According to Oxfam’s latest report, “just eight men own the same wealth as half the world”. Since the days of Occupy Wall Street we have become accustomed to talking of the 1% of the world’s richest people, yet that would still be roughly 70 million people. Here, we’re talking of wealth concentration the likes of which we have never seen before, driven by an economic philosophy that prioritizes profit before people. And it’s not without consequences. The “risks report” prepared for this year’s Davos summit cited that extreme concentration of wealth as the single biggest threat to the world’s economy, and identifies “rising income and wealth inequality” as the driving force behind global politics.
Food is big business. Plunkett Research estimates that it accounts for 10% of the world economy, or $7.8 trillion. Companies like Mars, Monsanto & Nestlé are multibillion-dollar multinationals, all engaged in practices that further increase the concentration of wealth in fewer hands: the commercial acquisition of competitors, creating ever-larger corporate giants, a race to the bottom in wages along the supply chain, the dispossession and exploitation of small-scale farmers around the world through land grabbing and price dictation… the list goes on. Khoza Manvester Ackson, a farmer of the Phoka people in Malawi, told us: “The government in Malawi is failing to curb poverty because smallholder farmers are forced to sell their produce at extremely low prices dictated by multinational corporations. Government support for these corporations and their exploitation of peasant farmers has made Malawi one of the poorest countries in the world.” As a comparison, the personal wealth of 32-year old Mark Zuckerberg, is eight times larger than the entire GDP of Malawi, a country of 16 million people.
Though profit-maximization as way-of-life is indeed a highly contagious virus that has infected much of the world, it is not omnipresent. Indeed, indigenous peoples around the world put community welfare first, as well as respect for the Earth. It is worth keeping in mind that we live on a planet of finite resources, and that “wealth creation” at the top is merely an unfair division of those finite resources. As Serge Latouche told us at the last Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, the idea that our well-being can come from materialism is wrong to begin with. We should question the idea of success that we have been taught to strive for: having a low income or few material possessions does not necessitate unhappiness as long as everyone can live well and exploitation is prevented. Increased inequality and the environmental disaster facing us are both a result of human greed. But the battle to fight inequality and save the environment can be won with altruism, cooperation and a reassessment of our core values. Slow Food believes that being able to reinforce local economies, promote traditional knowledge and provide good, clean and fair food to everyone is the key to winning that battle.