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Conflicted

by on September 5, 2022

Conflicted

by Marco M. Pardi

Untold stories of Tonio

Feelings are like kids — you can’t let them drive, but you can’t put them in the trunk.” As quoted on Best Friends Animal Society newsletter.

Inaction in a deed of mercy becomes an action in a deadly sin.”

Ancient Buddhist Apocrypha.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response. This post will be viewed by some as rather harsh. We always hope readers will take a moment to respond, but if you are not inclined to do so please forward to someone who will. All previous posts are open for comment.

As Tonio and Maartje waited for the televised evening news to appear they again saw the ad begging for donations to feed starving children in East Africa. Of course, there were the shots of skeletal children, too weak to react to the flies leaching moisture from their sunken eyes. Some of the children were likely weakened by diarrheal diseases, a leading cause of childhood mortality in much of the world. Other co-morbidities were likely worsened by severe malnutrition. Some of the children were likely already dead before the ad aired, or soon thereafter.

Although Tonio and Maartje were in remarkable physical condition, they had known hunger in periods of their childhood. And, Tonio had been in several parts of the world, seeing these now televised conditions first hand. He knew that many would not believe that pockets of hunger existed in many parts of the United States as well. Yet, one of his duties in Graduate School, in addition to teaching and on-site meetings with street gangs, had been to conduct on-site ethnography to develop an Ecology of the Inner-City Child. The locus of the study was the inner city of a large Mid-Western metropolis so crime ridden and dangerous the federal government dynamited the public housing projects to the ground just weeks after he finished.

During the months he spent there, sitting in on classes in K-8th grade schools, he saw the implementation of a school breakfast program for the children. What at first seemed like a marvelous idea soon soured as he checked the huge waste bins in the cafeterias. After each group of children left the bins were filled with uneaten foods, particularly excellent apples and other untouched materials. Cookies and other sweets were never in evidence. The bins were emptied daily into the garbage. He recounted this to Maartje as the ad finished. She muted the sound on the television.

Maartje was a fast, voracious reader with total comprehension and almost total recall. She was blazing through Tonio’s library faster than he could replenish it. And so, she well understood the variables behind food scarcity; things like war, drought, single crop economies formed by exploitative colonials, failure to control human population growth, and cultural preferences for some foods over others. She understood Tonio’s discussion of how Nixon’s illegal bombing campaign of neutral Laos and Cambodia, centered on the agricultural heartlands through which ran the Ho Chi Minh trail, had brought starvation to the Cambodians and Laotians, throwing them into the arms of the waiting North Vietnamese and Chinese. Nixon had brought about the very “Domino Theory” result everyone feared. Decades later much of that farmland is dangerous due to unexploded munitions, including cluster bombs and landmines.

She understood Tonio’s recollections of warlords appropriating foodstuffs and blocking the influx of regular agricultural trade. And the seduction of Central and South American countries into devoting their lands to single crops which the U.S. manipulated for lowest cost or abandoned when they could be found cheaper elsewhere.

Maartje, a master of facts and figures, recited what she had learned from recent surveys: According to PBS about 40% of the food produced in the U.S. either rots in the field, is trashed at the market, or thrown away at home. The typical American family of four wastes 1,160 pounds of food annually. The UNFAO -Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, estimates that, world wide, one-third of food produced for human consumption – 2.8 trillion pounds, is lost or wasted from farm to kitchen each year. Much of it is discarded before market because it is cosmetically not “pleasing”. This means about 55 billion cubic meters of fresh water are wasted to grow crops not eaten. Meat eaters worsen the water problem as it takes 20-50 times more water to produce a kilo of meat than a kilo of vegetable matter. She then enumerated the figures on federal subsidies to farmers and ranchers to not produce particular foods so as to keep the prices up. Yet, human population numbers continue to climb unchecked.

Tonio recalled that since the successful tele-scam artist Jerry Falwell and his Christian Right Moral Majority had completely bought control of the Republican Party every Republican administration since Reagan had ordered USAID- United States Agency for International Development- to withhold all money from any and all foreign health clinics that had so much as a table and chair devoted to Family Planning, specifically contraception and abortion. Any Foreign Service Officers found to have knowingly overlooked such services were terminated immediately. Thus, health and emergency medical services of all kinds were put in jeopardy or simply collapsed from loss of funding. Entire clinics were closed.

Why? Because the prevailing “religious” belief was that sexual intercourse was for procreation. But wait, there’s more, he said. The Republican Party is fundamentally parasitic. It realized it could use the cloak of religion to conceal its tactic of ensuring that developing nations could be forced into extractive compliance through carefully managed and enforced impoverishment. People barely able to feed themselves and their growing families were powerless to refuse the exploitation of agricultural production and precious metals mining at subsistence level reimbursement. Furthermore, keeping a nation at or barely above subsistence level while paying off its government officials ensured that the nation would be unable to develop programs similar to the Social Security, MediCare, or MediCaid, programs Republicans vilify as “socialist” and do all in their power to destroy. The results were obvious: the “Man on the Street” fathered many children as a safety net for when he and his wife became too old or too ill to work. With little to no organized health care infant and childhood mortality rates were gruesome. One could not chance having only one or two children trusting they would one day become working adults who could take care of them. Hence, the scattershot approach to family size, trusting some would get through.

