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What are we eating? asks January 21 issue of Other Voices

January 21, 2018

What are we eating? A simple question which opens up a labyrinth of devilishly complex issues about production and distribution, access to land, control of water, prices, health and safety, migrant labour, and much else.

For millions of people, the answer is brutally simple: not enough to survive. UNICEF estimates that 300 million children go to bed hungry each night, and that more than 8,000 children under the age of five die of malnutrition every day. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 12% of the world’s population is chronically malnourished.

How is this possible in a world where there is an enormous surplus of food, where farmers are paid not to grow food?

A short answer is that food production and distribution are driven by the need to make profits, rather than by human needs. The international system of corporate-dominated food production and sales that is misleadingly referred to as the “market” exists to maximize corporate profits. Everything follows from that. The ‘market’ responds to ‘demand’ (though that ‘demand’ is often artificially created by marketing campaigns). Bottom line: if people are hungry because they have no money to buy food, they don’t create a ‘demand’ for food, and the “market” doesn’t produce or allocate food for them.

This is not a new development. During the Irish famine of the 1840s, when one million people died of starvation, rich landowners were exporting food from Ireland. Why? Because foreign buyers could afford to pay, whereas the Irish peasants had no money with which to buy food. The Ethiopian famine of the 1980s was a similar story: the country was producing enough grain to feed everyone, and indeed continued to export food during the height of the famine.

In the past few decades, the increasing corporatization of the food system has been bringing about enormous changes.

In North America, traditional family farms are a threatened species. Large industrial farms expand, while smaller farms sell out to the big operations or, if they are close to cities, to real estate speculators and builders. Large or small, nearly all farmers are heavily in debt and trapped on a treadmill of borrowing against next year’s earnings to buy this year’s seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides, all controlled and sold by huge agribusiness corporations.

In Africa, land that has been farmed by local farmers for countless generations is being taken over by foreign mega-operations, many of them Chinese. In India, international agro-chemical monopolies have been pushing GMOs and new crop varieties, resulting in a series of rural disasters, whose consequences include a horrific wave of farmer suicides.

Another worry for anyone who consumes food – that is, everyone – is the safety of the foods that we consume. We are all guinea pigs in a massive, unprecedented, and uncontrolled experiment on human health and the earth’s ecosystems. What happens when our bodies, our lakes and rivers, our soil, and our air are saturated with an ever-increasing broth of chemicals, antibiotics, and genetically modified lifeforms?

If there is good news in all this, it is the fact that so many people are coming together to resist in various ways, large and small. This issue of Other Voices highlights a few. Many more stories and resources can be found via the Connexions website.

Other Voices is available by email, or you can see it online at

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For more information contact:
Ulli Diemer
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