Friday, May 4, 2012

RAJ PATEL:Revolutionary consciousness and going deep to the roots of the food problems. Food Revolution Summit

The Politics of Dinner Food Policy for Healthy People
My words: Nobody takes the time of thinking about: What kind of interests are behind the food industry, the corporations, the factory farming, the agro-toxic agriculture, the dairy and catlle industry, as well as the processed food? -People just eat more and more without reading ingredients, without caring.

Words from the Food Revolution Summit:

Raj Patel, who is both a brilliant scholar and a passionate advocate for social justice in food policy.  The author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, Raj shared compelling commentary, including:
“People should be free to consume what they like.  But if you’re serious about that, then why is it that the playing field is so tilted towards processed foods from the largest corporations?  Why is it so much cheaper to buy the least healthy foods?”
“One of the reasons that factory farming is possible is that the farms don’t have to pay the real costs of the pollution they produce.  The costs of the waste and contamination, the environmental and social costs associated with the production of meat today enables the industry to be profitable precisely because the industry is able to escape the consequences of their actions.”
“To some extent the extra cash that was left over from the oil and housing bubbles bursting went to (investment in) food (commodities), which drove up the price of food.  So you had speculators on Wall Street betting on an increase in the price of food.  And you saw retailers seeing if they could get away with an increase in their price of food, too.
“Higher food prices have had an important impact in terms of political instability around the world. The Arab Spring movement actually started in Algeria with street demonstrations protesting the rising price of wheat.”
“Can we ever end hunger?  Yes we can.  But it’s going to take political will to end poverty, rather than just providing more food on the bread line.  We need to make sure that everyone can eat, and live in dignity.”

