Why is poverty ignored?

Time to recognise that Western greed is one of the causes of global hunger, writes Kevin McKenna.

The world has recently paid homage to the oat, stalwart comestible of Scotland's larder.

For the last decade, October 10 has been deemed World Porridge Day, thus canonising the brawny cereal that kept Scottish armies on their feet and built cities.

Sadly, in recent years, this most unostentatious and proletarian of foods has been gentrified and made to dress up gaudily with superfluous additives such as honey, Nutella and cinnamon.

In this way, I suppose it is deemed sufficiently respectable to be included among the breakfast choices of the mighty.

World Porridge Day shares its holiday with World Homeless Day and World Mental Health Day. Other dates play host to more frivolous holidays. The blessings of today, for example, are shared by the holidays of brandied fruit, suspenders (braces, not the foundation garments) and office chocolate. These flippancies are put in their place, though, by the sloth, a languid and phlegmatic wee beast whose name is taken in vain to indicate indolence; October 20 is its day to shine.

World Porridge Day received its global designation from Mary's Meals, the Scottish charity that aims to provide healthy school meals to children living in the world's poorest communities.

More than 1.5million children are helped in this way but Mary's Meals also points out that 64million children worldwide go without an education while many more go hungry.

"What's important to us is the hungry child,'' says Mary's Meals' chief executive and founder, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow.

"When there are hungry children in front of us, we're going to feed them and, at the same time, we're going to work on the solution to getting them fed in the long term, creating a global movement of people who believe in this vision.''

And what nutriment could be more equipped to help carry out this task than the versatile oat, the reliable and hardworking utility player of the human defence system? It's easy to grow, resists rain and cold and is cheap to produce and transport. It can provide a robust, year-long breakfast for a child for less than 20 ($NZ40).

Certainly, the global causes of the climate emergency are also to be found in countries that contribute to the much more profoundly obscene reality of human starvation.

Western governments that declare support for carbon-free initiatives are eager to set targets that are reassuringly decades in the future. None of these politicians will be around to be held responsible for any failures to reach them. This gives governments plenty of scope to continue arming regimes that flaunt the initiatives.

They will continue to trade with others who seek to exploit their great natural wildernesses and their indigenous peoples by selling land off to corporate investors.

At home and overseas, our governments pursue policies that also actively encourage the iniquity of universal human starvation. Tax breaks are routinely awarded to firms that strive to pay as little as they can get away with for as much profit as possible for the maximum satisfaction of shareholders seeking annual growth in their investment portfolios.

We permit our parliamentary democracy to be distorted and prostituted by corporations that can pay millions to access the levers of power and take the edge off legislation that might clip their gains.

They are happy to secure photo-opportunities with any conveniently positioned cause but think nothing of selling arms, often illegally, to regimes that they know will use them to enslave and torture their own people and all political opponents.

Perversely, whenever developing countries sought to cancel debts racked up by old despots, the West maintained crippling rates of interest, thus restricting their ability to build their own sustainable economies. There were good capitalist reasons for this, of course. Struggling economies are great sources of cheap labour and much less able to resist the predations of global firms looking for a low-cost base to expand their empires.

It's easy for young royals to seek popular acclaim on their luxury tours of these places by preaching about the climate crisis and overpopulation rather than ask difficult questions about why a world of plenty refuses to feed its poorest. It is far more convenient to say there are too many people on the planet than asking why we choose not to feed and house them.

Yet when was the last time you witnessed hundreds of thousands of people protest about the man-made causes of starvation in Africa and southern Asia?

Perhaps, too, it's more comfortable to protest about an iniquity that doesn't possess a human face or ask uncomfortable questions about our rates of consumption. The images of the climate crisis are more comfortably wide-ranging and inexact than those of black children dying of starvation from wars waged with weapons manufactured here.

While Mary's Meals and its charitable partners seek to provide cheap food for the victims of Western excess, at home the Trussell Trust strives to maintain an ever-growing number of food banks.

Politicians of all stripes routinely visit these places, too, and whisper words of encouragement to volunteers and users.

None has found a way to stand up to the corporations that necessitate their use while maintaining parliamentary democracies that legitimise them.

By all means let's continue to march with Extinction Rebellion, but I long for the day when a million of us also take to the streets to protest against world hunger and to condemn the policies that cause it.

That would be a much more important extinction rebellion. - Guardian News

  • Kevin McKenna is an Observer columnist


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