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When one commits to writing a chipper little weekly column about Twin Cities food topics, one tends to write about the minutiae of the uncontroversial, pleasant dining scene in this lovely metropolitan area. One may be wracked with cognitive dissonance, then, at the sight of one’s idiotic food trivia juxtaposed with horrifying information about the famine in Somalia, occurring at this very moment, on our watch.

It’s easy to ignore it, for various reasons. Too busy. Oh, another famine in Africa, so what else is new? Man, it looks like the terrorists are commandeering the humanitarian aid, and I don’t want to give money to terrorists, so, never mind. Apparently we’re ignoring it in droves. Metro State dean and Ethiopian immigrant Daniel Abebe has noted that the public response to this misery is dramatically weaker than was the response to the famine in Ethiopia in 1984.

It happens that I’m reading a book entitled We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families, by Philip Gourevitch. The topic is the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994. No, I’m not conflating all tragedies in Africa, nor all holocausts. I only bring it up because that book shakes down your complacency in a big way, and you should read it. Horrible things happen and what do we do? What does it take for the world to band together to stop a crime, to rescue a million people, to extend a hand the way you would to someone right in front of you who slipped and fell? The answer is that we, motley group of scrambling mammals that we are, have not yet figured that out.

In an interview with MPR last week, U.S. State Department official Eric Schwartz said, among many other frightful and confusing things, “Humanitarian assistance in this particular situation can make a huge difference in saving lives.” Daily Planet columnist Ifrah Jimale listed a number of reliable relief agencies to which we can direct an extremely small amount of time and probably a miniscule proportion of our incomes. The Strib also has a good list.

It’s hard to think about the actual individuals whose lives might be saved or not saved by our utterly random online contributions. It seems so remote. But it isn’t.

One must, at this point, trot out Hillel’s old saw. If not now…

Photo courtesy of United Nations Photo

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