Column: The feasting and the famished

By Jenette Sturges

Famine is bad. It takes a pretty misanthropic person to disagree with me on that point. However, getting the global community to cooperate to prevent deaths due to starvation is a whole other story.

First of all, the leader of the starving people has to come forward and admit to the world that his country cannot sustain itself. Though volunteer physicians with Doctors Without Borders and other members of the Nigerian government had warned of a coming food shortage for some time in Niger, only in the past month has Mamadou Tandja, president of Niger, come forward seeking support.

Second, the world needs to define how many starving children and dead infants constitute famine as opposed to a simple food crisis. It appears that Niger’s food shortage is right on the cusp of these two categories; 2.5 million people and 32,000 children will be affected by the poor crops.

Then the rich people of the world must decide if a mere food crisis is worthwhile enough for relief money. Thus far the answer seems to be a resounding No. Not even half of the $81 million dollars the United Nations projected was needed by the people of Niger has been pledged by worldwide donors. Whether they are saving money for a full-blown famine, such as the one that struck Ethiopia in the 1980s, or they are like the many of Americans who would rather see money spent to benefit their own country instead of some starving Africans, the global community has done little to curb the deaths caused by the recurring drought striking Niger and its neighbor Mali.

The fact that people are starving to death is bad enough, but the fact that the rest of the world is refusing to acknowledge that it exists and refuses to help is worse.

Then again, you probably didn’t even know that there was no food in Niger. Like the majority of Americans, you probably had no clue that swarms of locusts were destroying the crops that were already ravaged by drought. Odds are, you also were unaware that Kofi Annan traveled to Niger just last week to see the crisis for himself. It wasn’t a huge news story. Unlike Iraq or the Gaza strip, we have no American interests in Niger, so we never hear anything about the country. In fact, I would wager a bet saying that at least one person reading this column right now doesn’t know who Kofi Annan is and can’t find Niger on the map.

If you were like me, you spent a whole lot more of your day yesterday running on a treadmill, burning off your extra lunch calories, than you spent thinking about a famine in Niger. This is one of the greatest ironies of our time. While aid workers attach bracelets to children to see just how malnourished they are based on arm circumference, you and I are worried about getting rid of our extra flab. We act as if food is money, and there is only so much of it to go around. The more food we have, the more powerful we are. This stance has devastating effects on the global community, and on ourselves, the fattest country in the world.

We have plenty of food to go around. There is, in reality, too much food in America, as evidenced by our ever-expanding waistlines. Those crops that aren’t planted each year to keep crop prices up, the Cheetos you snacked on after dinner, and the grains used to make your beer are all examples of calories that the United States has to share. So why not? In the long run, donating our abundance of food will benefit America, helping us to combat the obesity epidemic and the impending health care crisis, while at the same time feeding a country in desperate need of our extra calories. Tell Congress to mail our Cheetos to Africa. Save millions of people, and our waistlines.