The conversation on food just keeps getting larger. The latest eyecatching recognition of this issue’s importance is a special “Food Issue” put out by prominent weekly The Nation, whose banner evokes the question: “What’s Next for the Global Food Movement?” Of course, there’s no easy answer to a question that big, so The Nation gathered a bumper crop of new work by leading thinkers on the subject--including our own Raj Patel and 2004-2006 fellow Anna Lappé.
Raj contributes his expertise on global hunger in an essay entitled, “Why Hunger Is Still With Us.” He reminds us of the still-wide disparities between the global North and the South, which bears the brunt of a globally unjust food system, and that the causes of that injustice reach far beyond the usual who’s-who in agribusiness and American politics.
Anna Lappé tries to get at those same injustices from a different angle, tackling the question, “Is food a human right?” She interviews Nobel Prize–winning Indian economist Amartya Sen, who challenges us that Yes, it absolutely is, though it’s not likely to be recognized as such in the United States any time soon.
There’s plenty of other food for thought in The Nation’s “Food Issue,” including contributions by Frances Moore Lappé, Eric Schlosser, and Vandana Shiva. The overall mood is especially well-captured in a new essay by Michael Pollan, “How Change Is Going to Come in the Food System.” There is a strikingly consistent recognition among all the contributors here that, although the food movement has made huge strides in capturing the hearts of the citizenry and the media, its biggest obstacles remain intractable. The undercurrent here is that, though widespread enthusiasm, grassroots action, and a vibrant national discourse on food are cause for great optimism, the unjust, unsustainable infrastructure of global capitalism made our food system what it is today--and that’s more powerful than ever.
Michael Pollan’s piece addresses this conundrum head-on, describing, as he puts it, “the marked split between the movement’s gains in the soft power of cultural influence and its comparative weakness in conventional political terms.” Pollan foresees a shift of political will amid the growing health care crisis in America, though Raj Patel addresses the need for more fundamental changes in how we see the problem; he writes, “We’ve seen the global food movement take up cudgels against climate change, land speculation and agrofuels...A truly democratic food system will need to rewrite the rules of the financial system. That can’t happen without naming and confronting capitalism as the enemy of food sovereignty.”
If that sounds intimidating, Raj leaves us with this bottom line: “We need concrete ways of growing, eating and sharing food that make people’s lives better.” As we consider the question of where to go from here, that’s as clear and purposeful a manifesto as you’re likely to find for this thing we call “the food movement.”