And so, the conflict. Many countries were nearing a Malthusian equation of available nutrition levels governing population levels. But numbers on a spreadsheet are a far different image from skeletal children in person, or even on television. What kind of person can watch these ads on television and sit back saying, Let Nature take its course? The very same people who block corrective aid while intoning the word Socialism, a word intended to strike fear into the hearts of people fortunate enough to have their futures assured through investments in their company’s 401K stock market program. Yes, deregulate those industries to maximize profit no matter how many people die from the consequences.

Rushing to gather food otherwise wasted and supplying it to these populations would seem to be the right move. But all that does is address the immediate need. In the long run it may even make conditions worse as more people survive and go on to spawn more children. An entire restructuring of the economic system system in those countries is required. After all, the fundamental principle of economics is the production and distribution of goods, not the hoarding by some and the lack by many. The bottom line in economics is Access to Power. A couple who needs to ensure their future financial stability and care by raising enough children for some to mature and survive has no access to power.

It is true, as Maartje observed, that the mortality rate of infants and children had dropped tremendously during the latter 20th century and into the 21st. But still, every day an average of 15,000 children die, most from preventable causes. The number of child deaths is that of 24 jumbo jet crashes, with only children on board, every single day” (OurWorldInData.org). Worldwide, the rate is 4.5%. Pneumonia is the leading cause of childhood death, followed by diarrheal diseases and malaria. Each of these diseases, and several other significant causes of infant and child deaths, is worsened, perhaps fatally, by a common denominator: Malnutrition.

What to do, they asked each other. As individuals, we are powerless to do anything without risking that we would make matters worse.The world needs to take steps to assist the living, while at the same time taking major cultural steps to correct existing social and religious policies and to develop new policies which prevent the problem from just climbing to a higher level where the stakes are far more catastrophic, making the Malthusian theorem come true. Perhaps, one day, we can write about it.

11 Comments
  1. Michael Stamm permalink

    Harsh to modern American ears, yet not nearly harsh enough; as a society we have managed to insulate ourselves–temporarily–from the consequences of convictions and actions we have cheerfully adopted without even beginning to think them through. (I learned recently–in the pages of a novel, yet–that the US is directly responsible for the existence of the Mexican drug cartels and the huge drug problem they support and profit from.) Both our voters and our leaders–ALL of them–need to be held accountable–and I have no good, let alone ‘democratic’ idea how to do that. But blundering through the world, no matter how superficially good our intentions, has obviously been a miserable failure, not only for us but for the rest of the world. And there will unquestionably be consequences, and those are getting worse by the day, by the hour, by the minute.

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  2. Thank you, Mike. I am sure you are also aware that the claims of Reagan-Bush involvement in the massive transfer of cocaine into the U.S., and the development of crack cocaine, during the Contra effort against Nicaragua have been proven true, This, after years of persecution of the journalist who uncovered the multi-million dollar, multi-ton program. This largely funded a war the Congress had forbidden.

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  3. Julie permalink

    Power and money are humans dominate goals, in the bigger picture unfortunately. Where we are born dictates our life more than anything else. We live in a world of contrast and feel there is learning in that, however there are victims amongst this. Life isn’t fair and likely never will be.
    On a happier note, I hope you are doing well Marco, thank you for continuing to share your thoughts and writings in your blog 😊 🙏

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    • Thank you, Julie. Yes, the idea that life is fair is yet another trope with no basis. In the U.S., there are still consequences when applying for employment or loans and you list a zip code (postal area) that is not favored by the company or bank.

      I’m doing quite well, and hope the same for you. I’m past the era of motorcycle trips like you but I enjoy your adventures.

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  4. When I first read this, I was immediately reminded of the early 70s and the era of Nixonomics. As a reminder, it was a period of ninety days in which all wages, prices, and rents were temporarily frozen by presidential policy. I think maybe it was some attempt at slowing inflation, but it was a miserable failure. When it ended, as I recall, prices made a considerable jump to where they might have been at a normal rate of increase, where wages were slower to catch up. I could be wrong, of course, but I vividly remember the policy being a disaster.

    Another economic policy which comes to mind from that time is “aid to dependent children”, more commonly called the welfare system. At that time (oddly, I have no clue now), the payments were based on 90 percent of an absolute minimum survival rate. In order to get more money, some people simply had more children; certainly a diminishing rate of return when compared with the cost of supporting the child. Once in the system, it became almost impossible to get out again. You’ve written before of the current policies being designed to create a surplus of poor, unskilled workers who have no choice but to accept low paying jobs just to survive. We all want our children to do better, have better, than we did, but I watch the generations that have come behind me, regardless of education, struggle to achieve success. I worry for all the generations to come.

