Thursday, April 14, 2011


Folks, I have to do it. It's not going to be pretty, but I feel that it's time to get to the ugly heart of it all. I know that some of you will be shocked, others disgusted, and many will turn their eyes away, perhaps for good. But there is a cry arising in the land, a cry that must be answered:

    “Please – won't someone think of The Economy!”
The Economy, that giant demi-god infant threatening to throw a tantrum that we, the fearful permissive parents, must court, pacify, but never, ever restrict. That volatile baby whose motivations we can only guess at with baffled dimness, or the guidance of experts who study the demanding creature in a controlled environment instead of in our messy, complex everyday lives. Instead of something that serves us, that is embedded in our social relations, The Economy is our foremost concern and society a mere adjunct to the market. The Economy has a life of its own, and in that it controls all of ours; the economic sphere is depoliticised, naturalized, privatised, and thus "rendered democratically unaccountable".*

What does this have to do with food?

It is my firm belief that food, and the other essentials of life such as water and air should not be commodities. They should not be ruled by economic considerations, and indeed, have not been for long in humanity's history. In most other times and places, they have been regulated by considerations such as equality, redistribution, status, religion - not accumulation of wealth.

When food is sold and traded for profit, it is pretty obvious, if you look at how any other commodity functions in our society, that the results are not in the best interests of the population. It will be scarce at times; overabundant and devalued at others; speculated upon; hoarded; shoddily and mass-produced under the guise of efficiency; underregulated as far as safety, and overregulated as far as trying to fit it into one nice, neat, industrial box; increasingly homogenized; overpackaged and overmarketed; increasingly unsatisfying of our deeper hungers.

This results in injustice. Unequal distribution. Unequal access. Bad tasting food that is nutritionally marginal. Haiti having been self-sufficient in rice now dependent on imports from the US. Kenyans working in greenhouses to produce 7 tons of perfectly straight beans to send to France and 6 tons to rot in the fields**. One Earth Farms intending to own one million acres of land in Saskatchewan and employ seasonal wage-labourers in neo-serfdom.

The costs of externalities such as the eventual costs of declining soil fertility and tilth, water pollution from factory farm sewage and crop overfertilization, and climate change exacerbation from oil-dependent agriculture, are not borne by those who have defined the system, commodified the food, and profited from its turning into a commodity – the retailers, wholesalers, marketers, shippers, processors, speculators, and input manufacturers.

I'll discuss some possible answers to "what can be done about this?" in future posts. For the present, attempting to provision oneself outside the capitalist industrial agri-food system is a good start. And I think Canadians, in particular, at this moment, need to think about what is being sacrificed, and what is being gained, in the name of The Economy, in the short and long terms. (Here's a link to the food policies in the platforms of each of the federal parties.)

* borrowing an idea and phrase from Rupert, Mark. (2003). Globalising common sense – a Marxian-Gramscian (re-) vision of governance/resistance. Review of International Studies 29, 181-198.
**Roberts, Paul. (2008). The End of Food. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

1 comment:

  1. That Kenyan stat took my breath away for a second. How can anyone say we have a FOOD shortage going on, when the issue is clearly greed and evil of the corporations asking farmers to commit such atrocities for the luxury of perfect and pretty foods on our shelves. All the hungry people that are literally dying to eat those imperfect beans. Sickening.