Monday, April 05, 2004

Obesity isn't an issue for this priest!

Through two years of my high school experience, I attended a seminary run by the PIME organization. Over the years, they have been kind enough to e-mail me their PIME World publication. It is generally a nice publication with a couple stories from different nasty countries where they have missions. It's interesting to see what they go through in different cultures and how happy they are to do it.

The latest issue, though, contains an article which trots out some worn out arguments about world hunger. I'm disappointed by the fact that it was not more well informed since the missionary who wrote it, Fr. George Berendt, has obviously been 'down in the trenches' where these problems exist.

He starts off with the following point:

In 1993 the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that enough grain is grown to supply every human being with 3,500 calories per day.

Now I cannot attest to the veracity of this, but it would appear that he is already dooming whatever later arguments he might make based on this fact since this would mean any hunger is a logistics issue and not a supply issue. The number seems off at first to me (That's a lot of calories, and just in grain), so I would probably work from the assumption that grain raised for livestock is taken into this factoid. He goes on to get in a dig at the great Satan:

Based on a Census Bureau report, 3.8 million American families were hungry last year. For the last three years hunger has been increasing in America.

I would have thought he just made this up since America is well known to go against thousands of years of human history by having the lower classes plumper than the upper classes. However, this site points out the basis for this assertion:

Though media confidently quoted the hunger numbers, a closer look reveals that the evidence is deeply flawed.

...Depending on the questions, a survey can magnify the appearance of real need by confusing it with something called "food insecurity," a subjective perception. For example, the Radimer/Cornell University hunger scale defines hunger as, "the inability to acquire or consume an adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so." Research using that definition found in New York state in 1993 an astonishing 47 percent of women surveyed were "hungry."

Hell, I'm hungry right this friggin' minute (don't worry, it matters not when you're reading this), so I guess I go in the starving category as well! Fr. George takes some time to take junior Satan to task:

Let's look back on the Irish Potato Famine for some clues....During the Famine, Ireland was an exporter of food. The same blight that destroyed the potato harvest in Ireland also destroyed the potato harvest across northern Europe as well. Why only in Ireland did people die from hunger? The reason is simple: colonization.[?!?!] When the British colonized Ireland, they threw the Irish off the land, claimed it as theirs and left marginal land for the Irish to farm.

What trolley truck did this guy drive in on? Did he learn history from the back of an IRA pamphlet? As Derbyshire at NRO points out, the real problem was one of despair surrounding a problem which could probably not be solved:

For years before the famine it was perfectly obvious that Ireland was heading for a demographic catastrophe. Everybody knew this, and many said so Anthony Trollope, for example, who knew Ireland well (and whose novel Castle Richmond, by the way, includes the only account of the famine by any contemporary novelist of quality). From 1801 to 1841, the Catholic population of southern Ireland quintupled. A thing like that is hard not to notice. And yet, within the political thinking of the time, nobody, not even the best-intentioned and most charitable observers, could think of anything to do to avert the coming disaster. Britain was a minimum-government state, ill-equipped for the sort of speedy, wide-scale relief the situation called for.

As for Fr. George's quip about Ireland being a food exporter during this time, I'm given to think he pulled that fact from the same source from which he'd drawn his conclusion; and it is thus in doubt. It's veracity, however, would still not support his ill drawn conclusion. He continues on in the same vein for some time, saying that Europeans, Americans, and Japanese kick the natives off their 'good' land while the natives are left to starve on their 'poor' land. This good Christian fires up some good old fashioned American Indian paganism and goes on to lament the fact that westerners don't know how to worship take care of the land:

Westerners, however, often see land as a commodity from which to extract as much as they can and in any way they can and in any way they can.

Now wait a minute chummy, I thought you were just lamenting the fact that the natives (supposedly) couldn't get any money out of the land, surely they would be in league with the Great Satan if they were to be as greedy as the colonizers are with the land; better that they remain victims. All this should be a non-issue though because of all the excess production he sited at the beginning of the article. But wait, might that production/logistics problem have more to do with the issues you sight than anything else?

As it turns out, Fr. George is on the right path in looking for a villain, but puts forth the wrong charge. Food issues in the developing world are caused by a couple big issues, just a few are below:

  • Say you're an African farmer who has busted his butt all year to scrape together a decent crop. You borrowed money for seed, tended the field, gather your harvest, take it down to the market, and guess what? The kind government of the U.S.A. has just dropped off a whole shipload of grain - for free! Well that certainly makes American lefties (and freeloading farmers) feel good about themselves, but how much money is the African farmer going to get for his harvest? I digress however, since this is a poverty point and not a hunger point. More here
  • Secondly, I'll put forward the point that in the last 100 years, there has not been a natural famine that has killed off people, they've all been man made. Fr. George himself sites no specific examples (apart from his botched attempt at Ireland) to back his vague claim of colonization. He does site as sources, though, avowed socialists Frances Moore Lappe and Susan George, who are no doubt forgiving of the Communist institutions which continue to cause so much real hunger around the world.

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