Food System in Global Justice Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1567 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Agriculture

Global Food

Global Justice and the Food System

In a world where obesity is the number one public health concern in many countries at the same time as the rest of the world is suffering from under-nutrition, it makes sense to ask about the global food system that would allow, or even create, such gross inequities. Ever since the Green Revolution began decades ago, the influence of agri-business has been felt in trade circles, development planning, community health, and a host of other related disciplines. Trade policies favor the food that is produced by the most powerful countries, at the direct expense of poor states. Subsidies create conditions that are durable, and those powerful agricultural firms are likely to remain so. Fertilizer companies have strong business relationships with food producers, and that mutually beneficial partnership is damaging for food consumers and the planet. Challenging this status quo is difficult. The most powerful governments, businesses, and international organizations helped to create the system and directly or indirectly stand to benefit from its continuation.

Some scholars have begun to speak out about these problems, and a wave of interest around the world has helped to foster early signs of change. Community-supported agriculture, for example, unheard-of a decade ago, is now a mainstream piece of many sustainable development policies. World Bank and World Trade Organization policies now pay attention to the global food crisis and may be shifting their policies to more directly benefit the world's hungry. With half of the world's population hungry (Holt-Gimenez, 2008), this issue can no longer be ignored. This essay will review the causes of the global food crisis with particular attention on the insights of Raj Patel. From there, an analysis of responsibility will suggest ways in which the system might effectively be changed. Nothing short of a global revolution would resolve the situation in a comprehensive way; however, smaller reforms are doable at even the smallest local level and must not be overlooked in the rush to achieve large scale change.

Current Global Food System

The Unjust System

According to Raj Patel, a food activist and economist, the roots of the global food system are inherently unjust. Corporate agriculture has replaced subsistence and family farming in much of the industrialized world. These massive factory farms use fertilizers and pesticides, which are unhealthy building blocks for a global food system. The same farms sponsor complex and highly developed lobbying arms that fight for ongoing subsidies to support existing unhealthy agricultural practices.

These global multi-national companies have global reach and global impacts. For example, Patel points to the role of the World Bank in financing land access -- what he calls "land grab investment strategies" -- for global agri-business. When an international bank backs those land use practices, it effectively removes families and individuals from access to the very land they need to grow healthy produce and feed their own families inexpensively. Instead, people in developing countries are being forced off their land as it is given away to agri-businesses, many of whose products are exported to wealthier countries, grown with fertilizers, or otherwise made unavailable for the nutritional needs of the local population.

Proximate causes of food shortages are reported on the news. We hear about drought or shifts in oil prices or climate. However, these changes ignore the root causes of injustice. The food system is so vulnerable to so many shifts precisely because of "the risks, inequities, and externalities inherent in food systems that are dominated by a global industrial agri-foods complex," (Holt-Gimenez, 2008: 7). Imagine a global food system that was dominated not by massive agri-business but instead by countless smaller, local farms. If one area of the country was hit with drought, there would be thousands of other sources for healthy food. If oil prices spiked, food access wouldn't be dramatically affected if it was produced locally. Even climate change wouldn't have such dramatic and catastrophic results if the sources of food were more evenly spread.

Another root of injustice, according to Patel, is the advertising industry. He is particularly worried about junk food advertising directed at children. Since children don't have fully formed critical thinking skills, selling products to them is akin to preying upon the immature to make a profit. Indeed, according to Patel, "when it comes to children, advertising is far closer to brainwashing," (Patel). Parents, too, are victims of the advertising world. Their children beg for McDonalds and cash and time-strapped parents are not provided with real alternatives.

Other activists tend to agree with Patel that the root causes of food injustice like with global agri-business, the subsidies that support them, and the global capitalist system that sustains them. When those large firms are given such leeway in land use, export models, and growing systems, the small farmer and, indeed, the individual human being who has few choices but to consume the food that is available, loses. Some scholars go so far as to link the global food situation with global poverty: "decades of skewed agricultural policies, inequitable trade, and unsustainable development have thrown the world's food systems into a volatile, boom and bust cycle and widened the gap between affluence and poverty," (Holt-Gimenez, 2008: 4).

Who is Responsible?

For many of the components described above, it is straightforward to identify responsibility. In some cases, however, rather than point at an individual or even an organization, it is processes or trends that can be identified as responsible. Digging beneath those concepts to find a person or entity to blame is more challenging. For example, the Green Revolution, whereby developing countries were encouraged to adopt high-yield agricultural methods, was propagated through a broad range of governmental agencies, non-profits, and international organizations. Likely, many of those entities had only positive intentions and the negative outcomes were unexpected. Still, Patel points out that the results were "more harm than good," and he does not hesitate to blame the international financial organizations that funded and exported agricultural methods associated with the Green Revolution.

Similarly, free trade and capitalism may be identified as forces that contribute to existing food injustice. Again, who or what is to be blamed for this system? Many are tempted to point the finger at the International Monetary Fund for its misguided structural adjustment programs, or to the World Trade Organization for administering so many free trade agreements around the world. However, in my opinion these accusations are unfair. International financial and trade organizations may be guilty of responding to their wealthiest contributors -- the U.S. And Western Europe -- but the organizations themselves cannot be held to blame for a system that they did not intentionally create.

The Nature of Change

Now that we live in a world that has re-created the way food is produced, grown, packaged, shipped, and consumed, it will be incredibly difficult to reform it. That is, the system has created itself and is comprised of the moving parts that reinforce one another. Fertilizer companies sell to large agri-businesses. Those businesses in turn have access to enormous tracts of land, thanks in part to world development institutions and lax international regulations. Exporting the food that is grown internationally falls into a fully developed free trade system that involves dozens of countries and an immensely complex web of trade rules and practices. Even tackling just the advertising piece, even just in a developed country like the U.S., would be daunting. Free speech and free trade are formative principles of American life. Just because McDonald's is bad for you doesn't mean we can keep Ronald off our TV screens.

For these reasons, many have noted that only full-scale revolution can have the transformative effect that may be necessary. However, based on the arguments presented here, I feel there is room for small scale change. Certainly the global… [END OF PREVIEW]

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