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The Politics of Food

Last Updated: 08/13/2013 4:44 pm
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Some of us have given the name to this the great food swap, where the same thing is moving in two directions. And in every country exports are being subsidized and local is being punished, so that long-distance imports become cheap whereas local supply becomes costly. To build local food economies means cracking the second lie of cheap food. It is not cheap if you internalize the costs to the land, to the farmers, to the atmosphere, to biodiversity, and to public health.

Eating as an ecological act
I mentioned the billion who are hungry because of not having enough to eat. But the same system is giving us two billion who are suffering another kind of malnutrition, the malnutrition of the wrong kind of food—the kind of malnutrition symbolized so dramatically in that film Supersize Me. Obesity has become one of the biggest killers of our time, and it is totally linked to rotten food. I would call it nonfood. We are eating nonfood. We are eating things that are not worthy of being eaten.

In fact, there was a big international cultural congress in Spain, and I had to go talk about ecology. And I had a group of Vedic singers with me, brilliant, beautiful women, who did Vedic chants. And I had been asked to serve an organic meal, so they had carried our organic food from India, and we were going to cook an organic meal. So these women came to me and said, “Can you please give us some of that grain?” I said, “Of course. But why do you need it?” They gave me a word which I had no idea exists. They said, “The food here is abaksha.” I said, “What does that mean?” Baksha means worthy of consuming. Abaksha means unworthy of consuming. Our food has been rendered abaksha.

And I think the highest level of ethics is the ethics of recognizing that we are violating our own bodies, we are violating the sacred trust of our lives by bombarding ourselves with food unworthy of being called food. That’s why some of us around the world have said we need to move away from the language of being consumers, because, you know, the word “consumption” came out of tuberculosis in the Middle Ages. It was meant to describe that which kills. And our current food systems do kill. They kill the planet, they kill the farmers, they kill our health.

We need to move into another way of thinking, of eating as an ecological act, an ethical act, a political act, but a productive act. That in the very act of eating you are deciding how many species will live, in the very act of eating you are deciding whether the ice caps will melt and the sea will rise three meters or our coastal communities will have a chance, in the very act of eating you’re deciding whether creative people can work creatively with the land.

This figure of 2 percent feeding America, people try to apply that model to India. Seventy percent of India lives in rural areas linked to farming. They keep saying, “It should become like America, two percent.” I always say, “My God, this is going to be the second sea-level rise, because the only place to dump all the farmers is in the Arabian Ocean.” They’re not going to be IT software people.

I did a very rough calculation. If you add not just the people who actually work the land but you add the people who make the pesticides, you add the people who work in Monsanto’s labs, you add the people who work in the banks that give the loans, you add the people who drive these horrendous monsters on the highways called container trucks, blindly, miles and miles and miles, thousands of miles shipping food around, you add the Wal-Mart cash register people who are overexploited, if you add all of that, 50 percent of humanity will always be involved in making food possible, its production, its distribution.

We can either put 90 percent of that 50 percent in destructive work, in a food war, and have 10 percent working as farmers, or we can put the 100 percent of that 50 percent in the creative work of creating an ethical, sustainable food system.

This speech was originally broadcast on Alternative Radio; www.alternativeradio.org.

President Bush uses a hand tool during his visit to the Acharya N.G. Ranga Agriculture University in Hyderabad, India, on March 3, 2006.
  • President Bush uses a hand tool during his visit to the Acharya N.G. Ranga Agriculture University in Hyderabad, India, on March 3, 2006.
A farmer rests upon the sacks of wheat at a grain market in Kharar town, in the northern Indian state of Punjab on May 9, 2006.
  • A farmer rests upon the sacks of wheat at a grain market in Kharar town, in the northern Indian state of Punjab on May 9, 2006.

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