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Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food Systemby Raj Patel
Synopses & Reviews
"One of the most dazzling books I have read in a very long time. The product of a brilliant mind and a gift to a world hungering for justice." Naomi Klein, author of No Logoand The Shock Doctrine
Half the world is malnourished, the other half obese-both symptoms of the corporate food monopoly. To show how a few powerful distributors control the health of the entire world, Raj Patel conducts a global investigation, traveling from the "green deserts"of Brazil and protester-packed streets of South Korea to bankrupt Ugandan coffee farms and barren fields of India. What he uncovers is shocking — the real reasons for famine in Asia and Africa, an epidemic of farmer suicides, and the false choices and conveniences in supermarkets. Yet he also finds hope — in international resistance movements working to create a more democratic, sustainable, and joyful food system.
From seed to store to plate, Stuffed and Starvedexplains the steps to regain control of the global food economy, stop the exploitation of farmers and consumers, and rebalance global sustenance.
"Journalist and scholar Patel (Promised Land: Competing Visions of Agrarian Reform) focuses attention on the unfortunate irony of the current world food situation, in which the imbalance of world resources has created an epidemic of obesity in some parts of the world while millions in the 'Global South' endure starvation. To make sense of the situation, Patel addresses the entire system of global food production, distribution and sale, concluding that 'unless you're a corporate food executive, the food system isn't working for you.' 'Record levels of diet-related disease' plague consumers, cruel market realities (and unsympathetic officials) doom farmers, and communities are beset by a supermarket system that provides 'cheap calories' while 'bleeding local economies.' Patel analyzes what can be done, presenting logical recommendations and strategies for individuals-eat locally, seasonally, and ecologically; support local business, workers' rights, and living wages; create a sustainable food system-though several primary components of his big vision (including ending agribusiness subsidies and corporate farming, and levying a tax on processed foods) are clearly a long way off. Those concerned about global health, social justice and the environment will be aware of many of the issues presented here, but should still find much to learn." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
If you think the biggest food problems you are ever likely to face are safety issues like outbreaks of salmonella (spinach in 2006, tomatoes and jalapeno peppers this summer) and the high cost of organic produce, you're woefully naive. Because, as Paul Roberts and Raj Patel will tell you, the food we eat is part of a global system, one made possible by international trade and transportation... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) systems as well as advances in preservation technologies. And, they warn, this once promising and plentiful system has become vulnerable, over-extended and inadequate to feed the hungry. "On nearly every level, we are reaching the end of what may one day be called the 'golden age' of food," writes Roberts. Both authors lament that, in today's world, superabundance paradoxically exists alongside persistent global hunger. Each points to the drive for cheap food as a major culprit in the current crisis. As Roberts puts it, "Demand from consumers, who expect the food they buy to be better and cheaper every year, but, even more important, demand from retailers ... as well as food service giants such as McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's ... have put the sellers of food, not the producers, firmly in charge of the food chain." (The idea that cheap food could be bad is unlikely to resonate with people struggling to pay today's higher prices. To be fair, both books were completed before the costs of food skyrocketed, but neither really grapples with the everyday economics of an ideal system.) Food supply is governed by a market in which, writes Roberts, food is "produced wherever costs are lowest." That benefits the bottom line, but "consumers suffer," according to Patel, because food then is produced to maximize profit rather than nutrition or accessibility to the neediest. The authors caution that the situation is only going to get worse. In parts of the world where the population is primarily poor and the climate unforgiving, the demand for food will get ahead of supply, causing unrest and violence. In countries where the food supply and the ability to buy it are still in a more-or-less viable balance, people eat the wrong food (less expensive but nutritionally barren) and too much of it. News reports reflect this distorted picture regularly: an obesity crisis that's growing worldwide; violent demonstrations against rising food costs in Egypt; food riots in Haiti, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Yemen; an extended Australian drought that's decimated the country's rice harvest; triple-digit increases in the price of corn as farmers divert large amounts of their crop to biofuels; crops destroyed by unpredictable natural disasters like the recent floods in the American Midwest and the Myanmar cyclone. The authors follow different approaches as they examine the forces that propelled us here. Roberts (author of the best-selling "The End of Oil," which anticipated the current