An excerpt of the interview:
Ocean Robbins: Welcome to The Food Revolution Summit where we explore how you can heal your body and your world with food. This is Ocean Robbins and I am joined by my dad, John Robbins, in welcoming our guest Raj Patel.  Raj Patel is an award winning writer, activist and academic.  He has degrees from the University of Oxford, the London School of Economics and Cornell University.  He is currently a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for African Studies.  He’s also an honorary research fellow at the School of Development Studies in Africa and he is a fellow at the Institute for Food and Development Policy.  Raj is the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and his latest New York Times bestseller is called the Value of Nothing.  There’s an old saying that we need to think globally and act locally.  You can’t get a lot more local than the food on your plate.  Raj illumines the direct link between what we eat and the world that we create.  He shows how we’re impacted by global food systems and how we can contribute to their transformation.  So now Raj my dad and I feel so honored to have this time with you and I’m so grateful to welcome you onto this call.  Here to interview you is my dad, John Robbins.
John Robbins: Thank you Ocean and Raj I join Ocean in welcoming you and it’s a privilege.
John Robbins: I appreciate your thoughts very much.  The Wal-Martization of the country and of the food supply has been taking place and in that wages are suppressed.  Barry Estabrook which I’m sure you are familiar with has written a tremendous book Tomatoland that exposes the working and the living conditions of exploited farm workers.  He began his research, as I’m sure you know, to discover why the fresh tomatoes that are available at most stores today are so tasteless.  He wound up uncovering that the conditions under which the laborers worked are just deplorable.  He found people chained inside their living quarters to prevent them from running away.  This is slavery: forced to buy their food and supplies from company stores that grossly inflated prices, not making anything close to a livable wage.  Recently Trader Joe’s finally relented after years of protest and signed an agreement, I’m sure you know, with the Coalition of the Immokalee workers agreeing to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes.  Whole Foods, Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Burger King had all signed the agreement years ago.  Finally Trader Joe’s had joined them.  How did you feel and what did you think when Trader Joe’s finally relented?
Raj Patel:  I Tweeted the word “Victory!” Because I was very pleased that a grassroots campaign led by some of the poorest people in the United States, that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers had brought this industrial food giant to the bargaining table.  I think the coalition was right to celebrate that night and then right to get up in the morning and carry on working because bear in mind what has been won here.  Before the agreement the average wage of tomato pickers was what $11,000.00 a year? That’s the average wage, lifting 2.4 tons of tomatoes every day.  What had happened now is that that wage is now nearer a whopping $20,000.00 a year for doing that work.  But no one is going to be living in the lap of luxury on $20,000.00 a year.  Now it’s true that there are some good working conditions that the Coalition has fought for and won from one of the growers and hopefully more soon.  
But this is a fight that is ongoing and I think it’s important to remember that what we ought not be letting the retailers that command our food systems off the hook just because they finally relented, you know, moved the needle from intolerable working conditions to barely tolerable but still kind of bad in the long term.  And again if we’re thinking about revolutionary food this isn’t the revolution but it’s a step.  I think what also happened along the way is that more and more people have been brought into the discussion.  I mean Barry’s terrific book is luckily one of a few different places that you can find about what is going on with the Immokalee workers.  
Eric Schlosser the author of Fast Food Nation has been working with the Coalition for a very long time, working with unions on that for a while as well.  The joy of all of this is that there are lots of different people who are listening and trying to amplify the voices of the workers themselves.  This is the good news here that what we’re seeing more and more of in the United States is workers’ groups and communities of people who are directly affected by the food system getting together and organizing and changing the food system.  That to me is a really hopeful fire.
If we are concerned about making sure that everyone in the United States and the world gets to eat well and have jobs that are dignified and well paid, which I think at the end of the day everyone wants, then that’s not going to come through the gift of a retailer or two, it’s going to come through sustained local organizing.  And I think the joy of seeing the Coalition of the Immokalee workers win against Trader Joe’s is the joy of seeing how coalition politics works.  It wasn’t just the Coalition of the Immokalee workers it was also the faith based groups and student groups and journalists and unions all getting together and going to Congress and going to these unaccountable growers and demanding the changes take place and ultimately winning that victory.  Of course now that you’ve won one step in that victory the coalition grows stronger and stronger and hopefully well down the road of some fairly profound change in the food system in southern Florida.
John Robbins: Why do you think it was that Taco Bell and McDonald’s and Burger King signed the agreement and yet Trader Joe’s which presents itself as a more progressive and health orientated and sustainable based seller of foods was the last to do so?
Raj Patel:  Hopefully they’re not the last.  Wal-Mart has still yet to sign.  I think this goes to Fredrick Douglass’ line that “Power never concedes anything without demand.  It never has and it never will.”  So when the coalition initially started out they observed that quite a lot of their tomatoes went to Taco Bell and they figured Taco Bell would be a good target for social movement organizing.  They aimed first at Taco Bell by raising awareness around what was going on and it took a few good years for Taco Bell to do the right thing.  Then they moved on to McDonald’s and other fast food chains and then they started with Whole Foods which again Whole Foods didn’t immediately say, “Yes what we want to pay our workers” it took public outcry to get Whole Foods to do the right thing.  And then Trader Joe’s didn’t initially do the right thing.  It took public outcry for them to do the right thing. 

I think it’s a reminder to all of us that although we may see the sort of happy marketing materials of whatever kind of groovy place we get our food, that’s just to a lot of extent window dressing.  Perhaps more perniciously I think one of the things for all of us involved in the food movement who like to eat sustainably and locally and organic, that’s a terrific thing to do but invariably the voices that get dropped out are the voices of workers.  I mean right here in California for instance a couple of years back we had a woman die in the fields of an organic food producer because they weren’t allowing her to have access to water in hundred degree plus weather.  So although the label would have had a happy smiling farmer and USDA organic certified, the fact is the workers died in the making of that food right here in the United States.  

I think if we’re serious about a revolutionary food system it can’t be about the individual model of consumption where you read the label and feel good about yourself, but it’s about being connected to the entirety of the food system and invariably that means labor and that means people of color if your food is grown in the United States.  Invariably that means the people of color have picked your food or have been involved in the processing of your food and too often our voices are ignored in the debates around food and the food system.  I think that that’s also something to bear in mind that when you see the marketing of green and happy but you don’t see people in the fields then chances are the people you don’t see are going to be people of color treated badly.

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