Let Them Eat Cake!
One thing that's obvious after living in Thailand, and that's The Land of Smiles will throw some extraordinary contrasts your way from time to time. I'm sure you've all heard about the recent "gourmet" that saw the creme de la creme flying into Thailand for a dinner that could have part of a Fellini movie. The headlines read: "Dinner for US$25,000? Millionaires fly to Thailand for night of gourmet indulgence" BANGKOK, Thailand: It was an evening of utter decadence – a 10-course gourmet dinner concocted by world-renowned chefs at $25,000 (euro19,000) a head. (some excerpts from the article follow)
Many of those who attended Saturday night's culinary extravaganza hailed it as the meal of a lifetime. But it's no easy task to eat plate after plate of Beluga caviar, Perigord truffles, Kobe beef, Brittany lobster – each paired with a rare and robust vintage wine.
"It's really amazing," said one diner, Sophiane Foster, a wealthy Cambodian who lives in Malaysia, as she eyed the dinner's eighth course – a "pigeon en croute with cepes mushrooms." "But I can't finish it. Your senses can only appreciate so much."
"It's surreal. The whole thing is surreal," said Alain Soliveres, the celebrated chef of the Taillevent restaurant in Paris.
"Organizers say the event was designed to promote Thai tourism." (You must be fucking joking…my comment)
"On the street, where much of Bangkok's best food is served, the dinner generated talk of over-the-top excess."
"That is a waste of money," said Rungrat Ketpinyo, 44, who sells Phad Thai noodles for 25 baht (75 US cents) a plate from a street cart outside the hotel. "I don't care how luxurious this meal is. It's ridiculous."
Marc Meneau, the chef of L'Esperance restaurant in Vezelay, France, called it a "culinary work of art."
"It's no more shocking than buying a painting that costs $2 million," he said.
So much for "lifestyles of the rich and famous." Ordinarily such an ostentatious display of wealth would merely have me shaking my head in wonderment. The fact this was happening now, in the Spring of 2008 casts a more sinister shadow on the event.
Folks, the world at moment is teetering on the verge of mass starvation. Hunger of course has unfortunately been with us. Periodically there have been serious shortages of food, caused by drought, flood, pestilence and of course war. But the scale that the looming disaster dwarfs anything we have known in modern history. I'm talking The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse kind of starvation. The causes of the current crisis are many, poor harvests in parts of the world like India, a dramatic rise in worldwide food prices due speculators, and even ironically even because crops that once went to feed people are now being used to produce bio-fuels! Various wars across Africa aren't helping the situation.
If you aren't scared, you should be. People who face starvation are desperate people. They are angry people. They have nothing to lose except their families. Pushed up against the wall they are ready to fight…somebody…anybody! A lot of petty despots around the world may be holding must of the guns, but they won't be able to rely on them forever. Rest assured, there will be incidents that will set off violence on a scale never seen before.
Ironically, all this hunger has turned out to be a boom for Thailand. A report on CNN last week said that the price of Thai export rice had risen over 50% in the last month, with even higher prices likely! Never let it be said that Thais aren't an enterprising lot…even the criminals. The report showed farmers patrolling the fields with guns to protect their rice from armed gangs. In the short run these prices are a welcome boon to the country's farmers, who have traditionally worked like dogs for very little money. In the long term though will the price of rice for domestic consumption skyrocket as well? I sure hope somebody in the government is thinking about this potential problem, and not just scheming how they can profit from it!
Probably the biggest factor in the soaring price of food is the $100 + cost per barrel of oil. This affects everything from the cost of fertilizer to the cost of running farm machinery to the cost of transporting food. Don't expect any sympathy from the oil producing countries or the big oil companies. Their profits continue to rise at record rates. As long as they can extort more and more money from all of us, they have no incentive to lower prices. In the end though even a simple virus has more brains than these oil executives. A successful parasite is always careful not to kill its host!
I haven't the faintest idea what the solution to the current crisis is. I don't think there are easy fixes. But hopefully people who are a whole lot smarter than I am are serious trying to find some answers. The bomb that threatens to go have has a damned short fuse!
I wonder if the folks who attended that gourmet dinner are losing any sleep over the plight of the hungry. Somehow I doubt it. In fact it's more likely that they subscribe to the Marie Antoinette School of Philosophy. If the poor have no bread to eat, let them eat cake!
The increase in food prices is hitting Thai people very hard. I was in rural Khon Kaen last week and people are really struggling to put food on the table. People who used to have a cache of food at home had nothing. The prices of most things have soared, even pork and chicken have increased markedly in price.