energy crisis) does extensive reporting, investigating the origins, operating procedures and critics of the current industrialized food system. There are many guilty parties in his analysis, among them the purveyors of factory-farmed meat and the consumers who can't envision life without it, and the enormous food companies that produce cheap, processed, unhealthy food and the supermarket system that demands it. He provides glimpses of the industrial food system that consumers probably don't want to know much about, such as "PSE," which stands for "pale, soft exudative," a description of the meat from the breasts of today's chickens, which are slaughtered before the breast muscles are fully formed, making them less tasty. Even less appetizing are the poop lagoons, an inevitable consequence of large-scale meat production, where a "typical hog CAFO, or concentrated animal feeding operation, generates as much sewage as a midsize city." Raj Patel is a policy analyst and activist (rather than a journalist) who has worked for the World Bank, World Trade Organization and the United Nations. (He claims to have been "tear-gassed on four continents protesting" against those organizations.) The international investigations he conducted for "Stuffed and Starved" sometimes describe similar parts of the food system and even reach similar conclusions to those in "The End of Food," but they're delivered with an all-or-nothing, power-to-the-people fervor that can be unsettling, especially given his casual sourcing. For example, he writes, "In different ways the countries of Europe and North America set their food policies in order to ensure that the cries of the urban hungry didn't lead to civil war," a description that, at best, is highly politicized. Books like these, which are ultimately calls to arms, are almost obligated to make recommendations for action. And for both authors, there are no easy steps. Roberts' goals, while challenging, are imaginable: He believes we should try to create regional food supply systems that are separate from supermarket supply chains, like existing ones in Asia (he cites Hanoi and East Calcutta). He'd also like to see a science-based, nonpolitical approach to investigating genetically modified foods. Patel's platform is more concerned with food justice. After examining the food system for fairness, sustainability and, yes, enjoyment, he advocates activities that range from the somewhat practical (transforming our tastes and weaning ourselves from processed foods) to the political (eating "agro-ecologically," supporting local businesses rather than supermarkets, treating all workers with dignity and providing all with living wages). These books, while different in emphasis and political bent, leave no doubt that the situation is dire. The enormous challenges involved in conceiving and constructing a new food system (or even many new, localized food systems) won't be met without active support from an informed public. Reading these books is a good start. Judith Weinraub, a former Washington Post reporter, is a W.K. Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow. Reviewed by Judith Weinraub, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Book News Annotation:
Patel investigates why so many people are starving in the world while others have more than enough food. He describes how the global food system is shaped by farming communities, corporations, governments, consumers, activists, and movements, and looks at problems in a variety of countries such as farmer suicides and trade treaties. He also examines how the system evolved after World War II, how agribusiness corporations benefit, the importance of the soybean crop, and the power of the supermarket. He then addresses the impact of consumer tastes and how they can wield their influence. Patel (UC Berkeley Center for African Studies) is a policy analyst for Food First. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
How can starving people also be obese?
Why does everything have soy in it?
How do petrochemicals and biofuels control the price of food?
It's a perverse fact of modern life: There are more starving people in the world than ever before (800 million) while there are also more people overweight (1 billion).
To find out how we got to this point and what we can do about it, Raj Patel launched a comprehensive investigation into the global food network. It took him from the colossal supermarkets of California to India's wrecked paddy-fields and Africa's bankrupt coffee farms, while along the way he ate genetically engineered soy beans and dodged flying objects in the protestor-packed streets of South Korea.
What he found was shocking, from the false choices given us by supermarkets to a global epidemic of farmer suicides, and real reasons for famine in Asia and Africa.
Yet he also found great cause for hope—in international resistance movements working to create a more democratic, sustainable and joyful food system. Going beyond ethical consumerism, Patel explains, from seed to store to plate, the steps to regain control of the global food economy, stop the exploitation of both farmers and consumers, and rebalance global sustenance.
About the Author
RAJ PATEL, former policy analyst for Food First, a leading food think tank, is a visiting scholar at the UC Berkeley Center for African Studies. He has written for the Los Angeles Times and The Financial Times, and though he has worked for the World Bank, WTO and the UN, he's also been tear-gassed on four continents protesting them.
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