Food for You, Me and the Environment

So yesterday we had a little reminder of all the people out there who are starving. We also named some of the responsible for it.

Today, it’s time to look at a possible solution. One which can even solve many more problems we are facing in the world today.

The United Nations have introduced the notion of food security to describe the state they want to achieve, being simply that everyone has enough food. The peasants – as we have seen yesterday, they are often the ones which suffer most from the global food market – have another proposition. They speak about “food sovereignty“. It includes many more elements. It means not caring only about producing enough food, but also including social and environmental concerns and the question about who takes decisions concerning food and the production of food.

Food sovereignty has been introduced by La Via Campesina and the international peasant movement. They are one of the most important social movements in the world today. Their discourse is offering us real alternatives to the globalized, neoliberal system we have today. La Via Campesina gives voice to small farmers, farm workers, indigenous people, landless peasants and rural women and youth. The peasant movement is also an important actor within the World Social Forum.

Back to food sovereignty, I find the following description quite emblematic:

For an agriculture with peasants; For fishing with fisherfolk; For livestock with pastoralists; For territories with indigenous people; For wholesome food for all consumers; For labor with workers’ rights; For a future with youth in the countryside; For food sovereignty with women; For a healthy environment for all.

That’s how the report Towards a Green Food System starts off. The report tries to explain “how food sovereignty can save the environment and feed the world”. That is already a quite promising subtitle. Basically, the main idea is caught up in the Declaration from the Nyéléni 2007 Forum for Food Sovereignty which “affirms that we are long overdue for a food system that puts those who produce, distribute, and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.”

Food sovereignty means coming back to the local, coming back to conserving seeds, to subsistence farming but also promoting eco-friendly technologies for food production and sustainable management of resources: “Food sovereignty advocates believe that yields high enough to feed the planet can be accomplished through agroecology rather than chemical additives; emphasizing biodiversity, intercropping, local markets, organic cultivation; and prioritizing agriculture for food over fuel production. Instead of promoting genetically modified crops, the emphasis should be on preserving our abundant biodiversity. In particular, seeds—the very lifeblood of agriculture—must remain biodiverse and ecologically appropriate, controlled not by corporations but by family farmers.”

Back in the time, our ancestors knew exactly how to produce food without needing herbicides and pesticides on the base of fossil fuels. They didn’t need GM crops either. I’m not sure what we will run out on first, the environment or oil but those things definitely don’t last forever. The international peasant movements tries to conserve the knowledge which has existed for a long time and go back to it before it is too late.

Here are some more nice extracts from the report: Just a reminder: “Pesticides kill wildlife.”, “Agricultural fertilizers pollute our waters.” Did you know that “today, just three food crops—rice, wheat, and corn— provide 60 percent of our plant-based diet?”

Finally an alarming quote from the report: “Five companies control 75 percent of the global vegetable seed market, and their grip on the market is tightening…. As a former Monsanto executive boasted not long ago, ‘What you are seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies, it’s really a consolidation of the entire food chain…. The first stop (and often the permanent stop) for displaced peasants is a cardboard box on the edge of the capital city.'” Is this really what we want?

Picture by donkeycart, thank you!

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4 thoughts on “Food for You, Me and the Environment

  1. UNDP (United Nations Development Program) has established Millennium Development Goals that fit into eight categories: http://www.beta.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/mdgoverview.html The first of these categories is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. There are many issues contributing to this problem and so many solutions are necessary. One thing is clear: both science and history have shown us that what we thought were solutions thirty years ago in fact were not. Some of the plans that we thought would change the world did little more than change bank accounts. This means that we need to work more with developing world people and work less with first world corporations.

    Before we “help” people in developing countries by showing them how to surround an entire village with GMO gorn, read this excerpt on diet from “At Home” by Bill Bryson:

    “Even at the fanciest restaurants, we still eat the same narrow range of meats and grains first domesticated and cultivated in the Neolithic period. Our hunter-gatherer forbears ate surprising well, and we were reduced to narrowed, poorer diets when we first moved from hunter-gatherer societies to city-based agricultural societies. These narrowed diets brought stunted growth and greater disease. So why did we transition from the relative freedom and better food of hunter-gatherer societies to the serfdom and disease of agricultural societies? In part because the percentage of deaths by warfare fell to single digits from rates that had been well over 50% for some hunter-gatherers:
    “It is not as if farming brought a great improvement in living standards. … A typical hunter-gatherer enjoyed a more varied diet and consumed more protein and calories than settled people, and took in five times as much vitamin C as the average person today. Even in the bitterest depths of the ice ages, we now know, nomadic people ate surprisingly well – and surprisingly healthily. Settled people, by contrast, became reliant on a much smaller range of foods, which all but ensured dietary insufficiencies. The three great domesticated crops of prehistory were rice, wheat, and maize, but all had significant drawbacks as staples. As the journalist John Lanchester explains: ‘Rice inhibits the activity of Vitamin A; wheat has a chemical that impedes the action of zinc and can lead to stunted growth; maize is deficient in essential amino acids and contains phytates, which prevent the absorption of iron.’ The average height of people actually fell by almost six inches in the early days of farming in the Near East. Even on Orkney, where prehistoric life was probably as good as it could get, an analysis of 340 ancient skeletons showed that hardly any people lived beyond their twenties.
    “What killed the Orcadians was not dietary deficiency but disease. People living together are vastly more likely to spread illness from household to household, and the close exposure to animals through domestication meant that flu (from pigs or fowl), smallpox and measles (from cows and sheep), and anthrax (from horses and goats, among others) could become part of the human condition, too. As far as we can tell, virtually all of the infectious diseases have become endemic only since people took to living together. Settling down also brought a huge increase in ‘human commensals’ – mice, rats, and other creatures that live with and off us – and these all to often acted as disease vectors.
    “So sedentism meant poorer diets, more illness, lots of toothache and gum disease, and earlier deaths. What is truly extraordinary is that these are all still factors in our lives today. Out of the thirty thousand types of edible plants thought to exist on Earth, just eleven – corn, rice, wheat, potatoes, cassava, sorghum, millet, beans, barley, rye, and oats – account for 93 percent of all that humans eat, and every one of them was first cultivated by our Neolithic ancestors. Exactly the same is true of husbandry. The animals we raise for food today are eaten not because they are notably delectable or nutritious or a pleasure to be around, but because they were the ones first domesticated in the Stone Age.
    “We are, in the most fundamental way, Stone Age people ourselves. From a dietary point of view, the Neolithic period is still with us. We may sprinkle our dishes with bay leaves and chopped fennel, but underneath it all is Stone Age food. And when we get sick, it is Stone Age diseases we suffer.”

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