Friday, 22 June 2012

Africa and Epic Meal Time

For those who don't know, Epic Meal Time are a YouTube phenomenon where a selection of pseudo-personalities cook up insane dishes from lasagne constructed from 45 burgers to the bird-in-a-bird-in-a-bird-in-a-pig turbaconthanksgiving. I am a massive fan of Epic Meal Time; I've even got a few t-shirts.

However, this post isn't focused on Epic Meal Time itself. It's about something I often see in the comments - 'people in Africa' and 'disgusted' are the two main criticisms. While EMT's brand of food porn is undeniably distasteful, that's part of why it's so successful. It's a tongue-in-cheek approach to shows of gluttony we see on Man V Food and so on, but with a side-order of creativity and humour.

Returning to the matter at hand though - how can filming a man eating his own body weight in bacon be justified when approximately 4 million people in the UK alone are below 40% of the median income? That would be less than £8000 per year, yet that is still extremely affluent compared to the poorest of the poor, who would outnumber the UK's population by a rather large amount. In 2005, 80% of the world population lived on less than $10 a day. That's around 4.8 billion people. It would take these individuals at least 8 days to be able to afford the first purchase in EMT's video, assuming they forgo purchasing food, drink, rent, electricity, gas or whatever amenities they may have.

But let's move on from the constant barrage of figures we get so often in news - let's ask the burning question.

"Is Epic Meal Time able to justify their purchase, consumption and wastage of this much food, considering the poverty in the world? Yes."
Well, yes-ish. The fact of the matter is that Western consumption of resources is hugely damaging, particularly considering the environment and so on, but food is not oil. Food is a sustainable, renewable resource that is reasonably easy to get hold of with the right tools and expertise. From the wastes of Siberia to the American deserts to the English countryside, food can be grown or found. Saying "people in Africa can't eat like that" is an ignorant response to EMT and an ignorant and groundless criticism. US resource consumption is obscene, but it simply does not apply to food in the same way.

Unlike resources such as oil and precious metals that are non-renewable and largely pilfered from many African nations, food is scarce due to internal problems in nations. Furthermore food is not scarce in every nation. I won't go into the bizarre tendency of the Western people to discuss to vast continents such as Asia and Africa with blanket statements (which I myself am guilty of), but in any case it is an illogical conclusion that because I can eat well, I should not waste food that Ethiopia may need.

Ethiopia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Niger, Tanzania - these nations are struggling for their own reasons and their issues are nothing to do with the UK throwing away 3.6m tonnes of food waste per year. So let's get to the nitty gritty; why.

Without the aforementioned skills and such, people cannot grow food. Agriculture is a mature technology since the green evolution, but only in the West where it can be financially and technically supported at such a massive scale. The population explosion in Africa and subsequent political problems that have plagued many nations have jeapordised any technological transit, and current technology cannot support agriculture when a crop fails. In the West, a harvest does not really fail, and even in the rare case when it does, there are thousands more fields in tens of other countries.

The Niger Delta
Take Zimbabwe for example; once white farmers were forced from the country, food production fell dramatically. While it has picked up, it is a good example of the effect of expertise. The white farmers knew what they were doing, while the new land owners did not. The result? A massive decline in yields.

Improving expertise is the basic objective - give a man fish, give a man a rod etc. - but it is also a three pronged problem. One, political problems are a considerable barrier. Two, getting the technology up to scratch locally, rather than other nations constantly sending tools and equipment. Three, educating people adequately and maintaining that level of education.

However, I won't delve into the theory or facts any further. Suffice to say that food wastage and excessive consumption in the West are their own problems with many causes and effects, while the African food crisis is down to a vast array of reasons - but absolutely nothing to do with the West's food consumption.

To conclude, rather than berating those who waste or consume excessively, more should be done to help these nations in question. Don't send them food aid unless they desperately need it; send tools, send machines, send expertise. Epic Meal Time shouldn't send food or money, despite the moral correctness of such an action. Perhaps it would be useful, but these problems are down to transnational corporations, political corruption and past government actions. I'd rather see Shell helping people in the Niger delta rather than creating a brutal war and ruining the nation, than Epic Meal Time playing any part - they are neutral in the matter, and this applies to anything that is verbally linked to famine in other parts of the world. Can they help? Yes. Should they help? Maybe.

Saying 'people in Africa can't eat like that' as a criticism completely ignores the far bigger issues at the very root of the problem, in the same way Kony 2012 ignores the tangle of problems within Uganda.

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