This evening I read comments on BBC's Africa website by Africans discussing their first-hand encounter with the so-called food price crisis. We're barely aware of it in the west, but systemic causes like oil shortage, increasing affluence (i.e. consumption) in Asia, and use of crops for biofuel has led to world-wide food shortage. It doesn't matter to families making $70,000 US a year, but to the half of the world living on less than $700 a year, a couple cents difference in maize prices is a BIG DEAL. Here is one of many touching anecdotes:
"Now it is just difficult for me to survive with my wife and three children. At times I think about committing suicide, but I pray to God on a daily basis. Before we had one, one and one in my house, meaning we could afford meals in the morning, afternoon and evening, but now we have zero, zero and one meaning we only eat once daily. What an embarrassing siutation? May God save our land from this starvation." -- Thomas B. Kokulo, Paynseville, Monrovia, Liberia
I'm not one to cry foul at Westerners for their lifestyle, expecting them to feel guilty for it, but I really think it's important for us to be aware of the disparity, since none of us see it first hand on a regular basis. I was set aback today when I saw the rising middle class in Asia listed as one of the contributing factors to, to dwell on the heart-throbber, Thomas's family's lack of food. That affluence -- taste for expensive foods (meat -- 16 lbs of corn to make 1 lb of beef, I hear) and toys -- is identical to America's status for the last century. In a world market, what we do affects those who are far away.
So here's my brainstorm. I'm already vegetarian for health, but I still eat a lot of expensive food (At least $10-$12 just today -- and that was going zero-one-one). To take inspiration from Kant's deonotological (duty-based) ethics, the right thing to do does not change just because I'm only one of 300 million Americans (i.e. I can only make a small dent): the fact of the matter is that my African brothers are suffering, unable to pay $2 to feed their family when I spent five times that on my food just today.
The action plan: I've already been considering putting my money in Africa mutual funds, to do my part to responsibly aid in third world developmenet. Furthermore, since western consumption does directly affect third world poverty, I should try to eat on $10 a week. Yes, it's possible, and can be healthy. Staples: grains, lentils, potatoes, ramen noodles. I'm unsure about vegetables, I might have to up it to $15, but still, that's more than my friends in Nigeria have to spare.
Just because it's far away doesn't make it less real, or our humanitarian responsibility less morally mandatory. It only makes it harder for us to be aware of the need.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1028