Stuffed and Starved

Stuffed and Starved

Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System

Book - 2008?
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HARPERCOLL

For those with enough money—and that’s most of us in wealthier countries—life is good. We can eat almost anything we want, regardless of where it comes from, what season it is or how much it costs. The world is our dish, laden with more foods than we’ve ever seen in history and more calories than we know what to do with. A continent away, there are more bloated bellies, but this time from malnutrition—seemingly due to a scarcity of food. But these two contrasting worlds are linked, deeply and inextricably. In a timely look at the entire global food chain, Stuffed and Starved asks us to think about the way our food comes to us, to understand how our supermarket shopping makes us complicit in denying freedom to the world’s poorest and to recognize how we ourselves are poisoned by our choices.

Raj Patel, an author uniquely qualified to take a long, broad view of world food production, looks at food systems—the machine most of us don’t even know exists—and the web made up of corporations, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, farmers’ groups, government agencies and corporate lobbyists. From farm to fork, Patel travels to rural collectives in Brazil, investigates the all-powerful distribution networks, serves up the specific journeys of coffee, soy and high-fructose corn syrup, and visits the kitchens of fast-food restaurants. What he uncovers is the shocking story of commercial greed and helpless hunger that is a key ingredient in everything we eat.

Stuffed and Starved is one of the most shocking investigations into the “haves” feeding off the “have-nots” and a compelling look at how we all suffer the consequences of a food system cooked to a corporate recipe.



Publisher: Toronto : HarperCollins, [2008?]
ISBN: 9780002008112
Branch Call Number: 338.19 Pat
Characteristics: ix, 438 p. : ill.
Alternative Title: Stuffed and starved

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dnk
Feb 02, 2018

The core of Raj Patel's indictment of our current food system is that it is a reflection of our inequitable divisions in most countries. Governments are motivated to provide cheap food for urban populations not because it is the right thing to do, but because the alternatives are worse. If this weren't an available remedy, urban workers would either demand an increased in wages or vote out politicians who couldn't feed them--or both. Urban centers have this disproportionate power in large part because of their concentrated population, but this seems to be a long-standing political arrangement (see The City: A World History (New Oxford World History).

Cheap food would imply increased production, and therein lies the initial argument and support for the Green Revolution and its successor, GMO technology. However, the parties who benefited most from those programs were, not surprisingly, the chemical companies who created both the fertilizers and genetically modified organisms. While people (and especially farmers) were indeed suffering from food insecurity in the countries that saw the biggest marketing push for those technologies, this was not due to food scarcity or decreasing yields. In fact, in the years leading up to the Green Revolution, productivity was rising. What was keeping food from getting to the population were the economic policies imposed on debtor nations by organizations such as the World Bank (which Patel was employed by for several years). The sad fact was that agricultural productivity might rise for a year or two after new fertilizers or GMO seeds were introduced, but would then fall dramatically after that period. Patel links this cycle to the rise in farmer suicides, particularly in India.

This is all damning stuff (Patel lays out his case more elegantly than I have), but his most powerful point is even deeper. In spite of the rhetoric Big Food uses to imply that consumers should be given a "choice" that includes all of their myriad products, regardless of nutritional value, labor abuses or environmental degradation associated with it, Patel challenges the notion that the opposite of choice is coercion; he argues instead that the true impediment to choice is instinct, especially if it's conditioned from infancy to desire things that don't serve its interest. Patel is hardly the first person to argue that constant exposure to marketing has turned modern consumers into clockwork oranges, but he believes that we can be "deprogrammed". The first step, as uncomfortable as it is, is to distrust your instincts.

Patel is a calm revolutionary, and those who find themselves nodding along to his analysis may be put off by the logical conclusions he points to: eat seasonally and locally (he doesn't share the DIY fetish for canning) and be willing to pay more for your food, especially if it's derived from an animal. Hardly feel good reading, but any good book should make its readers squirm a little bit.

b
blolo
May 14, 2010

i'd be more interested in this book if it had spent a larger portion of the book proposing concrete solutions/suggestions, rather than decrying well documented problems.

also - it is so one sided. the solutions that patel DOES propose create problems in their own right - a truly "fair" discussion and assessment of the international food system would pay attention to these trade offs too. i tend to lean left, but i don't think that ignoring such challenges does anybody any favours.

y
ylh
Jan 21, 2010

Timely, incisive work. Must read for everyone.

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