Urban Legends and Knowing What to Do in a Crisis

Your Kmareka correspondent is one of the few with the courage to say it out loud. I hate Christmas. I would gladly skip the whole thing for adults. Children should not be cheated out of their presents and Christmas joy of course, but let’s buy them some toys and the rest of us have cocktail parties and eat samosas. There, I’ve said it.

But as Scroogy as I am, I don’t totally buy into the flip side of American Christmas –bemoaning our greed and materialism. Although this story is true, I sense a touch of the Urban Legend…

Family and friends were stunned by the loss of a West Virginia man who died while shopping on Black Friday as fellow bargain hunters reportedly walked around — and even over — the man’s body.

Family members told WSAZ-TV that 61-year-old Walter Vance of Logan County, W. Va., had become ill and collapsed while shopping for Christmas decorations inside Target in South Charleston. He later died after being taken to the hospital, family said.

Witnesses told the NBC News affiliate in Charleston, W. Wa., that shoppers walked around and even over Vance’s body.

It’s a fact of human nature, and cause for much anguish after the fact, that we tend not to understand or deal well with the unexpected. I have witnessed people collapsing in public, only to be surrounded by concerned bystanders within seconds. The crucial requirement is that the bystanders recognize a crisis and have a script for how to respond. Mr. Vance had the misfortune to have an emergency out of context. I think that most of the crowd of deranged Christmas shoppers simply did not recognize what they were seeing. But Mr. Vance was helped by some people who knew what to do…

An E.R. nurse who also happened to be shopping at the store tried to administer CPR. She and an off-duty paramedic tried to help Vance while he was on the floor.

I’ll be the first to say, ‘Bah, humbug’ to Black Friday. But I think the tragic demise of Walter Vance was more a stroke of fate than an American morality tale.

Hunger and Callous Waste

My family is Irish-American, brought here by the consequences of a famine called The Great Hunger. There’s a book of the same name, but I can’t read more than a few pages without putting it down.

One glaring injustice the book records is the fact that Ireland exported vegetables to England all during the famine while its own people starved. That’s economics. You see it again in the songs of the Great Depression— Woodie Guthrie’s ‘oranges rotting in their creosote dumps’.

Someone told me a story about the mansion, Blithewold, when it was still a playground of the rich in the 1930′s. A young boy found a job in the kitchen helping the cooks. One day the family ordered squab. That’s baby pigeons, and the boy was still young enough that it bothered him to wring their necks, but he did what he was told. The squabs smelled wonderful as they cooked and the boy was very hungry. Just as they were done, the family changed their mind, and he watched as all the food was thrown into the garbage. You think that kind of thing couldn’t happen now?

Today we have unprecedented communication across the world. We have the means to respond with quickness and flexibility to a natural disaster. We can’t claim ignorance– perhaps stupidity has a longer shelf life. That would explain this story out of Kenya– from the New York Times…

Because Kenya’s gourmet vegetable and cut-flower industry exports mainly to Europe, and because the cloud of volcanic ash has grounded flights to much of northern Europe since Thursday, its horticultural business has been waylaid as never before.

On Monday, Mr. [Kenneth] Maundu [ general manager for Sunripe produce exporters] stared at the towering wreckage: eight-feet-tall heaps of perfectly good carrots, onions, baby sweet corn and deliciously green sugar snap peas being dumped into the back of a pickup truck.

“Cow food,” he said, shaking his head. “That’s about all we can do with it now.”

Thank the gods they keep cows, at least. You can’t save everything, but look at this…

“Volcano, volcano, volcano,” grumbled Ronald Osotsi, whose $90-a-month job scrubbing baby courgettes, which are zucchinis, and French beans is now endangered. “That’s all anyone is talking about.” He sat on a log outside a vegetable processing plant in Nairobi, next to other glum-faced workers eating a cheap lunch of fried bread and beans.

It’s been a bad year for agriculture in Kenya and low-wage workers can’t even afford to eat decently. And what is the corporate response to this hardship?

Thus, the trash heap of greens. At Sunripe, one of the most profitable sides of the business is prepackaging veggies for supermarkets in Europe. Most of the peppers, corn, carrots, broccoli and beans are grown in the Rift Valley, trucked to Nairobi, and then washed, chopped and shrink-wrapped. There are even some packages labeled “stir fry,” which few Kenyans have ever heard about.

The vegetables are marked with the names of some of England’s biggest supermarkets. (They requested not to be mentioned in this article.) But those supermarkets are very particular about their brands and do not allow Sunripe to give away excess produce with their labels on it.

So, on Monday, a man in a Sunripe lab coat and mesh hair net stood at the back of the pickup truck in the company’s loading bay tearing open plastic bags of perfectly edible vegetables, each worth a couple of dollars, and shaking out the contents. Sunripe does give away unpackaged food, and two nuns from an orphanage stood nearby, waiting for some French beans.

I’ll bet a photographer was standing by to catch the grateful nuns holding their plastic bags of beans. It will show up in the quarterly report. You won’t see them composting the best of Kenya’s farms while unemployed workers go hungry. Jeeze– you’d think they could have at least made soup. Really– there’s no ignorance any more except the willful kind. This is malignant stupidity and greed.

I hope that someone soon will publish a list of the corporations that mandated the destruction of food produced by underpaid workers, now laid off and missing wages. The NYT didn’t dare, but surely someone in Kenya, or in England, knows and is ready to out them.