Sunflowers and Food Insecurity

I didn’t think I would post again so soon, but this is a great article that explains very well why food prices, and therefore also food insecurity, will increase further over the coming months, both here in Spain and worldwide. I have added some notes in [and in italics] to explain certain points and give my thoughts. Source to the article, in Spanish, at the end.

Distribution chains start rationing sunflower oil.

62% of the sunflower oil imported by Spain comes from Ukraine. With the Black Sea ports closed, uncertainty covers the markets and, despite the calls for calm from the Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas, who said the day before yesterday that “there would be no problems of shortages in the short term”, many consumers have rushed to the supermarket to stock up on sunflower oil. [Sunflower oil is often used by people on a tight budget to replace the much preferred olive oil as it is far cheaper than the later.]

The increase in demand and the supply difficulties of the distribution chains have led some of them to begin to rationalize their stocks. Makro, a chain that supplies a large part of the hotel and catering industry, has limited olive oil [A secondary effect, those who can afford olive oil are now also stocking up on it out of fear the shortage of sunflower oil will also cause, in the long term, a shortage of olive oil or at least an increase in its price.] to one unit per customer per day, as confirmed by the company. And Mercadona says it has limited it to five liters per customer, while the Eroski chain has already begun to hang posters in its stores indicating that it will only give a maximum of two boxes per customer per day of this product.

Key country for cereals

Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe. Last year it increased its cereal production by 32% to 85.7 million tons. These data are reason enough to explain why the Russian attack on this country located on the Black Sea coast has broken the market. “The uncertainty of the last days is over, now the market is broken”, pointed out a few days ago the president of the Grain and Oilseeds Trade Association (Accoe), Marcos Martínez, who added: “We don’t know where the prices of these raw materials are going to reach”.

The cereal market is moving at the pace set by the war news and the movements that may or may not take place in its ports. One of the problems is that Spain has a corn deficit. In fact, it buys from Ukraine between 28 and 30 % of the corn it needs for animal feed. [Which means dairy and meat prices will also go up.]

As for wheat, Ukraine is the world’s fifth largest trader, a ranking led by the Russians. The blockade of the ports means increased dependence on South American grain production, a harvest that has not yet begun. [Which means bread prices, and those of other products that are elaborated with wheat, will also go up.]

Ukraine conflict adds fuel to the fire of the dairy crisis.

There is a place near the sea where, from time to time, large mountains of corn are formed that diminish in size as the trucks carry the raw material to the feed mills. That place is the outer port of Punta Langosteira, in Arteixo, one of the gateways of entry of Ukrainian grain in Spain. According to data handled by the Galician Association of Compound Food Manufacturers (Agafac), during the first two months of this year about 290,000 tons of corn grown in that country have entered Galicia through the dock in A Coruña and the port of Marín.

Because Ukraine produces 15% of the world’s corn, Spain, which has a corn deficit, buys around 30% of its total volume of imports of this cereal. And it arrives through the ports of Tarragona, Cartagena, Huelva, Marín or Arteixo. Something similar happens with wheat, a cereal of which this state accumulates 30 % of the world production, while Russia occupies the first place in the ranking. As with corn, part of it also enters through Galicia. So far this year, for example, have been unloaded at the ports of Punta Langosteira and Marin about 30,000 tons, but next week is expected to unload another ship loaded with about 60,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat. [And after that, unless other ships loaded with grains are still at sea, this source of food will dry up completely unless a major miracle happens …]


Animal Feed

Food for the Camino …

In 1998 my life was crushed in an instant as my partner died before my eyes under horrific circumstances. It took me more then a year, and three suicide attempts, to find a way, any way, out of it. I found the Camino de Santiago, very little known at that time. By then I had lost everything. I was homeless and penniless. Shortly before arriving at Saint Jean Pied de Port, hitchhiking, to start what would result in the one thing that truly turned my life around, I entered a French bakery and asked: I am hungry, can you give me some stale bread from yesterday for free? The answer was chilling me to the bone:

“No, we can’t do that, we sell yesterday’s bread as animal feed.” That moment I learned that for some people, those without money will always be less than animals.

I didn’t give up, I hitchhiked to Saint Jean Pied de Port, took a look at the Pyrenees and hitchhiked to Roncesvalles. The driver that had picked me up let me out a few hundred meters before the colegiata and I was worried. I knew that the albergue was a donativo, but I didn’t have a credencial and not a single penny in my pocket. Something caught my eye, before my feet lay a 50 pesetas coin, exactly the amount of money I needed to ‘buy’ a credencial and become a pilgrim. I filled out the paperwork and ascended the stairs to the albergue – Only pilgrims allowed, no tourists past this point. I didn’t feel I was either. I didn’t feel I fit anywhere anymore.

The hospitaler@s announced the program of the evening: Mass with pilgrims blessing followed by a pilgrim’s meal in the nearby restaurant. I went to mass, I needed all the blessings I could possibly get. I went back to the albergue, hungry. I wrote in my journal, another pilgrim shared the table with me, we smiled at each other, we both knew we were both outcasts – pilgrims that didn’t fit in.

The hospitaler@s passed by and looked at us and asked ‘Not at the Pilgrim’s Meal?’

‘No.’, we said quietly.

Shortly after they came back again and put a plate of tortilla before us.

‘Enjoy the meal, pilgrims.’, they said.

And suddenly we were human beings again.

Miraculously I made it to Santiago, and, over the next four years put my life back together and found a new reason to live, a new raison d’etre, I got my life back together but I vowed that nobody that would knock at my door would ever leave empty handed … As long as I have food in the house, I will share it gladly with whoever knocks at the door.

