Thursday, February 02, 2006

Beggars being choosers

From the AFP:
Kenya outraged by Kiwi 'dog food' relief

Officials in drought-stricken Kenya reacted with horror and outrage on Tuesday to a plan by a New Zealand woman to send dog food to feed starving children threatened by famine in the East African nation.

Describing the idea as "absurd," "insulting," "offensive" and "immoral," Kenyan officials vehemently rejected the donation and said they would put measures in place to prevent any similar assistance.

The would-be donor, Christine Drummond, has told the New Zealand press her mix is different from pet food, but made with the same ingredients, and she and her children eat it.

"It is immoral, it is unacceptable," said Kenyan Special Programmes Minister John Munyes, who is coordinating the government's response to the drought that has put up to four million Kenyans at risk of starvation.

"I am very much offended, it is in bad taste," he told Agence France-Presse. "It is unacceptable and we should not even be discussing such a demeaning thing."

"Oh no, it is horrible, it is terrible," said Khadija Abdalla, head of the Garrisa Provincial Hospital in one of the worst-hit areas of northeast Kenya where at least 40 people have died since December of drought-related cuases.

"It is insulting us because we are poor," she said.

"We appreciate when people are willing to help us, but they should be sensitive about our culture," said government spokesperson Alfred Mutua.

"Telling us that you are giving us food for dogs in our culture is an insult of the highest order," he said. "Maybe, she was trying to help, but I hope this offer is a result of naivety."

The outcry began when Nairobi's leading Daily Nation picked up a report about the offer of 6 000 packets of powdered dog food from The Press newspaper in Christchurch, New Zealand and splashed it across its front page.

Under the headline "For starving children of Kenya, 42 tonnes of dog food ..." the Nation heaped scorn on the scheme presented to the New Zealand paper by Drummond, the founder of Mighty Mix dog food.

Drummond said the relief, NZ's Raw Dry Nourish, is fit for humans. Both she and her children used it, but she allowed it is made from the same ingredients as her Mighty Mix dog biscuits.

She told the paper she had initially thought of sending biscuits to Kenya but decided against it when she discovered how many Kenyan children were in need.

"The first plan was to send dog biscuits and change the vitamins, then when I heard there were so many little children I could not send them a bicky," she was quoted as saying.
What are we supposed to send, then, chateaubriand? They may be insulted, but many will also be dead soon enough. Then again, the government and hospital officials are probably well fed, so let the starving Kenyans speak for themselves. I'm sure many are desperate enough that they wouldn't mind the dry mix, anything to survive. I'll never forget reading that, when Argentina was in real trouble a few years ago, children in the poorest regions resorted to eating dirt. Going days without food, they were so desperate to dull the pain that they would eat anything.

Perhaps something was lost in translation, but it's not actual dog food. The dry nature is probably so it won't spoil; one big shipment can last a great while, instead of a region depending on smaller regular deliveries. Forty-two tons (if metric tons, that's over 92,000 pounds of food) will feed a great many people.

In stark contrast, we have New Yorkers who eat food "rescued" from the garbage, and they're not starving nor homeless:
Garbage gourmets on the streets of New York

NEW YORK (AFP) - "I've got yogurts!" Stephen Woloshin shouts in triumph, causing other members of his group to lift their rummaging arms and heads from the rubbish bins outside a Manhattan supermarket.

Teachers, social workers and students, Woloshin and his fellow scavengers are far removed from the swollen ranks of New York's homeless, belonging instead to a new faction on the fringes of the environmental movement.

As "freegans," they regard over-consumption as a pernicious global trend and seek to demonstrate how people can feed themselves for "free" on the mountains of produce discarded by others.

On one particular evening, the group, kitted out with small backpacks and string bags, are on a mission in Greenwich Village, scoping the streets of the chic district before the garbage trucks rumble through.

Their first target is a large pile of black bags dumped on the sidewalk outside a supermarket.

Squatting down, they give different bags an exploratory squeeze before pulling off the string ties and plunging hand first into what they hope will prove a mystery hamper of edible seconds.

The results are mixed, both in origin and appeal -- apples, oranges, garlic, baby carrots with seasoning, and vacuum-packed chestnuts.

The freegan rule of thumb for what goes into the shopping bag and what stays in the garbage is simple: "You look at it. You smell it. You feel it. If it seems okay, you take it."

Next stop is a bakery -- "who wants some bagels?" -- followed by the upscale wastage of a "Gourmet Garage" outlet, where the attractive aroma of rejected pastries mixes with that of rotton lettuce.

For Woloshin, a social worker, this is his second freegan expedition.

"It's a good thing to expose the waste," Woloshin says. "I make good money and I can afford to buy food, but it's a shame to see this waste."

Janet Kalish, a 47-year-old high school teacher, criticizes stores for overstocking as a cosmetic measure to keep shoppers happy.

"It's an attempt to give people a sense of wealth .... people feel good to see shelves that are full," says Kalish, a veteran freegan of more than one-year standing.

Kalish has become so adept at scavenging that the only food she still purchases in traditional fashion are the soy-based products she requires for her strictly vegetarian diet.

