Jan. 24, 2013 - Issue #901: Children can’t choose
Shining a light on food inequality
Raj Patel pushes for a culture of sustainability rather than convenience
The rain was hammering down on the roof of five-year-old Raj Patel's cab while visiting India with his parents, and through the driving droplets, he spotted a young girl standing in the midst of it all, soaked to the bone, begging for food.
Something transformative sparked inside him, prompting him to question why she was outside and he wasn't, why he had money and she didn't, why he had food and she went hungry.
"Every kid is hardwired and every human being is hardwired to understand issues of fairness," says Patel, whose questions as a child have led him to his current path as a renowned journalist, activist and author. "For me, it was the moment where those questions of fairness became very acute, and it was a very emotional moment for me. I still think about it, and that was the moment when I was thinking about fairness, particularly when it came to food."
Now regarded around the world as the "rock star of social justice writing," Patel, the New York Times bestselling author of The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy and Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System is addressing audiences in regards to the need to change our food systems and encouraging people and organizations to build better ways to eat today in order to eat well tomorrow.
Patel points out that worldwide, 850 million people are malnourished, and in the US alone, where he currently resides, that number breaks down to a staggering 50 million people. While so many go hungry, those who have access to food have grown accustomed to a culture of convenience rather than sustainability, and the corporate monopolization of food has driven that half of the world's population to increasing rates of obesity, diabetes and a myriad of health problems.
"One can trace back to colonialism the advent of some of these inequalities," Patel says. "In the modern day, you can find organizations like the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, and also, many of the companies that profit from the actions of these multilateral institutions that offer development, but often end up refashioning the world, the food, the interests of the most powerful rather than the poorest."
Patel strives to encourage a culture of sustainability and believes at their core, people do really want to change and work towards making better food choices, but sympathizes that we are a time-starved society.
"I mean, everyone wants to do the right thing; no one takes pleasure in being a bastard, but one has to appreciate that we live in the real world where you know, maybe you've got kids to look after, you have dependents to take care of, you're running from one thing to the other, you're trying to make ends meet," he continues. "The creation of not enough hours in the day is, in fact, part of the problem, and our poverty of time and our inability to be able to get as engaged in politics and imagining a different world, it used to be much more common ... I think what's exciting about food is that sitting down with people for a meal and discussing things can be part of the cure."
Sitting around the dinner table discussing politics or the inequalities of the world or making small shifts towards ethical consumerism may not sound like a significant contribution, but Patel maintains that it can be a step in the right direction. He notes that in our culture of convenience, we have also accepted convenient politics that has been downgraded to marking an X in a box every few years. The food movement, Patel believes, can offer a different way of understanding politics that reclaims time and space and sophistication in our daily political debates rather than in contentious politics.
"I think there's a lot more political pressure on food corporations to address issues around obesity, around marketing food to children, around issues of health," he says, adding there was a glimmer of good news in the US recently that showed there has been a slight downturn in levels of childhood obesity due to public health campaigns, but there's still a long way to go, as one in three children born today will not live to 100 years old and one in three children also suffer from Type 2 diabetes. "There is a sort of split in the equality of health outcomes when it comes to a future world, and that's something that if we don't change our food system, it's just going to be exacerbated globally."
Wed, Jan 30 (7 pm)
Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science (CCIS), Room 1-430, University of Alberta, Free
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