Reub's journey

24 January 2011


Today I went to the grocery store. I bought some whole wheat sour dough bread. I pondered whether it was best to get shredded mozzarella or whole; I picked up 3 kinds of fruit, including bananas which are cheap and come from another country. Cereal in boxes, and two kinds of bagels. Canned tomatoes and fresh veggies. Ground beef, low-fat of course, and some fish. Two types of coffee, vanilla yogurt, unsalted butter, and eggs with brown shells, high in omega-3. A big box of Kleenex and some kettle chips. By the time it was all over I had 5 bags of groceries, just barely fitting into the front of the pick-up truck. This cost close to $100 and was just for two people. On a gorgeous sun-lit day in Oregon, I was suddenly filled with doubt...did we really need all of that? It seemed decadent.

 I had just seen the following video:                                    

This video depicts a scene that takes place every year about 120 miles from Timbuktu in Mali, Africa, where people of the Bamba tribe are allowed 24 hours to "fish" in the sacred lake of Antogo. They wait for the sound of a single gunshot that tells them they can start, and within minutes the lake is empty of every single fish. Although it's true that the event holds religious meaning, it is equally true that people in Mali have very very little to eat, and the fervor with which they get their fish has a lot to do with how empty their bellies are.

Last week we had fish, too, but none of us went out and competed to catch it.  It was wild-caught sockeye from Alaska, picked up on the way home from work, and cooked with some garlic sauce under a broiler. How easy. How unfair. I haven't worked any harder, given up more, or been a better person than those who starve in West Africa. 

Is this kind of what it was like to live in the extravagant years of the Roman Empire?
The incredible luxury of deciding to have roasted asparagus and saffron rice: it isn't just people in Africa that can't have this tonight. There are folks living five miles away who don't know where their next meal is coming from. Struck by this thought, we are pretty active donors to the local food bank as well as to international aid groups.  Mixed with the feelings of guilt is extreme thankfulness that food is one thing I don't have to worry about.


  1. how long does $100 last you?

  2. First, this was a thought provoking post, however, I don't think you should feel guilty because you have the luxury of getting the foods you want so easily. You have a good heart.

    Second, I have been everywhere looking for sourdough wheat bread. I was beginning to think they didn't make it. Where in the world did you get it? I've been to Albertsons, Smith's, Walmart, Whole Foods, Fresh and one carries it here.

  3. It is a great post. I don't think you need to feel guilty. Those who cheat and steal from the less fortunate need to feel guilty. Those who don't give to the less fortunate could stand to feel a little guilt. Like you, we give quite a bit to help others. When blessed it is important to remember to bless others as well.

  4. I think these thoughts often and try to help but get discouraged as I feel I am doing so little. I guess you are motivating me to be better.

  5. Ann: Not long enough! Seems like I always forget something and end up back at the store within a couple of days to pick up something essential. If we have a houseful, $100 only lasts about 3-4 days. I know I could make this last longer if I planned better.
    JarieLyn: I just checked the package and it is Big River Whole Wheat Filone, which means it may not actually be sourdough like I thought, even though it looks and tastes like it.Maybe you're right and they just don't make it!
    Rebecca: thank you. Unfortunately I do know a few too many people who absolutely feel that their own good fortune is completely deserved and that others are just not doing their bit to pull themselves out of poverty and hunger. If they ever have feelings of guilt, they don't show it, nor do they even try to "buy" their way to fairness by donating to worthy causes.
    Tabor: I know by what you have written that you already do so much for the planet. You have a very small footprint indeed and it is I who can learn from you.

  6. Kerry, this is a subject very dear to my heart. I'm a huge advocate of food banks and volunteer at them.

    The reason for this is that when I was a kid, my father had a lot of problems (mental health issues) and we ended up needing food from a food bank. I live a life of plenty now but I didn't always.

    Anyway, I never forget that my life now is like a fantasy world to others. A friend of mine is very good about going on missions -- not religious missions, educational ones -- and he says he always feel so strange when he gets back from Africa (he is almost always sent to countries within Africa). Just overwhelmed by how much stuff we have. He remembers, "In most parts of the world if you have three changes of clothing and two pairs of shoes, you are considered wealthy."

    That sensation wears off eventually and then he goes back.

    An accident of birth landed us in a world of plenty, just as others landed in constant deprivation.

    What a great, thought-provoking post, by the way. Clearly it set me thinking of all sorts of things. There is something else my friend told me about the various countries in Africa, "There is less worry about the future there. It's understood that isn't within anyone's control. They seek less security because they never really dreamed of having it."

    And I realized, he was right. I worry about the future, everyone worries more about what will happen tomorrow than they do enjoying what is happening today.

    I guess it all comes down to balance. Enjoy what you have, but think of others, and try not to waste too much time on worry, maybe?

  7. Hey Land of Shimp, thank you for your thoughtful comment. Our life is like a fantasy world compared to others, and I do know what it feels like to come home from the third world: so strange, so much needless stuff, so many distractions here. Overkill, and to some degree I am a participant. Seeking balance is wise advice.

  8. Re your response. I know those kind of people too. Shame on them!

  9. Yours is a message that we "middle class" Americans need to hear over and over again. We are so surrounded by wealth that we fail to see it. Through your writing and imagery you've captured the tension between reveling in our good fortune and recognizing the inequity inherent in it. I hope your post inspires action, not guilt.

  10. Good post, Kerry

    PS. Also good idea about the dollar bills.

  11. Yes we are SO lucky to choose what to eat and when to eat it. Unbelievably lucky.

    I always stock up when I go to the grocery store. It's instinctual, I think. I do try to eat everything I buy.


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