Anyone who has been to the supermarket lately (which means everyone except the very rich and Presidential candidates) is aware of what is happening with food prices. Even with weekly specials, manufacturers coupons and heavy reliance on store brands, $80 just doesn’t fill the larder like it used to.
While the average American is beginning to react to the pinch of rising food prices by choosing a cheaper cut of steak or a budget bottle of wine to accompany it, for the hundreds of millions of human beings living dangerously close to the starvation line, the adjustment is nothing short of catastrophic.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) keeps tabs on world food prices, and they have determined that in 2007 their Global Food Price Index surged a shocking 40%. For a significant percentage of the people on the planet, struggling to rise from abject poverty and partake of the tantalizing promise of Globalization, this abrupt increase amounts to a death sentence for them, and most significantly, for their children.
According to the UN, of the current 6.1 billion inhabitants of our orb, almost 1 billion, or one thousand million people, are trapped between the poverty line and the starvation line. These are people so poor that they or their childred were going to bed hungry at least 3 or 4 times a week. And that was before food prices went up 40%.
These people were just barely keeping their heads above the water. Now the water has gone up three feet.
Not having enough food to eat, or access to clean water and a balanced diet, does much more than send people to bed on an empty stomach. People without enough food are weak, lethargic and depressed. They are unable to work hard, hold jobs, go to school or look for work. They are susceptible to myriad diseases and conditions brought on or exacerbated by inadequate diet.
The effects are not limited to the physical, either. Chronic hunger causes personality disintegration, depression, apathy, neglect, uncontrollable outbreaks of anger and violence and a breakdown of law and order. Who among us, faced with returning empty-handed to a hovel in a slum to face the tear-stained faces of our children slowly dying of starvation would not consider desperate measures, robbing, rioting or even strapping on a suicide vest in a last, desperate gesture of rage and despair?
Cruelly, it is the most innocent who suffer the worst. Anthropologists have found that while adults can survive a period of inadequate nutrition with a little weight loss and wasting from which they later recover, children under the age of five who pass through a similar period suffer permanent mental and physical retardation. This means their IQ’s, their stature, their physical strength and health, will all be limited to 75-80% of what they would normally be.
This is not a new phenomena, but with the increase in food prices it will soon be endemic around the world. Vast regions, entire countries, even continents will be struggling along with the majority of their surviving populations suffering from extreme retardation. Their geniuses will just have average intelligence, and the normal people will be, well, slow. How can they be expected to compete in the increasingly competitive and cutthroat global marketplace?
And all of those retarded people will be hungry, and desperate, and resentful of the waste and opulence that they can see daily on television; today even the poorest of the poor have access to televised images. Shanty towns sprout forests of antennas – even tiny villages in the Amazon or the Himalayas or the Australian Outback have one or two screens. Television has become the true opiate of the people.
And these hungry huddled masses, the wretched refuse trapped on those teeming shores, will prove fertile ground for extremist sects, violent religions and messianic leaders, and poor candidates for good neighbors or democratic allies.
The problem is extreme and immediate, and will not get better soon. The factors causing the sudden run up of food prices – fuel and fertilizer costs, bad weather caused by climate change, growing population and competition for arable land – will not abate in our lifetimes.
The ultimate irony is that we already have the space and the know-how to feed the entire population of the planet until and after the global population stabilizes, which most experts feel would happen if everyone had access to education and economic opportunity. It is simply a problem of priorities and distribution of available resources.
The Dowbrigade feels strongly that this is the only road to a happy ending to the troubled history of the human race. There exists a solution to the Malthusian dilemma, but only through fully developing our human potential all over the planet. Statistically speaking, there is an Einstein alive somewhere right now, and a da Vinci and an Aristotle and a Mahatma Gandhi.
But if they have the bad luck to be born in the half of the world that is growing up retarded, together with billions of others, then we don’t stand a chance.
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