Raj Patel has been tracking the pathologies of the global food system for many years. An activist and academic who teaches at the UC Berkeley Center for African Studies, Patel has just published a second, updated edition of his 2008 book, Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System.
The problem with the food system is not that we don't produce enough calories to eradicate hunger, Patel notes. It's that the food system has its own priorities of institutional consolidation and profit, which means that more than 1 billion people in the world are malnourished and 2 billion are overweight – which is worse than when the first edition of Patel's book came out.
Patel has also been a serious student of the commons. His 2010 book, The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape the Market Society and Redefine Democracy, is a lucid overview of the fallaciious premises of market economics and its dismal performance. He also goes on at length about the ability of the commons paradigm to help ameliorate food sovereignty, environmental sustainability and social justice.
Recommended reading is a recent interview with Patel at Stir, the vigorous, commons-oriented British political journal founded by Jonathan Gordon-Farleigh. (Incidentally, Stir is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to pay for a print run of a book collecting some of its best articles.)
Here are a few excerpts from Stir’s interview with Patel:
On genetically modified crops & climate change: “We have an increasing amount of evidence to suggest that agro-ecological farming systems will be able to feed the world in the future. The GM advocates are saying, “What about drought-resistance and climate-change-ready crops?” That seems to be nonsense! To have a crop that is climate-change-ready is ludicrous because change is precisely change — it is so many different things. It could be new pests, rains coming at the wrong time; it could be too much rain, or too much heat. It is impossible to have a single crop that is ready for those possible changes. We’ve already seen the limits of that because Monsanto has a product called ‘Drought Guard’ — a genetically-modified crop that performs no better than any conventional crop in resisting anything but a mild drought. The problem with this is that climate change isn’t about mild anything but extreme weather events.”