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Review – “Stuffed and Starved” book launch by Raj Patel

Posted in Events, Movements, Research, Visions by Ferne Edwards on October 5th, 2007

I was fortunate to attend one of the recent book launches and discussions for Raj Patel’s recent work, “Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Choice and the Battle for the World’s Food System”, 2007. It was a great night to celebrate a great book – Raj has even composed his own blogsite that further delves into the murky world of food politics. Visit: Find below Raj’s review of the book from this website. Feel free if you’d like to add your own comments about his book on this blog too!

“In Stuffed and Starved, I lay out ten things that we all can do to promote justice and food sovereignty. These aren’t by any means the only route to follow, or even a comprehensive checklist. They’re a point of departure, not a point of arrival, they’re very open to suggestion.

Transform our tastes
One of the best reasons to become sensuous, to enjoy more than the endless combinations of fat, salt, and sugar, is provided by James Baldwin. I’ve quoted him here, I know, but it’s such a wonderful quote that it deserves a second airing on this site.

To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread. It will be a great day for America, incidentally, when we begin to eat bread again, instead of the blasphemous and tasteless foam rubber that we have substituted for it. And I am not being frivolous now, either. Something very sinister happens to the people of a country when they begin to distrust their own reactions as deeply as they do here, and become as joyless as they have become.

The challenge is to examine our own tastes, to see how they’re captive to a very narrow spectrum of food. Food it to be enjoyed, not processed. As Marco Flavio Marinucci says at his Cook Here and Now website:

Evolution gave us the gift of having to eat frequently: Let’s not treat it as a chore. I believe that when we devote attention to what we do, we feel more satisfied and satiated by it. Each meal gets my full and undivided attention. Choosing the best ingredients from what’s in season locally, preparing the dishes from scratch as often as time allows, and keeping in mind who’s sharing them – it’s all astronomical foreplay that creates the emotional build-up releaded in a delightful meal.

So it’s time for us to enjoy complex flavours a little more, and processed ones a little less. It’s time to distrust our food instincts, because they’ve been so contaminated by the food industry. Although it might not come naturally, we ought to let the seasons and our environment be our guide to local, fresh and tasty food.

Eat locally and seasonally
You can find resources on eating locally and seasonally here – but the joy of it is that eating locally and seasonally happens most easily and healthily by growing the food oneself. Nothing tastes like a homegrown tomato. Why not google your local allotments and gardening centres to see what resources they can offer?

Eat agroecologically
One way of thinking about agroecology is to see it as the next step beyond organic. Resources on agroecology are available here. It’s a farming philosophy that farms with nature, developing and maintaining soil fertility, producing a wide range of crops, and matching the farming to the needs, climate, geography, biodiversity and aspirations of a particular place and community. It’s an approach that develops deep local expertise, and means that farmers aren’t disposable and substitutable resources, as they are under the reign of `industrial organic’. It promises to be able to feed the planet. And it is an approach that, above all, sees agriculture as embedded within society.

Support locally owned business
Although supermarkets portray themselves as zones of choice and variety, the opposite is often the case. Supermarkets, while offering shelves of plenty, employ fewer people and charge more for less fresh food than local growers and businesses. The food in street markets is about a third cheaper than in supermarkets, and more often sourced locally. London’s Queens Market offers a haven of cheaper goods and more choice than supermarkets and is about 50 per cent cheaper than the local Wal-Mart/ Asda supermarket, while being more racially diverse and a lot less sterile. The food in street markets, because it’s less processed, also tends to be healthier. But markets such as these are struggling against the higher level of resources that supermarkets can deploy.

Insist that the workers who grow our food have the right to dignity
Even the most locally owned, organic and agroecological businesses can still exploit their workers. To combat this is to insist on a suite of workers rights, from collective bargaining to a living wage (see below).

Advocate profound and comprehensive rural change
Rural areas have been transformed over the past two centuries, but rarely has that transformation been carried out with the knowledge or support of the poorest people living there. Alternatives abound, though, and the best of them are encompassed by the idea of “Food sovereignty”. It is the product of a democratic process within the international peasant federation, La Via Campesina . A central part of this change involves land reform.

Demand living wages for all
Without the means to eat well, we haven’t a chance of living healthily. Living wage campaigns are well worth supporting, and there’s bound to be one in your country. In Canada, for instance, a range of organizations are listed here, and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty is a mainstay of sensible thinking and action around poverty. In the US, the issue is outlined by the Economic Policy Institute, and made flesh by campaigns from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. In the UK, the London Citizens Living Wage Campaign provides a locus of activity. One of the best way to ensure living wages is when workers are in control of their employers – through cooperatives and participatory economics.

Support a sustainable architecture of food
Not nearly enough work has been done linking the changing architecture of our homes and towns to health. Yet it’s clear after the most cursory reflection that commuting, trekking miles to the local hypermarket, and withering bicycle use are all factors behind the world’s ill health. The UK Commission on the Built Environment observes, for instance, that:

In Copenhagen, Denmark, measures introduced over the last 30 years to reduce traffic and improve the quality of public spaces in the city centre has encouraged a 65 per cent rise in bicycle use since 1970.”

This is the sort of thinking that prevents the diseases associated with today’s food system, and makes it possible for people to be Healthy at Any Size. Demanding local public spaces, parks, allotments to grow food, these are all local actions.

Snap the food system’s bottleneck
There is already, across the world, a network of regulation and `checks and balances’ intended to reign in the most egregious acts of corporate malfeasance. But the companies that benefit most from the food system’s inequities are also the companies that are most resistant to its fundamental transformation. They will fight hard to maintain their profits. The subsidies to agribusiness must, however, end. It doesn’t only mean an end to the hand-outs to corporations offered as part of the Farm Bill in the US and Common Agricultural Policy in Europe. It also means cutting off industrial farming from the subsidized carbon that it receives from fossil and (soon) biofuels. See Friends of the Earth, Food First and Grain for more on specifics about what you can do. These are actions that can only come through a powerful and informed citizenry taking on its government. But it’s a necessary step. We are, after all, not consumers of democracy – we’re its proprietors. Nothing can change about the food system unless we own our power over it, and complicity in it. And that means:

Own and provide restitution for the injustices of the past and present
While Bono and his friends have, I’m sure, nothing but good intentions, their demands for aid and support are way off the mark. They propose tinkering with the level of aid given by rich countries. But what poor people of colour have been demanding is not charity, but restitution. Whether for slavery in Africa and the New World, or simply for the innumerable coups and dictators installed to service the needs of consumers in the Global North, damages are due. Not charity, but compensation for incalculable harm done by representatives of `civilisation’.

The full costs of the food system’s environmental and public health costs ought to be reflected in the price of its output
That means taxing processed food to a level where it reflects the harm it does us and the planet. Some districts and cities are as matters of public health, restricting the ambit of food system corporations.
Whether it’s a case of removing their products from schools, or banning the harmful additives (as New York has done with transfats), people are succeeding in putting pressure on their governments to curb the power of the agribusiness giants.”

'Stuffed and Starved' by Raj Patel

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