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    • Thank you, Rose. Indeed, I remember the wage and price control policy and its demise. And I remember the declaration that catsup counted as a vegetable in school lunches.
      The foreseeable economic decline as the bills for the Vietnam War started coming due played a significant role in Nixon’s unraveling. Gerald Ford, the placeholder until the next election, and the Republican Party handed the Presidency to Jimmy Carter and the Democrats simply to have Democrats in power when the economy bottomed out. This paved the way for the rise of Fascism under the Reagan regime.

      I, too, have a very doubtful view of the United States in the coming years. Fortunately, everyone in my family has very portable professional skills. However, it seems democracy is at serious risk around the world. Couple that with the suicidal energy policies of the authoritarians gaining prominence and the future does not look bright.

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  5. Tilly permalink

    Thanks for this newest Tonio post Marco. One of the many important topics addressed here that I’d like to comment on is the subject of food security. Particularly the unequal distribution and availability of food resources across the world as well as the huge amount of food that is wasted before it even gets to market whether through improper storage, inability to process or transport it, or simple spoilage. The move away from local food production and distribution toward massive factory farms and global distribution systems has proven itself to be a terrible method of feeding ourselves. It simply doesn’t work and we are so far into this system it becomes impossible to know how to unravel it. I suppose all we can do as individuals is support local food producers as much as possible, and learn to grow our own gardens once again. This is such a massive topic it is hard to do more than scratch the surface in a brief response to a blog post, but I encourage everyone to explore what they can do as individuals to support local!

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    • Thank you, Tilly. I’ve seen the “factory farms” in operation and the conditions are brutally appalling. Many years ago a friend had to support himself by working in a slaughterhouse/meat packing plant. He never ate meat again.

      There has been a growing movement toward local sourcing of food, but as climate change quickly becomes severe we will find ourselves spending more times locating it.

      I expect we are in for radical changes, more quickly than we anticipated. And, no doubt, armed conflict will follow.

      I do hope you forward this site to as many as possible.

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  6. Dana permalink

    Marco, this post was available around the same time I had to make a decision for a stranger in distress. Living in the city almost guarantees exposure to these situations, and conflicted feelings about helping others assumed less fortunate. Some ask for help, others decline assistance. Those are less troubling situations. Sometimes intervention is necessary when there are risks posed to public or personal safety. So I intervened, making the choice for someone I didn’t know who was seemingly incoherent. The dangerously hot afternoon might have resulted in a fatality, and those who helped provided assurance the correct decision was made for the individual’s physical safety.

    But was a human life actually “saved,” or did medical attention only prolong their suffering afterward? Turning a blind eye always feels apathetic, yet I’m also aware any immediate help is just a bandage on a wound that probably will never heal. Until we address the root causes of poverty and ensure resources are easily accessible for everyone, nothing can really change here or wherever else the U.S. decides to intervene outside of this country. Food, shelter, restroom facilities, clean water, medical and mental healthcare should be basic human rights, not luxuries available only to some.

    The unsuccessful school breakfast program you mentioned from Tonio’s research, with its discarded apples and other wasted food isn’t surprising. Some of those children may never have eaten an apple or the other healthier food items. Wholesome food should be appealing to children from a sensory perspective, easy to consume, and even somewhat familiar to those living in unpredictable and stressful circumstances. Placing unfamiliar food on a tray in a noisy cafeteria, then expecting children to eat or enjoy it is hardly a recipe for success. Further, the notion those suffering from food insecurity/scarcity should or will eat anything provided to them is inaccurate and even demoralizing. Educating and involving children in food preparation and choices play important roles in their nourishment. Sadly, even today many children arrive at school already exhausted and stressed from a host of circumstances, perhaps too anxious to eat even when they’re hungry.

    It seems there are no immediate or realistic solutions.for the innumerable crises occuring at this moment on our planet. It can be really tempting to avoid news of all the current catastrophic events. Truthfully I have become so overwhelmed by it all I want to bury my head under the covers.
    But I’m always thrilled for another installment from Tonio and Maarjte”s lives, even if this post might seem harsh to some. Despite your warning, it is a dose of reality – something most of us can’t escape no matter how hard we try.

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    • Dana. Thank you very much for this thoughtful and balanced analysis. Your comments always contribute to and enhance every post I write. With no slight intended toward anyone else, replies such as yours are exactly what I hope people will read.

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      • Dana permalink

        Thanks Marco. This was an excerpt from my reply but the rest felt off-topic. There are definitely some excellent comments here from other readers and I’m enjoying both them and your replies.

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