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Food and Drink

Horn of plenty vs. horn of Africa



We crossed the line, some say at the millennial year, others say shortly thereafter. We crossed several lines then, but the one I'm thinking of bears a dark irony about equality, and inequality.

Around the year 2000, the number of obese, over-nourished people on Earth equaled the number of those who are starving and malnourished: about 1 billion each. Or, roughly, one out of six people were on one side of the scales or the other.

Today, the number of obese, over-nourished people on Earth exceeds the number of hungry.

The current famine in Somalia set against this backdrop made me think of two horns of a dilemma - the horn of plenty vs. the Horn of Africa.

The Horn of Africa is that extreme northeastern part of the African continent that sticks out into the Indian Ocean like a rhinoceros horn. It contains Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea, but it's Somalia that's most prominent - the part of the "horn" that juts out most into the ocean, and into our consciousness.

Who hasn't seen headlines about Somalia? Poor Somalia, arid and barren for the most part, with a harsh, hot, dry climate seeing changing monsoon patterns and ever little rainfall with climate change, and ever more unrest.

The Somali drought in 2010, when no rainfall for two years on the eastern edge of the Horn meant 80 per cent of local cattle died, a disaster in a herding, pastoral culture.

Somali civil war. Turmoil, factional fighting and anarchy have been part of daily life since the early 1990s when the despotic regime of Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed. After Afghanistan, the most dangerous place on earth, sings that brilliant and wise Somali-Canadian rapper/poet, K'naan.

Somali pirates terrorizing some ship or other off the coast of the Horn.

And now millions of Somalis on the verge of starving to death.

No surprise. Aid agencies saw it coming, and yet the world's been slow to respond, especially those of us who lap up life from the horn of plenty.

Ah, yes, the horn of plenty. Cornucopia. That horn-shaped basket, most familiar to Canadians as a symbol of Thanksgiving, from which delightful bounty harvested from the fair earth tumbles. A gala food and wine festival at Whistler named for same.

The horn of plenty, writes Edith Hamilton in her classic book, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes , is based on the Greek myth of Amalthea. By one myth, Amalthea was a goat on whose milk Zeus was fed as an infant boy; by another tale she was a nymph who owned the goat. Regardless, she had a horn that was "always full of whatever food or drink anyone wanted."