The Voracious Appetite
Recently we spent two weeks away in Central and South America, including a visit to the country of Ecuador, which, among other tourist attractions, offers visitors an opportunity to visit the “Mital del Mundo” — the middle of the world. It’s an obelisk with a painted orange line on the ground bisecting the northern and southern hemispheres. The division between the top and bottom of our planet, however, extends far beyond mere geographical slices.
Up here in El Norte, we take for granted the availability of resources, natural and otherwise. We expect that fossil fuels and food and timber will be available to us whenever we crave them. We assume that the gee-gaws and trinkets we cherish may be procured with a phone call and a credit card, and if we don’t have the money on hand to pay for the objects of our desires, we can always make more (or, in the case of our Treasury, print more on demand). The world is our oyster — filled with meat and pearls. There’s no explanation required for why we Americans (and our European kin) ought to enjoy so much bounty; we just do it, in the spirit of our favorite athletic shoe.
Gasoline and fresh water and nourishing repasts don’t come so easily “down there,” where the romantic travails of talentless American celebrities are of subordinate concern to families struggling to feed, clothe, and educate themselves. Whatever one consumes comes at a dear price, and thought must be given to the allocation of buying power. A sack of beans or a tank of diesel? A plate of rice and plantains or a pirated rap DVD? Spend some time in a city like Quito, and you gain a new appreciation for the absurdly copious blessings we Americans enjoy.
Upon return to the civilization and culture to which we’re accustomed, we’re immediately reminded of the perverse inequity of the world’s distribution of assets. We’d just left a land where little boys skip school in order to scrounge up a few cents a day as shoe-shiners; we arrived home to find ESPN, our 24-hour-a-day sports narcotic, broadcasting the world championship of hot dog eating.
The “competitive eaters” were mostly obese men with flapping jowls and enormous guts. The reigning champ, though, is a skinny Japanese fellow who devours frankfurters in the style of a a locust, shoving them down his throat like an accomplished porno actress. When he was finished consuming more than 50 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes, he pulled up his shirt to reveal his belly, distended and misshapen. Like that of a starving child.
Not long after coming home, I participated in the FoxSports telecast of a poker tournament in which the competitors each put up $10,000, and the winner walked away with $500,000. The talented fellow who won the top prize helpfully divulged to our microphones that he badly needed to finish at least second in the tournament just to break even for the week. Seems he had lost $200,000 the previous day betting a friend on things like what color cards the dealer would turn up on the table, the poker equivalent of flipping a coin. The half-million our champion earned wouldn’t really change much in his life, he allowed, since he regularly participated in games where $1million changed hands every night.
We all laughed. We shook our heads knowingly. We said things like, “wow.” And then, after signing off the air, we broadcasters all went out to dinner.
We ate what was put in front of us. And I felt at that moment like a very fat and spoiled man.