On Hoarding and Hunger

The generosity of the Argentines is remarkable. The poorest will share of their food even if you are able to buy your own. Someone with a small sized portion on his plate will not hesitate to offer half of it to you. If nearby at a campground someone is cooking they will often approach you and bringing food. The Argentines wish a “Buon Provecho!” to any stranger they see eating. If you are eating outside at a cafĂ© nearly every passerby will wish you a good meal.

In Colombia I watched the street vendors give food to the poor and it was not small sized portions but full plates of food. People would line up at a food stand and some would pay and the very poor would receive free plates of food. My thought then was why give to these scoundrels? They don't work at all and will just be back tomorrow. But even a scoundrel is hungry.

I believe this sharing I have observed is derivative of ancient attitudes regarding hoarding. A man should never have an abundance relative to another man, particularly when it comes to food. In tribal times a man who hoarded was often murdered by the other tribesman. There is a deeply physical morality to hunger and the Argentines and Colombians are more in tune with it than the Americans. Giving food to the hungry has nothing at all to do with whether they will work for it one day in the future. They may never work again, but that does not mean they are not hungry.

Of course, the idea of hoarding applies to things other than food, and I have not observed Colombians or Argentines giving away their clothing or providing shelter to the homeless. I have heard stories of very poor Argentine families inviting touring cyclists into their homes and giving up their bedroom and bed to the cyclists and sleeping outside. The cyclists had tents and the money to sleep in a hostel or hotel but that was not relevant to the family. This is perhaps a variant of the anti-hoarding idea.

Last week it pleased me to share my pasta and wine with Jorge at the hostel in Catamarca. He was a rather poor fellow who worked soup kitchens to help the even poorer. It was work he believed in strongly and we talked long about it. I saw he was not eating supper and, following the Argentine way, I offered my pasta to him and he took it. I offered bread and cheese after dinner and then coffee and he took that too. I was very hungry, being a touring cyclist, and I did not go to sleep with a full stomach that night. Yet it gave me pleasure to act in this way as I remembered the many times others had offered food to me. They had probably forgone going to bed with full stomachs as well.

It was a good feeling to know I had resisted the very American urge to fill myself and to tell myself that the other guy beside me who might be hungry had that as his own problem. Because hunger is my problem when the man next to me is hungry and I have food. Should he become too hungry he may one day take my food and injure me or murder me to do it. This is the root morality of hunger and hoarding.

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