we didn't do any burro riding or white water rafting or flights over the canyon, or hiking. We went to it in a speeding car, spent a few hours there, and then went home in a speeding car. Even seen that way, it is something that every human being should see at least once in their lives. It is simply awe inspiring.