Nicola Twilley, in her piece about Rwanda’s valiant effort to widen access to refrigeration, acknowledges many of the obstacles standing in the country’s way while also conveying the hope that creating a cold chain will improve the predicament of its smallholder farmers (“The Cold Rush,” August 22nd). My fifty years of experience in international-development work, some of them spent in Rwanda, have given me a more pessimistic view.
The economic situation of smallholder farmers is on a downward trajectory almost everywhere in the world. This is in part because, in the world’s economy, scale is paramount, and being able to get more product to market is unlikely to mean more than a slight increase in income for small farmers, who can produce only so much. A more dismal sign is the fact that few small farmers’ children want to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Aid-agency projects intended to improve food storage and decrease costly waste—encompassing everything from promoting coöperatives to providing warehouses and technical innovations—have had few lasting results in the past several decades. More often than not, aid agencies’ and governments’ need to get money out the door quickly, combined with local factors, makes progress difficult.
Twilley’s report brought to mind Americans’ almost unlimited use of refrigeration. In the U.S., about a quarter of households have two or more fridges. Compared with many other countries, we also have longer supply chains, less fresh produce, and more pollution from transportation and packaging; we also have overburdened electrical grids and an abundance of unhealthy, heavily processed products in our diets. One way that Americans could help people in developing countries is by reforming our own system so that we pollute our shared world less. We could make it easier to run farmers’ markets here, thereby reducing our overreliance on refrigeration. Cutting back on fridge use might seem difficult, but it is possible. I speak from experience. After reading a 2017 article about how other cultures refrigerate less, I tried unplugging my fridge. I didn’t think I could make it a day, but, using a combination of tactics, including fermentation and effective shopping, I made it three months. My next try lasted nearly seven months. Now, on my third try, I’m a week short of making it a full year.
New York City
More Than Maps
Louis Menand’s observation that our government “does not reflect the popular will” gets at the heart of many of America’s current problems (A Critic at Large, August 22nd). But partisan gerrymandering, the phenomenon that he focusses on, is only partly to blame. The U.S.’s use of single-member congressional districts is also a major factor. Because of their winner-take-all structure, single-member districts inevitably make it more difficult to select a House whose composition is proportional to voters’ preferences. Consider that, in a district that is fifty-one-per-cent blue (or red), a given party secures a hundred per cent of the representation. In California, where an independent commission has all but eliminated partisan gerrymandering, the state’s current congressional delegation is nearly eighty-per-cent Democratic, despite Democrats’ having won only sixty-six per cent of the vote. Changing to a system that allows for multi-member districts, in which seats are allocated proportionally to votes, would go a long way toward creating a House that better represents the wishes of the public.
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