Sunday, 15 June 2008

From "Stuffed and Starved" by Raj Patel

"The alternative to eating the way we do today promises to solve hunger and diet-related disease, by offering a way of eating and growing food that is environmentally sustainable and socially just. Understanding the ills of the way food is grown and eaten also offers the key to greater freedom, and a way of reclaiming the joy of eating. The task is as urgent as the prize is great.

In every country, the contradictions of obesity, hunger, poverty and wealth are becoming more acute. India has, for example, destroyed millions of tons of grains, permitting food to rot in sols, while the quality of food eaten by India's poorest is getting worse for the first time since independence in 1947. In 1992, in the same towns and villages where malnutrition had begun to grip the poorest families, the Indian government admitted foreign soft drinks manufacturers and food multinationals to its previously protected economy. Within a decade, India has become home to the world's largest concentration of diabetics: people - often children - whose bodies have fractured under the pressure of eating too much of the wrong kinds of food.

India isn't the only home to these contrasts. They're global, and they're present even in the world's richest country. In the United States in 2005, 35.1 million people didn't know where their next meal was coming from. At the same time, there is more diet-related disease like diabetes, and more food, in the US than ever before.

It's easy to become inured to this contradiction; it's daily version causes only mild discomfort, walking past the 'homeless and hungry' signs on the way to supermarkets bursting with food. There are moral emollients to balm a troubled conscience: the poor are hungry because they are lazy, or perhaps the wealthy are fat because they eat too richly. This vein of folk wisdom has a long pedigree. Every culture has had, in some form or another, an understanding of our bodies as public ledgers on which is written the catalogue of our private vices. The language of condemnation doesn't, however, help us understand why hunger, abundance and obesity are more compatible on our planet than they have ever been.

Moral condemnation only works if the condemned could have done things differently, if they had choices. Yet the prevalence of hunger and obesity affect populations with far too much regularity, in too many different places, for it to be the result of some personal failing...

...As consumers, we're encouraged to think that an economic system based on individual choice will save us from the collective ills of hunger and obesity. Yet it is precisely 'freedom of choice' that has incubated these ills. Those of us able to head to the supermarket can boggle at the possibility of choosing from 50 brands of sugared cereals, from half a dozen kinds of milk that all taste like chalk, from shelves of bread so sopped in chemicals that they will never go off, from aisles of products in which the principal ingredient is sugar. British children are, for instance, able to select from twenty-eight branded breakfast cereals the marketing of which is aimed directly at them. The sugar content of twenty-seven of these exceeds the government's recommendations. Nine of these children's cereals are 40 per cent sugar. It's hardly surprising, then, that 8.5 per cent of six-year olds and more than one in ten fifteen-year olds in the UK are obese. And the levels are increasing. The breakfast cereal story is a sign of a wider systemic feature: there's every incentive for food producing corporations to sell food that has undergone processing which renders it more profitable, if less nutritious. Incidentally, this explains why there are so many more varieties of breakfast cereals on sale than varieties of apples."

from the introduction to "Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World's Food System", by Raj Patel.

Last year on this date I was still caught up in the newness of it all: Asparagus with Shiitake Mushrooms, Quick & Dirty Sautéed Chicken, Barley Pilaf with Saffron & Chives, and Mushroom Soup. Woah Nelly!

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