Weekend Review: Food Rebellions! by Eric Holt-Gimenez and Raj Patel

Food Rebellions: Crisis and the Hunger for JusticeNow that you've read Anna Lappe's Diet for a Hot Planet, you may be saying to yourself, "That was awesome! Now I want to know all the nitty gritty details of what's wrong with our food system! Give me something loaded with stats and charts and graphs!" If so, the answer to your prayers is Food Rebellions! Crisis and the Hunger for Justice (2009) by Eric Holt-Gimenez and Raj Patel. I think this is a perfect companion book to Lappe's work. They come to the same conclusion, that a massive overhaul of our food system is needed and agroecology is what we should turn to, but while Lappe writes in a gentle tone meant to woo her audience, Holt-Gimenez and Patel give it to ya straight. This shouldn't scare you away. This book is dense, well-researched, full of history and statistics, but it is also incredibly readable and accessible. The authors use a number of tactics to help break up the load of information, such as including "boxes" in the midst of their text that contain real-world, relatable case studies of the concepts that they're exploring. They also include a helpful "resources" section and an annotated bibliography (the entire contents of which, I have placed on my reading list).

It is no secret that we are in the midst of a global food crisis that began in 2006. Between 2006 and 2008 average world prices for rice rose by 217%, wheat by 136%, corn by 125% and soybeans by 107% and they show no signs of abating. This year, we just surpassed the 1 Billion mark in number of people who are going hungry. This is something that no one is arguing about. What people are debating, however, is what the causes of the crisis are and how to best mitigate them. Holt-Gimenez and Patel build a strong case for the argument that the rise of food dependency and hunger in the global South "is not the result of overpopulation, a conspiracy, or the "invisible hand" of the market. It is the result of the systematic destruction of Southern food systems through a series of economic development projects imposed by the Northern institutions."

At the time of decolonization in the 1960s, Africa was not only self-sufficient in food, but they exported an average of 1.3 million tons of food between 1966 and 1970. Today, the continent imports 25% of its food. What happened? To figure it out, we must address the root problems of the industrial agrifoods complex. The authors lay out four key threads as to how this global system emerged: Forced development and the Green Revolution; overproduction and the dumping of commodities via "food aid"; Structural adjustment programs of the IMF (which force developing countries to purchase food on the global market, rather than to produce their own food); and regional free trade agreements (such as NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization. Together, these elements brought about poverty and overproduction, which caused the food crisis; not scarcity or overpopulation, as is often thought. In short, it's not that we can't produce enough to feed the world's hungry. It's that the world's hungry can't afford to buy the food that we produce.
From this system arises a number of problems that concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few at the expense of the many: subsidies, agrofuels driving up food prices, land grabs in the Global south by industrial giants and foreign governments, and the precarious position we are in by putting all the power for change in the hands of the private sector.

Once they have very lucidly and plainly laid out what the problems are, Holt-Gimenez and Patel set out a clear course for what needs to be done. In order to transform the food system, they say, the number one priority needs to be the removal of the structural barriers that are holding back promising alternatives (such as agroecology, organics, and the like). The rules of the food system need to be changed. The answer is not more food aid, imposing more "free trade," techno-fixes, or otherwise propping up this dysfunctional system. "We must restructure the ways we produce, process, distribute, and consume our food." This describes their key point: food sovereignty, which they (via the group Via Campesina) define as "people's right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems." Simply, people, not corporate monopolies, should make decisions about food.

5 comments:

  1. Here here! I will add it to my ever growing list!

    :)

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  2. Agreed! This does sound really interesting. As for me, I have made a pledge to myself to make an extra effort to buy locally when possible.

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  3. You always have books that pertain to what I am teaching. I will have to add this one to my list....

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  4. Great review- I probably would be the type of reader that would skim through the boxes- I am not much of a dense statistics reader- I agree that there is a problem and try and do my part, mostly by being aware and making informed choices for our food consumption.

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  5. putting it on my reading list, thanks for reviewing this, i can't believe i hadn't heard of it.

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