The Obscenity of Empty Stomachs: As I Grow Older, It Bothers Me More

Stomachs     At Christmas time over the last 28 years I’ve often taken time to reflect in this column.   Christmas time is part of our culture here in North America.  Of course it is celebrated partly because of our long Christian tradition in this part of the world.  However, is also celebrated in other countries with less Christian tradition.  For instance, in Bangladesh, which is 88% Muslim, Christmas is a holiday to be celebrated.  In the scope of things, Christmas is a big deal almost everywhere.

On the farm in Ontario we have deep rural traditions surrounding Christmas.  For instance, I can remember very fondly a society much more agrarian than today where large families would gather at the grandparents house.  I can remember plucking the chickens, turkeys and geese to get ready for a big Christmas feast.  I can remember the popcorn balls my grandmother made, they were consistent, always pink and always good.  For a child raised on the farm and schooled in the nuances of Southwestern Ontario agriculture growing up that way, Christmas was a very nice thing. I will never forget it.

Through the years society did change, we became much more secular and Christmas has become much more of an industry.  In the United States and increasingly in Canada the Christmas season starts the day after American Thanksgiving.  Media outlets line up to watch shoppers stampede into the local box store in order to get the cheapest electronic stuff money could buy.  Stores are full of red, green and silver colors, jingle bells seemingly is everywhere up until Boxing Day and then there’s another stampede.

It is not for me, but at the same time I don’t want to spoil anybody’s fun.  As a former Newsweek writer Anna Quinlan once said, “Stuff Is Not Our Salvation”.  My needs are simple; all I want is $20 soybeans for Christmas.

Whether I get that or not is yet to be seen.  Our South American friends have a tremendous crop growing under the southern hemisphere sky.  It was getting a little warm there last week, but good rains are set for this weekend and that may put more beans in the top pods.  Needless to say, I will always hold out hope.  One of these days I will sell some soybeans for $20 a bushel.

With that I suppose I can buy more stuff.  So it is a very vicious circle.  Maybe I could even capitalize all that money back into land making for the need to get more stuff to pay for it.   Or maybe I should get more realistic about my Christmas desires and hope for something that I will always hope for.  That is that many of the empty stomachs in this world get something to eat.

I have always felt guilty about that, especially because I produce food for a living and I visit Bangladesh on a regular basis where I see hungry people looking straight at me eye to eye.  When those people are kids and the elderly, for some reason it makes it even worse.  Despite my musings over our agricultural economic system, sometimes we get it wrong because empty stomachs are obscene.  Ignoring them is what many people do.  I did that for a long time, but I’m no longer able to.

It was no different this past January when I went back to Bangladesh.  Sure, the poverty rate actually decreased from 40% in 2009 down to about 25% for the 150 million people who were there.  It was tangibly different that way and you could see it on the streets.  However, that left 25% of 150 million who were not getting their daily nutritional requirements.  And then there is me, a farmer from Dresden Ontario who produces enough food for myself and hundreds of others.  Despite that, not everybody in this world gets enough to eat.

20 years ago I made my first trip to Bangladesh.  Poverty was much worse then, hungry people were everywhere.  I remember when my train would stop, young kids would rush my window selling stuff or begging for money or food.  I remember one kid got pushed, he fell on the tracks and hurt his head.  The train started moving again, he was crying in pain and all this farmer could do was watch.  20 years later at Christmas time I still wonder about that kid.  With a plethora of feed grains in the world and food seemingly everywhere, sometimes things just seem so unfair.

As I grow older this bothers me more.  Of course the world would be a lot worse if we didn’t produce the big surpluses we do.  The hard part is getting it to the people who really need it.  It’s a long and winding road.  From the flat farm country, near Dresden Ontario, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.