Friday, April 25, 2008

Past food

Unappetizing, what's often up in the air lately. Even the so-called land of plenty is getting jittery, with two major American bulk retailers--Sam's Club and Costco--reportedly "rationing the sale of large bags of rice to consumers amid a growing global food crisis marked by skyrocketing prices and heavy pressure on demand. "

Last week, Sam's Club--a chain owned by retail giant Wal-Mart-- announced a "temporary cap," placing a limit of four 20-pound (nine-kilogram) bags per person for imported jasmine, basmati and long grain white rices as a "precautionary step."

If America is bracing for some belt-tightening measure, imagine how some people elsewhere in the world are putting up with an empty stomach. As a Cebuano phrase puts it, "
pasmo hasta bitok."

Hereunder is a reprint of one of my recent column "So To Speak" in the op-ed page of
Sun.Star Cebu (April 15, 2008):

Wish Upon the Starved

WHEREVER poverty prevails, America is a finger-licking fantasy. Thus out on their limbs go the dreamers in droves—and not a few would go as far as to swallow swords—to have their fill of the “land of milk and honey.”

That sounds like the end of a bedtime story, true. Especially when it goes against the grain of current events where rice, or the lack of it, has become grist for the mill.

Toss restless in the dark as empty innards turn. So goes the rabble roused by the nightmare in Haiti, where the prime minister got himself booted out to appease a famished populace protesting against soaring prices of food.

Mouthfuls of rage also echo in Egypt and Bangladesh where dissent have turned deadly over the same intestinal issue. A worldwide trend, explain the experts who see “a widening gulf between those who can afford to eat and those who cannot.” It looms over much of the world’s population now reeling under the specter of climate change and escalating fuel prices, according to the United Nations.

Simply one plus one—how the transport of food all over the world entails diesel, driving its cost up the stratosphere. Not hard to digest why not only rats are bracing to end up in the sewer, with their bellies up.

In the Philippines and other Asian nations, superstition abounds about the deadly outcome of sleeping with a full stomach. Tongues wag hairy about a nocturnal malady allegedly caused by carbohydrates in rice—the common staple in our table—that mysteriously transmogrify into a “batibat.” An overweight witch-like creature in Ilocano folklore, the “batibat” would supposedly immobilize and suffocate the sleeping victim—mostly male—by squatting on his face.

Clear as day, what we call “bangungot” or “urom has become too real as the rice crisis haunts the country. Will the protest-plagued leadership weather another thumb-biting spell of insecurity?

To spare the people from the “gut-wrenching pain of hunger under these very difficult times,” Cebu City Councilor Edgardo Labella has proposed “a resolution for the creation of an anti-hunger task force to expedite the implementation of the government’s hunger mitigation programs.”

But where the rule of law is often sidetracked, how far will state initiatives to distribute crop goods to urban areas and metropolis go?

Here in America, now in the throes of an economic recession, there’s also a lot to bellyache against the domino effect vis-à-vis the escalating costs of energy, housing, health insurance and grocery items. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 38 million Americans—13.9 million of them children—live in households at risk of hunger.

Look how it renders the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a national nonprofit organization, in full steam “to improve public policies and community partnerships to eradicate hunger and undernutrition in the United States.” On behalf of those who need help to stave off starvation—the elderly, the unemployed, low-income workers, the ill, and the homeless—FRAC has been providing information to strengthen federal nutrition programs, like the distribution of food stamps.

And so, if it’s any consolation to those yearning to flee from Third World reality, often deemed doggone, hunger is also a persistent stalker here in dreamland.

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