Interviews with experts on the science, politics, and culture of food
Part 2: Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing, explains what food sovereignty means, and why people around the world are fighting to have a say in their own food system. This is as much a fight for social and economic justice as it is a fight to protect the environment, along with the ability of communities, states, and nations to determine their own food and agriculture policies.
Using Haiti as a tragic example of misguided U.S. foreign policy, the country used to grow their own rice before our international trade policies helped Haiti to become more dependent on other nations to feed their own people.
Lest one begins to think food sovereignty only applies to developing nations, Patel explains it’s a problem here at home, as well. He refers to the plight of the tomato pickers in South Florida to be paid a living wage. During the winter months, most of the fresh tomatoes consumed in the U.S. comes from these tomato fields. The Immokalee tomato pickers have faced cruel and exploitative working conditions for years; 1/4 of them live below the poverty line. Over the years, about 1000 South Florida Immokalee pickers have been freed by authorities from what can only be described as modern slave conditions. In this example, how do we define food sovereignty as it relates to economic exploitation? In the name of free market enterprise, how far as a nation do we allow economic exploitation of our own people, and by extension, through our foreign policies and international trade laws, impose our free market values against the interests of other sovereign nations? From such a system, who truly profits, and who truly loses?
In Patel’s analysis of this struggle, food sovereignty is a deep problem that impacts social, environmental and economic concerns. He argues, our free market driven economy only exists because of the huge subsidies that are extracted from nature, and disproportionately, from women—the true costs inflicted upon the environment and upon societies remain largely a separate tab, unclaimed, and continuing to mount.