TOO MUCH ON ONE MAN’S PLATE
I was unsure about what to write this week. I felt inclined to either comment on Kim Kardashian’s ‘humble’ luxury 40th birthday or the campaign by English footballer Marcus Rashford to pressure the UK government to extend free school meals to poor children throughout the holidays. So I have decided to do both because while they might appear to be two very different issues, they have one thing in common which is to act as an allegory for the inequality in the world and how the ‘haves’ respond to it.
Let’s start with Kardashian who this week posted the following on twitter “After two weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time. We danced, rode bikes swam near whales, kayaked, watched a movie on the beach and so much more. I realize that for most people, this is something that is so far out of reach right now, so in moments like these I am humbly reminded of how privileged my life is.” Very humble, indeed! She, together with husband Kanye boast a combined net worth of $4.2 billion, so I am wondering how she could forget her good fortune, even for a minute, and need a trip to a private island to jolt her memory.
By contrast, anti-poverty campaigner Rashford, is running a campaign to put pressure on the UK government to do more for hundreds of thousands of struggling families who find themselves facing food insecurity because of the Covid crisis. He spent his week canvassing. Rashford is asking government to pay for school lunches during the school holidays. In words that you would expect to have heard from someone like Martin Luther King rather than a UK footballer, Rashford said “Whatever your feeling, opinion or judgement food poverty is never the child’s fault. Let’s protect our young. Let’s wrap arms around each other and stand together to say that this is unacceptable.”
Talking of unacceptable this was a common feeling from the many who lashed out at Kim Kardashian for her “so tone-deaf its painful “post. As musician Peter Frampton commented “Are you that insensitive you don’t realise that this is not what the majority of people during the worst Covid spike yet want to hear? People are going to food banks not private islands.”
Rashford, with a healthy net worth of his own (estimated by Forbes at a cool $80 million), chooses to campaign for the poor while Kim bemoans the difficulty of these times, for us all. But it’s just less difficult for her and she rubs our nose in it. How we spend our time and our money is indeed nobody’s business. The real issue here, though, is hungry children in the face of obscene wealth. The refusal by the UK government to give children free school meal during holidays (they get them during normal term time) feels even more obscene when you consider that Members of Parliament (who are in no way disadvantaged) get a daily food allowance of around P325 costing the taxpayer about a million pounds a year.
And then there’s the Kardashian West’s $2.4 billion - what do you even do with that sort of money? Its obscene if you compare their wealth with the hunger pains of under privileged children in the UK but even more offensive when compared with the plight of hungry children in our neck of the woods such as in neighbouring countries like Lesotho and Mozambique. Suffice to say that they could donate Half of their fortune tomorrow to alleviate food poverty in the world and not even miss it! And since they opt not so to do, just keep quiet about the private islands and brief moment of ‘normality’, Kim! That simply isn’t most people’s ‘normal’.
I once read that if you take the wealth of the eight richest people on the planet and combine it and then do the same for the poorest 3.5 billion. The two sums are the same, thus just eight people own as much wealth as half of the world’s population. Staggering isn’t it? And it looks like this is about to get worse.
According to initial predictions, the pandemic and its economic fallout could double the number of people facing acute food crises. The pandemic has made the UN goal for zero hunger by 2030 even more difficult. Children are starving in the world today and with so much intelligence, awareness and abundance it is astonishing that we are still having this debate.
50 years ago, the Nigerian stage of Biafra was a watchword around the world for child poverty and images of young victims with bellies distended from hunger spread round the world, decades before the advent of social media, smartphones and the world wide web. What a pity that even today, we cannot spread food to the needy as fast as a viral Kardashian Tweet.