April 17, 2008

World Food Crisis; Street Zen

The world food crisis:

Scientists and economists worry that the reallocation of scarce water resources — away from rice and other grains and toward more lucrative crops and livestock — threatens poor countries that import rice as a dietary staple.

The global agricultural crisis is threatening to become political, pitting the United States and other developed countries against the developing world over the need for affordable food versus the need for renewable energy. Many poorer nations worry that subsidies from rich countries to support biofuels, which turn food, like corn, into fuel, are pushing up the price of staples. The World Bank and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization called on major agricultural nations to overhaul policies to avoid a social explosion from rising food prices.

With rice, which is not used to make biofuel, the problem is availability. Even in normal times, little of the world’s rice is actually exported — more than 90 percent is consumed in the countries where it is grown. In the last quarter-century, rice consumption has outpaced production, with global reserves plunging by half just since 2000. A plant disease is hurting harvests in Vietnam, reducing supply. And economic uncertainty has led producers to hoard rice and speculators and investors to see it as a lucrative or at least safe bet.

And a street retreat in British Columbia:

Jordan and 13 other volunteers will live on the street from July 31 to Aug 3, avoiding shelters so they do not take beds from those who need them, but eating in soup kitchens and mingling with the street population.

Under the leadership of Zen Sensei Genro Gauntt, the group will meditate twice a day, and, in a non-judgmental way, bear witness to what is going on.

"Most people think it is odd, but sort of odd-good," Jordan said.

Others accuse them of being no more than tourists, but even tourists gain some understanding of the places they visit, he said.

The first thing each volunteer has to do is raise the $400 cost of the retreat by going to friends, family or associates and asking for donations.

"To sincerely engage in this experience we need to humble ourselves at the outset, attempt to explain to others our reasons for participating and beg for their support," say the instructions.

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