My wife next door advises me not to question the latest statistic saying that 33 millions of Brazilians are hungry. She is right. She is absolutely right. In fact, she was right even before she opened her mouth to emphatically tell me that hunger is unquestionable. And don’t even think about making a joke about hunger, huh?! But I’m stubborn and ask why I have to swallow that number. So I, who didn’t swallow the millions of corpses predicted by Atila Iamarino or the thousands of lives saved by the lockdowns.
She explains to me (once again, completely right) that hunger is a very delicate matter , because it stirs up two primitive fears. First, the omnipresent fear of… starvation. As much as the pantry is full and the fields record production records, hunger is a spirit that has accompanied man throughout history. He inhabits every home in the world. And there’s no sign that this haunting plans to leave.
The other fear is more civilized, so to speak. It’s the fear of failure as a group. We are an ultra-complex civilization, et cetera and such, but deep down we see the world as a village. And the mere possibility that someone in the village is starving is something that stirs our pride. A single person starving is a sign that we have failed.
Hence the importance of viewing these numbers with some reserve, I try to argue with a shy voice and almost as thin and squeaky as Pabblo Vittar’s. After all, all that (I put quotes in the air) the left’s
hegemonic narrative wants is for us to recognize the failure of capitalism and the intrinsic evil of men. What?! she asks, and the question marks and exclamation marks together are a clear sign of danger. Just in case, I delete the “hegemonic” and “intrinsic” and repeat slowly, risking an attack of fury.
Which, strangely, does not happen. It’s a trap, Bino! screams the cricket of my conscience. But I ignore him and keep saying that I don’t know the technical definition of hunger in the first place. Does anyone out there know? My wife looks at me with a look of distrust, closing herself in her cocoon to burst out of it like anger. I understand the message and take the opportunity to do a quick search. And I return: according to some bureaucrat from the IBGE, hunger is when there is severe food insecurity. Broad definition, subject to multiple interpretations, to the customer’s taste, no?
Yes, she grudgingly agrees, asking me what this food insecurity thing is. I find another definition that I can only call bizarre: food insecurity is when the household does not have regular and permanent access to quality food in sufficient quantity, without compromising other essential needs. I didn’t go further, but I’m sure that if I researched the definition of this “essential needs” there, I would enter a black hole of definitions carefully crafted to mean anything and nothing.
And yet, the news that 33 millions of Brazilians are going hungry is reproduced without any dispute. A news item that brings to mind images of starving Ethiopians in the 1990s 1980. Or of cadaverous men at the liberation of Auschwitz. For those who know a little more about history, the news also evokes the horrors of the Holodomor or the Great Leap Forward, when people fed on tree bark or resorted to cannibalism to survive. Bringing hunger to the national territory, she suggests paintings by Portinari and books by Rachel de Queiroz and Graciliano Ramos.
Furthermore, I continue, this type of statistics of incomprehensibly stratospheric numbers ignores very particular circumstances that cause people to go hungry. At that time, a beggar passes by on the street. Singing like there’s no tomorrow. He’ll probably get a plate of food from the convent nearby. My wife, who is getting tired at the end of the chronicle (and quite rightly, always), does not ask me to explain what those circumstances would be, but I explain anyway: involvement with drugs, alcohol dependence, psychiatric disorders and family alienation.
The conversation ends there. My wife is going to get something from the kitchen. But I keep thinking and mentally writing this column. Furthermore, I say to myself, and now, for the readers, the vaunted number ignores the entire assistance network created in the last hundred years, as well as the improvements in the food distribution network and the consequent cheapening of basic items, such as our daily bread. And, roguishly, it ignores that the supposed existence of 33 millions of Brazilians living as Ethiopians in the 1990s 1980 or Ukrainians in the 1990s 1930 means that the entire immense and expensive welfare machine of the government is a decoy. Nothing less than a decoy.
She comes back from the kitchen and realizes I’m still thinking about it. I smile like I’m making a mess. I can’t help it, I reply. She asks me if I’m done and I say yes. My wife opens her mouth to say something, but I anticipate. Calm. It goes without saying that this statistic does not point to any solution. It’s not her role, I know. The role of statistics is to create a nightmare scenario. But let’s imagine that the role of statistics was to point the way. What else can be done besides large-scale food production and government assistance programs, not to mention the thousands of institutions, religious or not, that offer a plate of food to the most needy?
Now I’m done, I inform you. My wife, overcome by fatigue and my boredom, gives me permission to write about hunger. With a condition. She earnestly asks me not to make fun of such a sensitive subject. The idea crossed my mind, I don’t deny it. But I obey.