Title: Would you like to have more rice?
Written: September 11, 2007
This evening at dinner, the words of my Bengali teacher Ms. Naht came to life. This morning, after buying a few vegetables, she explained the effects of flooding in Bangladesh and how it was increasing the price of food. Bangladesh is experiencing its second round of floods. In the last two months Bangladesh has been inundated twice and many farmers have now lost their second round of crops. The effects of this seem to have spread to my dinner table tonight.
I will place my description of dinner in context. Dinner at Taize is always simple, bhat ar shobji (rice and vegetables), and only one plate per person. Today I observed a noticeable decrease in the amount of rice as I passed the warm metal plates around the circle of boys, all laughing and joking together. When I received my plate, after attempting to pass it on as a result of my inattention, I gazed at my plate and noted something shocking. Today, curry consisted of only potatoes (alu tarkuri) and I realized that I could count on my fingers, the number of small potato pieces on my plate. My meal tonight was small, not at all balanced and yet I appreciated every single piece of rice on that plate, so much more than I ever would have in Canada.
In reflecting on this experience I wish to note a few realizations I had. The most powerful realization I had today, and this likely will sound odd, is that malnutrition and famine can remain entirely hidden from wealthy individuals around the world. At the moment in Bangladesh there is still food, for those who can afford it. But prices are climbing and as fears of flooding grow, so do fears of being unable to afford good food. The world will always have food for the wealthy; those who can import whatever it is that they need. Already, vegetables are expensive enough that at Taize they cannot afford enough vegetables to eat a balanced diet every day, never mind the lack of protein. I feel fully blessed not to be excluded from this position because of my "white privilege". Which brings me to my second thought, that my "white privilege" means that any time I am not getting a proper balanced diet I can go eat at a restaurant or buy vitamin supplements. It is my wealthy, white privilege which allows this. And there I face a challenging reality, I am playing the "white privilege" card in this game of life, in order to ensure I stay healthy when millions of people around the world and in this very country, cannot afford enough rice to feed their families. My final realization is also very obvious, food shortage can strike quickly and has to do with both what people are eating as well has how much. If prices inflate so rapidly that all people are eating is rice, they will not get the nutrition they require. This has been noted in the newspapers as a reality already now in some areas, and if the flooding increases and is prolonged, this reality could become even more pronounced.
End note: In this piece I have referred to the word famine. This word is not descriptive of the current situation for most people in Bangladesh. I use the word not in a scientific, nor a political manner, but as the most descriptive term I can use in an attempt to describe my experiences.