The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Sunday, May 23, 2004  

Think You’re Poor?
Think Again.

We all know New York is a big town. What’s interesting to note is that New York is large enough for newspaper readers to see two articles, published within days of each other, as dramatically and apparently unselfconsciously different as “When Real Food Isn’t an Option,” by Donald G. McNeil Jr., in today’s New York Times, and “Yikes! You’re In Überclass City,” by Choire Sicha, in Wednesday’s New York Observer.

McNeil’s article is about hunger, the unimaginable hunger and privation that emerges from time to time in the world’s poorest countries:

In Haiti’s slums, round swirls of dough can be found baking in the sun. They look almost appetizing until you learn the ingredients: butter, salt, water and dirt. […]

In Malawi, children stand on the roadsides selling skewers of roasted mice.

In Mozambique, when grasshoppers eat the crops, people turn the tables and eat them, calling the fishy-tasting bugs “flying shrimp.”

In Liberia during the 1989 civil war, every animal in the national zoo was devoured but a one-eyed lion. Dogs and cats disappeared from the streets of the capital. […]

Eritrean women strap flat stones to their stomachs to lessen the pangs. […]

Africans dig up anthills and termite mounds to sieve out the tiny grains the insects have gathered. […]

[I]n battered Zimbabwe, once the [Marula] fruit is gone people may be reduced to eating the tough seeds by cracking them with rocks and fishing out tiny kernels with a pin. […]

The skins and bones of dead animals that even vultures are finished with may be boiled for soup. […]

In Zambia, balls of edible clay are sold in street markets. In Angola, a dark dirt called “black salt” is sprinkled on cold food, but cannot be cooked because it loses its tang.

What a contrast the New York Observer article provides:

A “grande latte” at Starbucks: $3.86.

A beer at Bryant Park Grill: $8.00.

A martini at Whiskey Bar: $12.00.

A pedicure at Avon Salon & Spa: $58.00.

A simple lunch for two at the Four Seasons: $100.00.

Designer jeans at Bloomingdale’s: up to $200.00. (Designer jeans at Jeffrey: up to $750.00.)

One hour with a private closet organizer: $450.00.

Prix-fixe dinner for two at Masa: $600.00 (drinks and tip not included).

A lobster and caviar omelet at Le Parker Meridien: $1,000.00.

I’ve always presumed there were at least a few people, other than me, who read both the Times and the Observer, but sometimes I wonder.

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