by Lotty Clare
We are all actors in a global hegemonic food and agricultural system that is increasingly undemocratic, unjust, and dominated by corporate interest in the hands of a rich minority. Part 1 explored how this has happened and the impacts of power concentration and intensification of agriculture globally. Much of the food we buy from supermarkets is packaged in plastic, , and has thousands air-miles attached to it as it has often been shipped across the world before reaching our trollies. The public has lost a connection to the land and lacks any kind of relationship to where its food comes from, and how it is grown, and indeed there is a great deal of ignorance around food production, nutrition, storage and even cooking. Sadly, it is ultimately the poorest and more marginalised people in society who are impacted the most by food poverty, having to buy and consume cheap food with poor nutritional value. Amidst rising levels of food poverty in the UK, we also have vast amounts of food waste on a household and commercial level, as about ⅓ of food is wasted.
Companies have not only shaped policy to benefit their profit-making activities as discussed in Part 1, but they have also shaped our values, opinions and understanding of food and agriculture by reducing them to a purely consumeristic outlook. Information that exposes the flaws of our food system such as the realities of factory farming and so-called ‘organic’ and ‘free range’ branded food is not readily available, and there is a complete lack of accessible information or analysis on the politics of food. Those who understand the dysfunctions of the dominant food system and try to resist being a part of it are often constricted by the consumer mindset. For example, efforts to make more concious decisions are often limited to consumer choice, such as people exercising their consumer power by not buying food with palm oil in because they are concerned for the rainforest in Borneo, or by chosing to buy local produce, or plastic-free food. There are also great initiatives that feed people in food poverty by collecting food from supermarkets that would otherwise end up in the landfill. Whilst these small acts of resistance are better than nothing, a more systemic approach is needed in which we should be widening theview of our role in the food system from consumers to citizens. We should be trying to promote democratic interactions with the food we eat in order to tackle social justice issues and create a system that actually reflects the fact that access to adequate food is a human right, and not a consumer privilege.
There are community gardens that train marginalised groups, encourage greater relationships to nature and food, and benefit people’s mental health.
There are seeds of resistance and alternative arrangements across the globe; and they are growing. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects try to promote community ownership of food production, often using agroecological farming methods and tackling social justice issues at the same time. There are community gardens that train marginalised groups, encourage greater relationships to nature and food, and benefit people’s mental health. Such initiatives include farm shares, cooperatives, and communities of growers such as the local Norwich Farm Share. Over the past month I have been spending a few days a week at Eves Hill Community Market Garden in Reepham, forging a deeper intellectual, practical and emotional understanding of food growing and nature. Eves Hill has been running for three years now, and has totally transformed the soil fertility and productivity of the land. There is a huge diversity of plant and animal life there, the food grown there has greater nutritional value as it is organic, and the soil is healthy and packed with nutrients and minerals. They run volunteer days, traineeships, and courses that focus on engagement with marginalised and unemployed people and currently have a community garden project in Reepham which offers free communal produce. It has changed both the way I think about food, and the way I eat it.
Many CSA projects face challenges in creating truly transformative and radical alternatives to the dominant capitalist food system and consumer narrative due to the fact that they have to operate within the neoliberal system that marketizes food, and makes it difficult for average people to own, rent, and survive economically off arable land. Often they have to hike up their prices and ‘buy-in’ to neoliberalism in order to continue the project, or sell goods to a usually middle-class, environmentally conscious groups rather than economically and socially marginalised citizens who bearthe brunt of food insecurity and injustice in our communities. A lot of CSAs rely on volunteer labour, which is not necessarily a bad thing but again, excludes the participation of vast swathes of our society who lack time to contribute.
Looking outwards from the UK, there are countless resistance movements and projects that exist all over the world. Particularly in the global south, there are growing linkages between farmers that serve to decolonise and democratise food sytems. Whether it’s indigenous peoples in Latin America resisting land grabbing by agribusiness, landless peasants occupying arable land, or farmers in India saving and sharing indigenous seed varieties to resist corporate monopoly of seeds (primarily by Monsanto) and the resulting decline in seed diversity. The concept of food sovereignty has been around for decades but has recently gained even more traction in western circles as a way to live more sustainably socially and environmentally. It concerns local ownership of food, as well as adequate provision of nutritious and culturally appropriate foods. La Via Campesina is an international peasants’ network and movement that represents two million families. This has been around for two decades based on the principles of localised food sovereignty, justice, democracy, agroecology, defending indigenous and peasant land rights, and dismantling capitalism and the heteropatriarchy.
…responsibility extends beyond our power as consumers, to our roles as active citizens and human beings.
As discussed, we are all actors in the dominant, globalised, capitalist food and agricultural system and it’s time to think about what role we – individually, and as a society – want to have in that system. For me, doing manual labour on small scale farms in a few different countries, including most recently at Eves Hill Community Market Garden has made me have a deeper respect and understanding for mother nature and the beautiful and fragile complexity of life. Personally, I have had to face my own ignorance of how nature works, and of how our food comes to fruition and reaches our plates. I feel a responsibility to be accountable to my local and global environment, as well as the people who live in it. This responsibility extends beyond our power as consumers, to our roles as active citizens and human beings. Nature does not exist to serve us, and we cannot continue to support the plunder of the soil beneath us. Without widespread resistance, advocacy, and creating alternatives, we will end up with desert land stripped of its fertility, and food with even lower nutritional value. As the famous saying from the Cree First Nation goes:
“When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.”
Featured image credit: Author’s own image
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