I am headed out in a few hours by bus to Des Moines, Iowa to Occupy the World Food Prize.
I don’t travel casually any more, so it takes something to get me out of Oklahoma and onto a bus for a 12 hour ride to Des Moines. No, I don’t fly anymore either. Been there, done that, had enough. One of the critical things I do to keep my household emissions below the Kyoto Protocol annual allowance is to avoid air travel. I am not one to tell myself that I am so important that, you know, it’s OK for me to fly because I am a North American of the White Persuasion and thus entitled to burn all the hydrocarbons I please. Bus travel is about as frugal as it gets in terms of both fuel and troublesome emissions into the atmosphere so if I am going outside of a 200 mile or so range, and I can’t get there by bus or train, then I am not going. If I don’t have time to take the bus, I don’t have time for the trip.
I recommend that everybody follow this same example. Stop telling yourself that you are entitled to all the hydrocarbons you can gulp, because you are not that entitled.
But anyway, enough pious exhortations, let’s get back to Occupying the World Food Prize.
One of the lies the proponents of GMOs say is that we will have to farm with genetically modified crops, because (a) there will be so many people in the future we can only feed them if we can grow franken-foods, and (b) the climate will be so terrible that we will need franken-food plants so they can survive. Leaving aside the Very Interesting Admission from a group of Very Rich and Powerful CORPORATIONS that the climate future looks GRIM, let us examine the real truth about hunger on this planet.
The primary driver of famine is not an absolute shortage of food, but rather toxic political and economic systems. The work of Nobel Prize winter Amartya Sen is definitive on this issue.
As the Irish peasants, dependent upon potatoes, starved, the English landlords were exporting grain for cash money. Because their tenants had no money to buy grain, they starved. The British ruling class political and economic aristocracy at the time refused to allocate any money for famine relief. They didn’t care much for the Irish anyway, and were content to let them starve or emigrate.
Stalin starved the kulaks to get rid of them. The Bengal famine of 1943 was caused by rapidly rising prices for food, driven by British military acquisitions, and aggravated by colonial bureaucracies too stoopid to see what was going on around them. In areas close to the border of Japanese-occupied Burma, the British military seized all transport, including boats and elephants, but then provided no rations for the people who were no longer able to fish or trade for food. Much of the male population was sequestered in labor camps, but their families were left outside to starve. The wages of urban laborers did not keep up with the inflation, and so it came to pass that 3 million starved to death.
In the Ethiopian famine of 1973, food was moved out of the areas of most extreme hunger because better prices could be found elsewhere.
The government of North Korea follows economic, social, and political policies so toxic that more than a million have starved to death there.
So it goes into the modern world.
The United States subsidizes grain and corn production. This encourages gigantic surpluses. We dump them on the world food market at low prizes. This drives many small farmers in poor countries out of business because they can’t compete. So they migrate to the slums on the outskirts of major third world cities and live with malnutrition and hunger every day.
Here at home, the policy of “get big or get out” has reduced the number of farms, made them bigger, and more reliant than ever on government subsidies to make up for basic economic insanity of our political criminality and economic irrationality. Rural hunger is as big an issue as urban.
The eyes of many will be on the World Food prize narrative — get big or get out, use GMO seeds, blast your plants with herbicides and pesticides, nature is our enemy, we must make war! This is a narrative of famine and hunger and world scale disaster.
We will offer a counter narrative of food systems as communities and ecosystems, a human scale project that works with nature with an approach of stewardship and an avoidance of domination.
That’s a necessary message and makes it worth the trip.