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Food & agriculture - May 20

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Fat chance

Raj Patel, Guardian
Modern capitalism's powerful spell means we cannot accept research into world food policy without turning it into an attack on the overweight
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Not a lot of people know it, but in early versions of the Atkins diet, Robert Atkins performed some magic.

In the book that launched his eponymous diet, Atkins observed, correctly, that "sugar is the American food industry's friend" and that modern diets were shaped by contemporary capitalism. We are forced to consume sugar not because it's good for us, said Atkins, but because it's good for the food manufacturers. As Steven Shapin notes, there are moments where Atkins' original critique looks rather like that of other systemic critics of the way we eat today, like slow food.

And then, with a flick of his wrist and a twinkle in his eye, Atkins flips all this on his head. Rather than seeking a collective and systemic solution to a collective and systemic problem, the answer to our being poisoned by sugar is an almost penitent abstemiousness, an exercise of control of the will and, well, the Atkins diet. It's all very Foucauldian.

This is powerful sorcery, but we muggle on oblivious. Our culture is geared, as I've noted before, to understanding social problems much more easily when they're presented as individual vices.
(19 May 2008)
Raj Patel expands on these themes more in an interview with Amy Goodman at Democracy Now April 16: Raj Patel on “The Hidden Battle for the World Food System”.


But Won’t We Prioritize Energy Resources for Agriculture?

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon's Book
Quite a lot of people who are worried about peak energy aren’t very worried about the future of food, and see no reason to change our agriculture - they note that only 2.2 percent of oil goes to agricultural production, and they quite rationally observe that because agriculture isn’t a very large user of oil, it would only make sense to prioritize energy for agricultural production. And if that’s the case, why would we ever have shortages? So I thought it would be worth considering the question of whether and how we would allocate energy resources to agriculture, say, either because of a contraction in available supply or a sudden drastic price rise.
(18 May 2008)


World Hunger, Agribusiness, and the Food Sovereignty Alternative
(32-page PDF)
Ian Angus, Socialist Voice
... The central demand of the food sovereignty movement is that food should be treated primarily as a source of nutrition for the communities and countries where it is grown. In opposition to free-trade, agroexport policies, it urges a focus on domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency.

Contrary to the assertions of some critics, food sovereignty is not a call for economic isolationism or a return to an idealized rural past. Rather, it is a program for the defense and extension of human rights, for land reform, and for protection of the earth against capitalist ecocide. In addition to calling for food self-sufficiency and strengthening family farms, La Vía Campesina’s original call for food sovereignty included these points:

  • Guarantee everyone access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity.

  • Give landless and farming people - especially women - ownership and control of the land they work and return territories to indigenous peoples.
  • Ensure the care and use of natural resources, especially land, water and seeds. End dependence on chemical inputs, on cash-crop monocultures and intensive, industrialized production.
  • Oppose WTO, World Bank and IMF policies that facilitate the control of multinational corporations over agriculture. Regulate and tax speculative capital and enforce a strict Code of Conduct on transnational corporations.
  • End the use of food as a weapon. Stop the displacement, forced urbanization and repression of peasants.
  • Guarantee peasants and small farmers, and rural women in particular, direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels.[14]

La Vía Campesina’s demand for food sovereignty constitutes a powerful agrarian program for the 21st century. Labour and left movements worldwide should give full support to it and to the campaigns of working farmers and peasants for land reform and against the industrialization and globalization of food and farming.
(May 2008)
Portions are available in HTML
Part One
Part Two

This booklet was published by a Marxist group in Canada, but I think the idea of "food sovereignty is espoused by a much wider range of political beliefs. In the 20th century, a premiere agricultural strategy by Communist governments was Collective Farming. As Wikipedia says, "Forced collectivization historically has had mixed results, sometimes causing famine and mass starvation when implemented on a large scale."

Food sovereignty sounds like a much better idea. -BA

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