"My meals have become more diversified because I find surprises," she says. "Things I probably wouldn't buy in stores, like endives and avocado. I wash them well and I know where there's clean garbage."

Discussing memorable finds, math teacher Jason Samuels recalls with a gourmet's grin the still-frozen, whole turkeys he picked out of a top-end grocer's rubbish.

"There's not a single food we can't find in perfect condition in a bag on a sidewalk," Samuels insists.

Founded several years ago, the freegan movement embraces aspects of myriad other groups, including ecologists and the anti-globalization lobby.

"The solution to world hunger lies on the streets of New York," says Adam Weissman, the organizer behind the local chapter.

"So much food is wasted in the United States," says Weissman. "When I go to a restaurant, I bring my meal."

According to City Harvest, a non-profit organization and "food rescue" program set up in 1981, millions of pounds of good, edible food are thrown away each year by New York City food businesses.

The New York freegans hit the streets as a group two or three times a month, although many scavenge on their own, guided by a freegan website that carries recommendations for where the most palatable garbage bags can be found.

Their activities inevitably attract the attention of passers-by, some of whom, like Ronnit Keha, approve of what they see.

"This consumerism, this waste ... is disgusting," Keha says.

Some of the group members acknowledge to moments of discomfort when their rummaging in garbage bins draws stares.

"There's a bit of a stigma. I used to feel my heart pounding and people looking down at me," says Kalish, for whom the rewards outweigh the embarrassment.

"I once found some fantastic strawberries," she beams.
The "freegans" have many misconceptions of how food suppliers really operate. Grocery stores do not fill shelves to give the illusion of wealth. There is no profit in that. They do it so that they won't run out and lose customers, who will start going to other stores that do keep good stock.

For example, I used to get my morning bagel and cream cheese from a coffee/breakfast cart just outside where I work. The raisin bagels were pretty good, but the rest were truly awful (less body than even Wonder Bread). One morning the guy gave me a sesame seed bagel that my reasonably discerning palate could not accept. I didn't discover what he'd done until I had gone all the way up to my department and unwrapped it at my desk; by then it wasn't worth my while to go back to him and raise hell. It wouldn't have made a difference, anyway: he apologized the next morning, saying he had run out of raisin bagels. And he thought it ok to slip me a sesame seed one without telling me, when for a long time he knew I customarily got raisin?

In fact, he was out of raisin bagels that morning too, and even the next morning (I probably gave one chance too many). After that, I never went back to his cart again, and I began getting my bagels in our building cafeteria. They're a bit more expensive, and slightly more inconvenient. The latter is because of the lines, and because the poorly programmed elevators are so slow to arrive. It's bad enough going to just one floor, let alone to the cafeteria floor and then to mine.

As our friend Capital Freedom said a couple of months ago, she'll give away clothes not out of a sense of altruism, but because their value is too low, and keeping them is too costly. Similarly, those frozen turkeys may be of great value to scavengers, but that 20-pound tom probably cost the grocery store only around a dollar or two. That's not a great loss to the store, especially when the same space could be used to earn several dollars profit off smaller items.

Another thing to consider: many municipalities prohibit selling perishable foods after they've reached a certain age as defined by law. New York City is particularly strict. Putting aside whether governments have the authority to do that, the "freegans" are really risking their health, besides the fact that the food has been sitting with other garbage. What if that nice-looking bagel had fallen on the floor? In my world, there is no "five-second rule": if it touches the ground, it goes in the garbage. I'm also extremely fastidious about touching food only with clean hands.

Even were there no risk of disease, and even if I could scavenge food with perfect anonymity, I myself would still buy my food from stores. My time is far too valuable to spend searching through garbage bags. If that man is correct, and he really can find anything, I'd like to see him find a few pounds of USDA Prime ribeye. Even if he could, I would incur far less total costs to go down to Bleeker Street and buy it from a butcher. A friend gave me Prime strip steaks as a Christmas present (quite a present!), which he'd bought on Bleeker. That butcher is one of the oldest in the entire city, having originally opened in the 19th century.

This "consumerism" and "waste" may be disgusting to some, but I thank God that this country has so much abundance that we can afford to throw away excess, rather than praying for a miracle (like many Kenyans) because there's not enough to go around. It was not too many decades ago in the U.S. that "the poor" lived in real poverty: dirt floors, no air conditioning, possibly no electricity or indoor plumbing. Today, we're hard-pressed to find "the poor" who don't have those basic needs met. Their worries now are about health care and prescription drugs, which once upon a time were only luxuries for the rich.



Blogger Mike said...

Heh, great minds must think alike.

Check out my latest post.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 3:54:00 AM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

Haha, did we really choose the same title? That's just too funny. I truthfully hadn't seen your post at all.

Actually I was going to blog about it Wednesday night, but I got so caught up on my SOTU critique.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 9:20:00 AM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

Um, I meant to say, early Wednesday morning. These late hours get confusing at times.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 9:21:00 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Yeah, tell me about it. I'm on 2 and a half hours right now because I had some aero pre- and post-labs I had to finish up last night/this morning.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

I know what you mean. Ever since I started my new job last September, though the commute time is less, the demands on my free time have increased by more.

Friday, February 03, 2006 1:19:00 PM  

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