What does it mean to be a hoarder?

Posted on July 28, 2008 by ELCA World Hunger

I could hardly believe the headline of a New York Times article I read about three weeks ago: “Hoarding Nations Drive Food Costs Ever Higher.” I had to read on. I had to uncover what this headline not only means to the world community and economy, but also to me.

As I read on, I was amazed. In the first line of the news story, the writer pointed out this fact: “at least 29 countries have sharply curbed food exports in recent months, to ensure their own people have enough to eat, at affordable prices.”

I had a knee jerk reaction and realization. Our difficult times are real. After this stark realization, this article made me question, why do countries need to hoard? And, is this okay?
As I continued to peruse the article, phrases like “export restrictions have led to hoarding,” “latest blow to farmers”, “developing world”, “new restrictions are just an acute symptom,” or “ensure their own people”, I was gravely saddened. On one hand nations are securing their people’s viability and food sovereignty, and on the other hand, nations of people will go hungry.

I am not an expert in food distribution and know only surface information about food hoarding, but this article made me question a lot (as you will see) and demanded that I attempt to grasp the results and implications of this practice. For example, hoarding practices might mean the denial of a human’s basic right to food. Even though this could happen, how can we be upset with hoarding nations when it is important for their own country to retain their food sovereignty? Or how can we be upset when there are structural agricultural policies that at times have nations deciding between money or hunger?

Along with thinking about hoarding on a macro level, this article made me think about the many reasons why people hoard on a very micro, personal level and question if it is okay. Besides the seeming economic and social benefits , we hoard for many other reasons. Admittedly, some good and some bad.

We hoard because we are scared that there will not be enough, we can’t let go, or because it is all we know. Though, I often think the root answer to the reason why we hoard is because it speaks to our human inability to conceive the unknown.

But the interesting reality is that our Christian paradigm is based, built, and prospers in the unknown. When God told Moses to tell Egypt to set his people free, the Israelites could not ever imagine leaving bondage and living in a land flowing of milk and honey. When Jesus fed the thousands, it was unknown if he could break the bread in such a way to feed everyone. He did and there were remnants. There is no way we can ever foresee the ways God will speak to our hearts and make God’s presence known in our lives. Yet, we have confidence in God’s will.
But how does this principle of surrendering ourselves to God’s will and trusting in His power to take care of the unknown in our lives apply in the real world and to a system that is breaking under financial pressure.

In Proverbs 11:26 we are told that “the people curse those who hold back grain, but a blessing is on the head of those who sell it”. I am having a hard time reconciling this proverb because just as I am cursing these hoarding nations, I also understand the desire and rationale for hoarding. These countries are trying to secure the economic, social, and political future of their people, culture, and nation. I sympathize with the 29 countries that hoard in order to lessen the unknown and to secure their prosperity.

Because of this understanding, I am asking God to bless both individuals and nations so that eventually humanity will have a food distribution system that does not encourage hoarding in times marked by the unknown. The sad truth is, through hoarding, we are creating another dismal outcome in the global food chain. And this outcome may ultimately exemplify our interconnectedness; when one country, one person, one world mechanism falters, so does the world.

Reference:

Bradsher, Keith et al. “Hoarding Nations Dive Food Costs Ever Higher”. New York Times. June 30, 2008. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/30/business/worldbusiness/30trade.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=hoarding%20nations&st=cse&oref=slogin.

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