Egeria House and Starfishes

When people hear for the first time of Egeria House, they often think of it as a big, established center with a huge sign at the door and paid staff, or something similar.

Truth is that Egeria House is more a way of life for me, not bound to a particular place and, no, there is no ‘staff’, only me at the moment.

Egeria herself was a Galician woman and made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in the 4th century. Not only that, she also wrote about her journey and the things she saw. Her account of the Easter celebration in Jerusalem is the oldest one that exists and has kept liturgists happy ever since.

When I lived in England, I was intrigued by the fact that many houses there, in addition to numbers, also had names. When I moved to Santiago, I wanted the place where I lived to have a name that was meaningful to me, so it became Egeria House.

As for starfishes, if you have ever met me in person, I will, most likely, have told you this tale already, if that is the case, feel free to skip to the next paragraph.

A man was walking at the beach early one morning, after a bad storm. He was saddened as he noticed the hundreds and hundreds of stranded starfishes that would certainly die when the sun came up and dried them out. As he walked further and further, he noticed another man coming towards him, but he was bending down, picking something up and throwing it in the sea. As he came closer, he realized that the other man was picking up starfishes and throwing them back. “You fool”, he said, “there are hundreds of them on this beach alone. You are not making any difference.” The other man bend down, picked up a starfish and said calmly: “But I can make a difference for this one.” And throw it back into the sea.

And that is what we all can do:

Helping one ‘starfish’ at a time, because a multitude of small acts of kindness WILL change the world – for the better, keeping the Camino spirit alive in our own communities.

Shattered Dreams

I wrote this during the first wave of the pandemic, but for reasons unknown, never published it. Today I came across it again and thought now might be the time to share it:

We live in a world of shattered dreams:

  • Shattered dreams of walking a Camino any time soon again.
  • Shattered dreams to keep our loved ones close and save.
  • Shattered dreams of a normality as we used to know it.

In that shattered world we now live in, I remember the words of a priest friend here in Santiago:

  • Be brave, tell somebody: I care about you!
  • Be brave, tell somebody: I forgive you!
  • Be brave, tell somebody: I hold you and yours close in my thoughts and prayers.

Because that is all we can offer each other just now:

  • A thought
  • A prayer
  • A dream that we might meet again.

The whole world is shattered and we don’t know where we go from here.

The yellow arrows are hidden.

We have to take the yellow arrows we learned about in the past now into the sad reality that is today’s world – and make the best we can out of our past experiences, for a better future for all of us.

What we have learned on the Camino we now need to apply in this strange world we woke up to.

  • To share what we have.
  • To discard what we don’t need.
  • And, most importantly, to forgive ourselves and others.

This is not a time to hold grudges, but a time to hold hands, virtually and safely, to confirm one single thing:

We are pilgrims and we are in this storm together.

We can build a better world together.

If we stick and work together.

This is the time to stay physically apart so that when we meet again, nobody is missing.

Properly distanced hugs from Santiago, SY

The Caminos de Santiago – An Ecumenical Opportunity

Since my first journey in that winter of the Holy Year 1999, fellow pilgrims have kept asking me: “But if you’re not Catholic, why do you make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela?”

And for more then 20 years my answer has always been the same: “Because Santiago was not a Catholic either, he was a follower of Jesus Christ, simply a Christian.”

The Apostle Saint James, the friend of the Lord, lived before the sad separation of the churches, at a time when

“All the believers lived together and had everything in common;”

Acts 2:44

That sounds like the experience we have had as pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. And that is why I believe that the Camino de Santiago is an opportunity par excellence for ecumenism.

On the Camino we can have conversations about our faith that we rarely have in our daily lives. Conversations about our different experiences and practices but more than anything else about what we have in common: The difficulties of living our faith in an increasingly secular world. The miracles of every day. Our trust in God.

The simple practices of living each day with Jesus and how we do that on a very practical and personal level.

But with this joy of sharing always comes a deep mourning that we cannot share the sacrament that all Christians have in common – the Eucharist.

I know, there are good reasons for this, but it hurts, it hurts a lot when I am in the cathedral and, just before the distribution of the body of Christ I hear those words: “That only Catholics can come to receive.”

I have a dream – That one day we can all participate in Holy Communion in the cathedral and in all the churches of the world, no matter what church we come from, because it is the Lord who invites us and who knows our hearts. And He makes us worthy to receive Himself.

I have a dream – To hear those words “All Christians are welcome at the Lord’s table!”

Paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr. …

The first Christians were known as the ‘followers of the way’ as Saint Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles and the word pilgrim comes from the Latin ‘peregrinus’ which means he or she who crosses foreign lands as a free citizen – another thing we have in common.

We are all pilgrims to the eternal homeland – the heavenly Jerusalem, the new world where there is no mourning, no tears, only eternal joy in the presence of God!

At the end of his days on this earth Jesus prayed:

“… So that they may all be one. Like you, Father, in me and I in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. ”

John 17:21

How can we tell non-believers that following Jesus is the best Way if we don’t walk together? For more than 20 years, each of my pilgrimages was dedicated to that: The unity of all Christians. Each step of my pilgrim feet was a prayer for that …

After this year that we have lived through, full of losses of loved ones and dreams, my prayer is:

Lord, help us each day to grow closer to you and to each other, do not allow the division between the churches to deepen, but help us to grow each day closer to our brothers and sisters, so that one day we can all participate all in the same Eucharist that nourishes us all.