"Stuffed and Starved" by Raj Patel is an ambitious piece of research and critical analysis of the world food system. As both a seasoned policy analyst and news reporter, Mr. Patel's thinking has been enriched through interactions with farmers, businesspeople, policymakers, and activists in four continents. Sharing his thoughts and experiences in an intelligent, mature and accessible manner, Mr. Patel contends that the corporate dominance of the global food production and distribution system must be challenged at the pain of pushing humanity into an ever more insecure and unsustainable future.
Mr. Patel's core argument is that a relatively small number of giant corporations have used their power to benefit themselves at great cost to people's health and the environment. To help build his case, Mr. Patel traveled to Brazil, India and the U.S. to find small farmers who are all but forced to produce food under exploitative terms set by the agribusiness giants. Under these conditions, it is not surprising that farmers who are pressed to merely survive are becoming less and less concerned about conserving land and water resources, much less with preserving the unique varieties of crops that might otherwise enrich our collective experience with food. Instead, farmers tend to produce commodity goods such as soy beans that are often shipped to distant consumers located thousands of miles away; the author follows the flow of product through the supply chain to document and contrast how individual farmers receive next to nothing from their labors while heavily-capitalized distributors, processors and retailers gain enormous profits. Meanwhile, consumers in developed countries gain access to an abundance of cheap but nutritiously-dubious food while many in poorer countries live calorie-deficient lives.
Throughout the text, Mr. Patel provides valuable perspective and context. Mr. Patel views the Green Revolution of the 1960s as an attempt to help India and other recipient countries to resist communism and only secondarily as a project to support the local inhabitants. In fact, Mr. Patel discusses how the inroads made by multinational firms into the Indian farming economy has allowed these companies to successfully market patented pesticides, seeds and farm implements while simultatenously attempting to secure intellectual property rights to indigenous knowledge. Mr. Patel goes on to explain that the rubric of improving the lives of the poor has more recently been used by the biotech industry to market products such as 'golden rice', a food that offers a non-solution to the underlying conditions that drive poverty and malnutrition.
Interestingly, Mr. Patel shows how the military's development of packaged foods production and distribution laid the groundwork for the industrial system we take for granted today. Mr. Patel deconstructs the modern supermarket to demonstrate that the illusion of choice serves to alienate and distract us from our relative powerlessness, pointing out that the corporate food system's heavy dependence on oil exposes society to disaster in the event of supply disruption. Fortunately, the author also discusses how people are beginning to challenge the corporate model, including farmer co-ops, the slow food movement, organic foods, and other strategies. The author is hopeful that reclaiming our food rights can become the basis for a more humane and equitable relationship between people and help to heal the planet that sustains us all.
I highly recommend this outstanding book to everyone.