Wrong Burger at the Wrong Time?

Burger King in London has released a $200 dollar burger

Critics charge that the burger is gross, outrageous and with food prices soaring and hunger crisis threatening the lives of millions it is the wrong burger, with the wrong message at the wrong time. Maybe so, or with burger profit proceeds going to charity, is it better than the hunger cafes of Mumbai?

The golden Honda pulled over to the curb alongside the restaurant. A window rolled down. A 100-rupee note, worth about $2.30, popped out, courtesy of a woman in a head scarf who would identify herself only as Mrs. Abbas. Then, as quietly as it came, the car sped away.

Inside the Mahim Darbar restaurant, seven men sprang to their feet: gaunt, beleaguered men with pocked faces, men who appeared to have had their share of dashed hopes. But this was the moment they had been pining for. Mrs. Abbas had, in a quintessentially Mumbai way, bought them lunch.

The world is filled with eating houses of every kind. There are hamburger joints and caviar joints; there are places you drive through and places where you sit down; there is the New York steakhouse and the Paris bistro. But the world may be unfamiliar with a Mumbai variation on the theme: the hunger café.

It takes a city as frenetic, transactional and compassionate as Mumbai to erect eateries for the malnourished. They are not soup kitchens, for denizens of this city have little time to pour other people soup. In a city that never stops selling stocks and shooting movies, they prefer drive-by benevolence.

On a stretch of road in the Mahim neighborhood, the hunger cafés have stood for decades. Mumbai's broken, drifting men squat in neat rows in front of each establishment, waiting patiently. Vats full of food simmer behind them. What separates them from the food is the 25-cent-per-plate cost - a gulf harder to bridge than one might assume. But every so often, a car pulls up, donates, and the men dine....Consider an alternative way to feed these men. You could raise money in schools and temples; you could buy the food and serve it in the quiet of a shelter. You could at least let the men sit inside the restaurant, not on the edge of the sidewalk.

But in India, that may not work. Among the swelling middle class, the anonymous, checkbook-style charity has yet to catch on. Indians have shown scant enthusiasm for giving to abstract causes. Indian giving is feudal giving: giving to those below you in your household chain of command.

Source: International Herald Tribune June 16, 2008

What is better stuffing your face for the poor with $200 burgers or reducing your own consumption and redistributing the savings?

The first seems gross, but maybe pragmatic, the second ideal but possibly implausible?

Any way you look at it, it seems to me a sad state of affairs that Burger King is now the benevolent middle man pushing gross consumption in the name of charity.


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