Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rice Rationing

The line seemed to stretch for days—men and women pushing carts filled to the brim with foodstuffs struggled and prodded their way to the front of the line to pay for their purchases.
“One bag per customer!” shrieked a clerk to the ever-growing crowd. “One bag per customer!”
The crowd became restive and angry. “One bag?” shouts an old man, a hand cradling his treasure—5 bags of rice peeked enticingly from between the bars of the metal shopping cart. “What can we do with just one bag?” he demanded.
“Not my problem, sir,” the clerk replied. “Our policy is one bag of rice per customer. I just work here. I don’t make the rules.”
“How are we supposed to feed our families?” a woman demanded, her voice at once plaintive and angry.
“Not my problem,” the clerk repeated.
“Well, whose problem is it?” shouted a young man dressed in army fatigues, his muscular arms easily juggling his burden of 10 bags of rice.
The clerk shrugged, which only seemed to enflame the others. The crowd moved as a single predatory unit. A chant rose up: “Whose problem? Whose problem? Whose problem?” Someone tipped over a display case of mars bars and celebrity gossip rags, the sound of the metal stand hitting the concrete floor galvanized the crowd. Fists flew, several catching the hapless clerk on the head and stomach. Blood from his wounds spilled onto his navy blue Wal-Mart-issued coverall. He doubled over and landed on the floor, writhing in pain.
The crowd had gotten a taste of their power, and they weren’t ready to stop. They turned on each other, rifling through their neighbors carts and grabbing at whatever they could get a hold of—rice, sugar, flour. Children were pushed aside, women trampled, men pummeled.
It was survival of the fittest all over again.
Suddenly, a piercing yell reverberated through the crowd. “This is the New York City Police Department. We have you surrounded! Come out with your hands up!”
* * * *

OK, I’m clearly having a bit of fun here. But have you seen the headlines? “Food Rationing Confronts Breadbasket of the World,” and “Two major US retailers ration rice amid global food crisis.” It seems Costco and Wal-Mart are going to save us from ourselves by rationing rice, oil, and flour in New York and California. “This temporary cap is intended to ensure there is plenty of rice for all our members,” claims a company spokesman. Admittedly, the world is going through a global food crisis, and India, Vietnam and Thailand have either limited their rice exports or are considering such action. But there is no scarcity of rice in the United States. In fact, David Coi of the U.S. Rice Federation admitted as much. Coi maintains:

'What happened is because of perception of problems in the world market, a few people try to buy more rice than they usually do, and these two companies have decided they want all their customers to be able to purchase rice. What happened was one person bought a three-month supply instead of a two-week supply that they normally buy.'
Are you kidding me? The proper response to a few people buying more rice than usual is to ration it? To purposefully create a false sense of scarcity? Costco and Wal-Mart’s actions are nothing more than a cynical and self-serving attempt to profit from the global food crisis. They ought to be ashamed.

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