Nourish Life interviews Raj Patel
What is “food sovereignty”? How does it relate to “food security”?
What does it mean to be free from hunger? Food security is the idea that governments use to talk about citizens not being hungry, and it means that you have access to enough food to live healthily. Sounds like a good definition, except for when you realize that it’s possible to be food secure, say, in prison. You’ve got access, after all, so you’re not going hungry. But food security never talks about power in the food system—just your access to food. Food sovereignty is like food security, except that under food sovereignty, communities actually get to shape their own food policy and shape the terms under which everyone gets to eat.
What’s the connection between food sovereignty and democracy?
If we’re genuinely to have power over our food system we need to be able to decide the rules of the game, deliberatively and with respect for everyone’s rights. That’s what democracy means. Unfortunately, most of us are still waiting for real democracy and, instead, we’ve been fobbed off with its poor cousin—consumer choice.
How do US food policies affect farmers around the world?
Very little in our modern diets comes from the places where we eat. Most food carries with it a long and global history—the soy oil in your processed food (and most vegetable oil is soy-based) comes from Asia, tomatoes from the Americas, chickens from India, and so on.
That history is very much alive today. Our modern diets depend on an entire system of exchange to get our daily bread onto our plates. It means that our demands shape the way land is used around the world, which prevents citizens in those countries making decisions about their shared resources. Worse, our food system demands are also making us the playthings of food corporations, who make record profits at the same time as rates of diabetes and obesity soar.
Increasingly, if you’re a large-scale farmer with access to resources, globalization has been bountiful—markets have opened up so that you can grow crops not only for human consumption, but also for industrial animal feed and even for fuel. But for many smaller-scale farmers, a world of reduced government support and increased corporate control has been far from a blessing.
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