Friday, July 17, 2015

We need more than a food revolution

We may not always agree with Vandana Shiva’s positions on farming and she may not have all the answers but she does ask the right questions. She writes “Rebuilding the broken food system, its ecological cycles and the broken links between the city and the countryside means creating food-smart citizens who know what they are eating.”

India has an epidemic in life-style diseases such as diabetes, cancer, hypertension, infertility and heart attacks. In 2010 alone, India spent $32 billion on diabetes care. She repeats the truism of Feurbach from the 19th Century “We are what we eat” but goes on to explain “when we eat food full of toxic chemicals, we pay the price with our health.” Nutrition reports for India show nearly 39 per cent of India’s children are wasted and stunted. The poor are malnourished because they have no access to nutritious food. Even amongst Indians who are better off, child malnutrition is high. The malnutrition of the middle classes is rooted in nutritionally deficient diet, increasingly based on processed and junk foods.

Many pesticides, including DDT, are oestrogenic, meaning they mimic the female hormone, oestrogen, and oppose the action of the male hormone, causing male infertility. Studies show that 51 per cent of all food commodities are contaminated with pesticides. Cancer has seen an increase of 30 per cent in the last five years. Treatment cost multiplies to $300 billion. The cancer epidemic has spread wherever there is intensive use of chemicals in agriculture and dumping of toxic material by industries. This is the legacy of the Green Revolution — agriculture that cannot exist without these chemicals. India needs a “Food Revolution” — a revolution where we connect farmers and city-dwellers not merely through technology, but in reality.

Vandana Shiva’s solutions is to eat organic and to eat local.

Organic food is free of toxic chemicals that destroy soil health as well as our health. Healthy soil is the most effective way of removing carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere and undoing the climate damage caused by petrochemicals used in chemical agriculture.

Food transported to long distances requires processing, lots of chemical treatment, refrigeration and packaging that contributes to pollution, diseases and climate change. All of this packaging ends up as mountains of garbage near or in our cities. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from “food miles” and methane from garbage dumps are contributing to climate change and destabilising the planet. Eating local means reducing food miles and toxics in the food chain. Eating local means we are connecting directly with our farmers and helping them shift to agriculture that allows them to grow biodiverse, safe, healthy food that we can have access to.

Vandana, however, neglects to point to the real culprit – the capitalist system and its need to accumulate profit by industrializing the production of food. There can be no positive change to farming practices unless the existing economic system is changed. Without the imperative to make money, farmers will be free to choose the most appropriate ways to satisfy not only the needs of the local towns and cities but of the world. 

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