Tag Archives: economics

So I’ve Been Thinking About Things (Shelter)

6 Oct

In my previous post I shared a piece I wrote about essential things necessary for survival.  I am by nature a “less-is-more” kind of person.  I want my personal, consumptive impact on the world to be minimal.  My desire is that my interpersonal impact would be something that at least a few people remember and consider helpful.

My previous post talked about both the necessity of food and how our attitudes about food really have a global ripple effect and have global social justice implications.  If we, as products of our particular cultural and political biases, fail to see how our attitudes about food impact others then we are being short-sighted about the importance of this issue as not merely a pragmatic issue of necessity but as a justice issue impacting people in places where access to food is very different than our own.

Today the topic of shelter comes to mind.  Shelter is on the surface a simple matter of having a place to live that protects us from the elements and gives us a location to store our belongings.  But much like food, shelter is not merely a basic necessity for survival, it has deep implications for personal safety, security, and personality development.

Place matters.  Displaced peoples are confronted by a host of insecurities about life in this world that those of us with adequate shelter often take for granted.  Once again, because many of us do not find ourselves in a place of particularly urgent need it is easy to overlook just how many people are displaced from adequate housing.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) estimates that as of 2013, 21.9 million people have been internally displaced by disasters and another 33.3 million people by armed conflicts (an increase of 16% from 2012) (Source: iMDC).  What do these numbers mean in relation to the issue of shelter?  The impact of these numbers cannot be ignored; they reveal, in clear and convincing ways, the critical importance of adequate, safe shelter as a matter of basic human necessity and basic human equality.

The UN publication, Fact Sheet #21, The Right to Adequate Housing, states, “Children’s health, educational advancement and overall well-being are deeply influenced by the quality of housing in which they live. Lack of adequate housing, forced evictions or homelessness tend to have a profound impact on children due to their specific needs, affecting their growth, development and enjoyment of a whole range of human rights, including the right to education, health and personal security” (Source: UN Fact Sheet #21).

Shelter matters.  The physical, social, and psychological impact of place/location are essential to basic health and well-being.  Lacking this necessity or experiencing high levels of insecurity related to this basic need has dramatic impact on people’s lives, especially the lives of children.  I live simply but am incredibly grateful for the shelter I have and don’t want to live in ways that fail to appreciate and value the reality that having a stable location to call “home” is essential not just for me and those I love, but for every person everywhere.

So I’ve Been Thinking about…Things (Food)

3 Oct


(I was writing recently and wanted to define what a “thing” is and further wanted to reduce my need for “things” down to the most basic necessity one needs for survival.  This is what emerged.)

A thing is an object of material substance generally considered useful.  Things can be utilitarian (their use is born out of necessity; serving a specific purpose and/or accomplishing a particular task) or they can be non-utilitarian (born out of the desire to consume, possess, or amass belongings, a luxury).

As I write it is my intent to discover for myself the things essential to my existence (ie: without which sustaining life would be impossible).  The most basic, most essential thing, that is both useful & necessary, is food & water.  Human beings must consume food and water to sustain their bodies with the minimal nutrition required for survival.

As a thing, food can be, as earlier defined, utilitarian or non-utilitarian.  Science teaches us that the typical human being needs a certain caloric intake on a daily basis to promote survival and in order to thrive and maintain basic health & well-being.  Eating foods that accomplish this minimal requirement would describe a person who has a utilitarian relationship to food.

Anyone who eats food for any purpose other than basic health and well-being has a relationship to food that is non-utilitarian.  Tastes, preferences, and quality of food served are all luxuries and not strictly utilitarian.

I must confess that my own attitudes about food are not always utilitarian.  I like foods bursting with flavor.  I like purchasing quality foods.  I enjoy making interesting dishes both tasteful to the palate and aesthetically appealing.  In confessing these things I am not admitting that these attitudes and practices are bad, but they are revealing.

What do my attitudes about food reveal?  They reveal a particular socio-economic bias that is not shared by people the world round, nor even within a fairly tight geographical radius of the place I live.  My relationship to food has been utterly shaped by and provides clear commentary on my access to food (ie: grocery stores bursting with options and the financial capacity to pay for it).  Again this is simply stating a factual reality it is not meant as a value judgement, per se.

Though, in reality, vast segments of the human population would find my definition of a utilitarian relationship to food a luxury in that their access to food and water, as basic necessities for survival and well-being, are routinely impeded by the political and economic realities present in the places they happen to originate from.  Recent statistics show that 805 million people are estimated to be chronically undernourished in 2012–14 (source: U.S. FAO, September 2014).

This reality should impose on each of us a requisite period of reflection to consider our own relationship to food.  Allow me to suggest some questions for consideration: How do I view food?  What are my attitudes about food?  Do I feel I am entitled to certain types of food that others may not, at no fault of their own, have access to?  Do I care about this issue only for myself or am I aware of the need for food as an issue of justice & basic human equality?  Should governments get involved in international situations where people groups are suffering because of a lack of access to the food necessary for their basic survival and well-being?  Am I willing to have less so others can have more?

Food is a physical and communal necessity for every person everywhere.  It is an unavoidable necessity but one’s relationship to and attitudes about food (this thing we literally cannot live without) have global justice implications we often ignore, not wantonly, rather simply by omitting from our consideration the need others have for it on an equal basis.

The simple act of writing this piece has prompted me to action.  I am researching my community’s resources for people who are food insecure and striving to have a more robust understanding of the issue of food insecurity within my local context.  I am considering ways that I might get involved in serving the needs of those local resources and the individuals they serve.  Further, I am embarking on a process of intense personal reflection as it relates to my own food related attitudes and biases.

It is my hope that in some way, however small, reading this might prompt you to evaluate your own food attitudes & biases and likewise help you evaluate your role in addressing the local and global justice issues surrounding this “thing” we call food.

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