Last night at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, acclaimed author, activist and academic Raj Patel presented the Italian edition of his book Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System, in which he highlights the problems behind the global food system, which paradoxically increase both obesity levels and malnutrition around the world.
Using the image of an hour glass, with farmers at the top, consumers at the bottom and the five or six corporations that control 50 per cent of the market in the middle, Patel explained how the control of the world food system by a few multinational companies means that our lives are ‘being turned into fast food lives’.
Reflecting on the current global food crisis, Patel spoke of the recent food riots in the face of escalating commodity prices in Haiti and several other countries, blaming this on agrofuels and the recent shift of agricultural land from food crops to cash crops. ‘We grow food now not to eat it, but to set it on fire. This is the logic of agrofuels. 30 per cent of the US corn harvest next year will be burnt,’ he added.
Patel, who works closely with movements like Via Campesina, the International Peasant Movement, and MST, Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil, placed great emphasis on land reform as a way of transforming the capitalist global agricultural system. He also stressed the need to promote food sovereignty, reestablish women’s rights and fix just food prices for farm laborers, ‘absolutely the most exploited people in the agriculture system’.
Patel concluded with a reflection on current attitudes to buying food. ‘We do ourselves a disservice by transforming ourselves merely into consumers,’ he said. ‘Change is not only about shopping smarter. The real dirt comes not with the compromises you make at the supermarket, but the compromises you make as a citizen. It won’t come through the money in our wallets, but in the power of our organizations and a lot more community activism.’
Carlo Petrini, president and founder of Slow Food, who attended the talk, thanked Patel warmly for his participation.
Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, Melville House, NYC, 2008, 448 pages