Tonight (Sunday, August 21) I’m hosting a dinner party in Salt Lake City. We are asking participants to bring donations for Sister Somalia, an organization that assists victims of gender-based violence in Somalia. I wish I’d thought to post it on this blog before because now it is late notice, but if by chance any readers are interested in coming, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll give you the address. You can also read more about the dinner party itself on the Utah for Congo blog.
It feels ironic to host a dinner party to raise money for people who are experiencing the effects of famine. I thought long and hard about this. Sometimes famines are viewed as being “an act of God,” which is our way of saying that we take no responsibility for them. But famine is not an act of God and this one, in particular, is manmade.
There is a horrible, horrible drought in the Horn of Africa. I am thinking of previous posts about climate change on this blog, and about the idea that those who bear the least responsibility for climate change are those who suffer from it the most. The Somali people aren’t known for being big polluters, and yet the extreme weather is upending traditional growing seasons and creating mass food shortages.
Of course, there is a drought in the southwestern United States right now, and people aren’t starving. (Although animals are, including farm-raised cattle, and I don’t think we’re paying enough attention to this.) So obviously the famine is not just about the weather and the drought. It is also about Somalia’s lack of a functioning government, and about the widespread insecurity and fighting. It is about armed rebels who hijack supplies of food aid and rape women.
I also keep reading articles about the “rising food prices” in Africa and other parts of the world, and I’ve been trying to understand this “high food prices” thing, because somebody is raising food prices in the middle of a famine I’m in the mood to name names. But my internet search isn’t helping much, because all the articles I find just report “high food prices” in such a matter-of-fact tone, with no analysis as to the real causes and actors involved. So I can’t tell you whose fault it is. I wish I could.
And there are also land use issues at play when famine rears its ugly head. Drought means that agricultural land in Africa can be purchased even more cheaply by multinational corporations and American hedge funds. I’ve been reading about these “land grabs” where the land is purchased extremely cheaply and used to cultivate products for export, like monoculture crops and biofuels. Then contracts are signed which ensure that even during times of famine, the companies owning the land can STILL export figures like 80 percent of the product produced on the land.
So at tonight’s dinner party, we will be eating vegetables and fruit from Salt Lake’s own BUG Farms, and from my mom’s vegetable garden, and from the farmers market. Industrial agriculture is not invited to dine with us, because it is guilty. We will eat local organic food–not in celebratory gratitude for what we have, because I just can’t stomach that kind of a feeling right now–but as a symbol. We will be eating because we need to, and eating to say: We are on to you, global food system. And we are not with you.