Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Tortilla Oppression

In Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 the Qoheleth ("Preacher") surmises that there are only two types of people in the world: the oppressor's and the oppressed. In the US we have a collective national consciousness of being a nation that works to set captives free. We pride ourselves in being the land of opportunity, a nation where anyone can make anything of themselves if they are willing to work hard and seize their opportunities. Much of our foreign policy (so we are told) is motivated with the assumption that we fight for freedom, justice and equal opportunity for all people (although one would be naive to think that we are not self-serving in our meddling in foreign affairs). Nationally, it seems would like to think of ourselves as a nation that fights oppression, not inflicts it.

But there is a considerable crisis brewing in our neighboring nation, Mexico. The stakes are rising as our eco-system shows itself to be more and more out of balance, and America is scrambling (theoritically, though not yet in practice) to find alternate forms of energy to take the strain off of what appears to be an impending ecological apocalypse if we don't alter our natural resource consumption. As ethanol becomes a more popular form of fuel in the US, the effects of this demand are being felt significantly south of the border. Ethanol, which is made from corn and is fast becoming a viable substitute for Middle Eastern oil, is driving up the price of corn, which is good news for US-based farmers, but bad news for Mexicans who have become dependent on American corn. The result: supply is now exceeding demand and the ones paying the most are poor rural Mexicans whose calorie intake consists of about 70% from corn (tortillas).

Let's put this into perspective: Adolfo Barajas, part owner of a tortilleria now charges eight pesos per kilogram of tortillas, or about 73 cents for three dozen, enough to feed a modest family for a day. Putting those numbers next to Mexico's minimum wage of $4.60 per day is a reminder of poverty's unpleasant face. Most poor families in Mexico City alone can expect to spend the equivalent of what they would spend on rent or mortgage on tortillas.

What should the US do? I am not sure actually. Part of the blame for rising costs falls squarely into the laps of the Mexican government since, in most cases, importing American corn is cheaper than corn in Mexico. But the demand on corn in our country is leading to price-gouging in Mexico, and it is something that our country should not ignore.

All of this brings me to this shameful reality: the US is one of the 5 wealthiest countries in the world, and combined with those other countries, we consume 86% of the world's goods and resources. As Americans we work hard for what we have, and we shouldn't feel like we have to apologize for that. At the same time, what we have is almost always much more than we need, and in this way, we become the oppressors that the Qoheleth was frustrated with in Ecclesiastes. What we have in excess, the things that are luxuries for us, are purchased with resources that could be used to improve life for those who really are oppressed, who have no voice, and are circumstantially locked into a life of poverty they often can't escape without assistance. May God open our eyes to those in need around us and give us hearts of mercy to act as a true neighbor to those in need.


At 11:16 AM , Blogger r a i n e r said...

this is insightful...we oppress with a pleasant smile on our face


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home