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the irish potato famine

I picked up The Irish famine: an illustrated history by Helen Litton after a talk around the family table brought up questions about why a whole nation of people decided to go all in on potatoes, and why we let so many of them starve to death. It was an unpleasant story, with familiar themes.

To write a single journal entry I'll have to gloss over a LOT of details, but basically:

The Irish were poor as hell to begin with. Already a lot of them were hungry during the months right before a harvest. There wasn't a lot of money in the economy. A lot of what was grown was shipped away, owned by absent wealthy landowners who were much more concerned about their grain prices than whether the people working their land were paid enough to eat.

Then this potato blight started infecting the crops. The hungry families were used to running out of money at the end, then suddenly there was nothing to start over with.

There were workhouses. It was a cruel system where families were immediately separated, there was no room to separate sick from healthy people so your odds of getting sick and dying that way increased, but that was the safety net. After a few seasons of decimated treasuries, even the workhouses were overcrowded. So if you didn't leave our kids at the workhouse the custom was you go in your house, lock the door, huddle with your family and all starve together in a dark corner without bothering anyone. This is how people were found.

The disturbing theme that came up again and again was that the British government was more concerned with fair economics for the landowners than the people starving to death. I say it's a familiar theme because it also slowed down our efforts to abolish slavery, end child labor, pull back from colonization.

"What about the rich people?" The slave owner, the land owner, the factory owner... we just wring our hands and worry so much about them. It's not fair to change a system they've invested in. We can't reduce their profits. They're the economic engine. So they starved some people or abused some... they were within the framework of the laws (that they helped make) and surely they are the smartest and deserve to be in charge, they know what's best for us and eventually they will bring all the downtrodden to their same standard of living.

We can't just stop exporting grain from ireland or send food there, then food prices will go down, and then what about the rich people?

meanwhile people are starving to death in the streets, with no time to wait for an "eventually". They're caught in some program that expected them to work when they haven't had anything to eat, so they can't help. They can't afford seeds for a different kind of potato. They ate the seed potatoes sent to them. The government kept trying to make systems that would ensure that food only went to the most needy and not to anybody who could possibly work... while they worked at that, people starved. There was talking and thinking and philosophizing and new programs and the end of programs and through all of this, people were just starving, and no one could even really count how many because they'd been too poor to get a real census done in the first place.

Some of them got in boats to America, and starved on the boats. Or they got to America to be treated miserably here. No country wants to deal with or listen to the poor. They're just inconvenient.

I was semi-involved this year in a fun plastic recycling project, a shredder to keep bottles out of landfills and one idea we got sent a LOT was this idea of building bricks to make houses for homeless people. How awesome, right? Except one of the comments on the article stuck to me... "there's enough vacant houses already for us to house all the homeless"

true statistics. in the 2008 housing crisis, vacant houses outnumbered the homeless six to one.

we didn't need new innovative building materials, we needed banks and landlords to give up on profit or confront the idea of renting to someone less than ideal who might mess up their property... which won't happen.

we have enough food and houses for the world, but we can't figure out how to distribute it because what would happen if we hurt the people who have more than enough? we're still the same.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
gilda_elise
Dec. 10th, 2018 12:34 pm (UTC)
We most certainly are. And it never ceases to amaze me how many people either vote against their own best interest, or are so callous as to not care about those with less.
excentric397
Dec. 10th, 2018 09:08 pm (UTC)
Today's Big Business. How much money can I make, even though I am already richer than the entire rest of humanity put together. Workers? Replaceable parts. Capitalism is really not a good thing.
brittdreams
Dec. 11th, 2018 02:18 am (UTC)
There is definitely a huge distribution problem in the US. Whenever students tell me about why we need GM crops to feed the hungry, I remind them that 40% of the food in America is wasted.
calzephyr77
Dec. 15th, 2018 08:09 pm (UTC)
It's not just a surplus of housing - but overcoming the stigma too. Where I live, the city produced a series of videos featuring tenants in the affordable housing program. It's an uphill battle to change people's minds as well. It's a harsh statistic that many people are a few pay checks away from homelessness :\

My husband's family came to Canada because of the potato famine. I don't know what their experience was like, but my FIL is extremely thrifty. I'm sure there was a lot of transgenerational baggage.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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