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On a Diet

February 23, 2017

'You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.'


― Franz Kafka



© Kevin Carter


The world is on a diet, the first half of it starving, the other trying to lose weight. Once, hunger was a predicament; famine, a calamity. Now they are different facets of one art.


At one time the whole town took a lively interest in the hunger artist; from day to day of his fast the excitement mounted; everybody wanted to see him at least once a day;


795 million people in the world will go to bed starving tonight. One in nine people. One in three will be slightly luckier; they will only go to bed hungry.


[…] the children stood openmouthed, holding each other’s hands for greater security, marveling at him as he sat there pallid in black tights, with his ribs sticking out so prominently, not even on a seat but down among straw on the ground,


The other half of the world is dangerously overweight. 1.7 billion people are obese, mostly in developed countries. Some eat six to seven times too much, and in North America this year, will spend $139.5 billion trying to lose the extra pounds.


[…] paying no attention to anyone or anything, not even to the all-important striking of the clock that was the only piece of furniture in his cage, but merely staring into vacancy with half-shut eyes, now and then taking a sip from a tiny glass of water to moisten his lips.


Half the women of the United States are on some sort of diet, constantly. This year, this country will throw 40% of the food on its plate away.


[…] perhaps it was dissatisfaction with himself that had worn him down. For he alone knew, what no other initiate knew, how easy it was to fast. It was the easiest thing in the world.


40% of the food in America will feed 25 million people for a year. Now to find 25 million starving people… Yemen is a good place to start.


7 of the country’s 27.4 million people are acutely famished, 14 million are food insecure. Since 2011, the country has undergone revolution, civil war, internal displacement, a Saudi-led naval embargo, bombings, severe poverty.


Previously, Yemen imported 90% of its staple food. Now its ports are blockaded or destroyed. Trade finance has shut down, wheat costs 55% more. Bread is expensive and rare, and by the end of March, will probably run out.


As for the children, they have no milk. If only we could give them some of ours. One dies every ten minutes for every five that obesity kills here.


Experience had proven that for about forty days the interest of the public could be stimulated by a steadily increasing pressure of advertisement, but after that the town began to lose interest, sympathetic support began notably to fall off;


If we fed every hungry person in Yemen, we would still have leftovers to share. We could then move to Syria and distribute food to the hungry there as well. If we could reach the displaced, the destitute, the cities besieged, the millions of refugees in the neighboring countries. If we could sneak past the guards into the prisons of Saydnaya or Branch 215, where thousands have died of starvation and some eat corpses because they are so hungry.


Since 2011, food production in Syria has dropped by 40%. Bread is ten times more expensive in the hardest hit areas. One in three Syrians is hungry.


[…] he would entrust his bony arms to the outstretched helping hands of the ladies bending over him, but stand up he would not. Why stop fasting at this particular moment, after forty days of it? He had held out for a long time, an illimitably long time, why stop now, when he was in his best fasting form, or rather, not yet quite in his best fasting form?


Why stop now? We could feed them all, then move to Somalia with the food that remains, where five million people this year will not have enough to eat. Where years of drought have damaged years of crops, and government and militants still fight. We could also stop by Niger, Ethiopia, Nigeria, the Congo, Sudan, the Sahel.


A small impediment, to be sure, one that grew steadily less. People grew familiar with the strange idea that they could be expected, in times like these, to take an interest in a hunger artist, and with this familiarity the verdict went out against him.


[…] He might fast as much as he could, and he did so; but nothing could save him now, people passed him by.


The world produces enough to feed every person 2,790 kilocalories a day. But the world is on a diet, a sad and twisted diet, half starving, half trying to lose weight.


To struggle against this stupidity, against this universe of stupidity, was impossible.


[…] These were his last words, but in his dimming eyes there remained the firm though no longer proud persuasion that he was still continuing to fast.


- Franz Kafka, A Hunger Artist


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