Patel, Raj. Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World´s Food System. 2007. HarperCollins Publishers. Toronto, CA.

“The best way to ensure that food is produced in harmony with one´s local environment is to learn about the local environment, and then grow the food oneself.”

Is it possible that the overeating of the rich in many countries, including nations we consider ´poor´, is related to the starvation and malnutrition of many who live side by side of the overfed? Patel, a scholar from South Africa with a wide experience in academia, international institutions and social movements makes a convincing case that it is globalization and all its corporate—controlled institutions that have caused more poverty and hunger as some suffer the results of over eating.

When I was in Mumbai a few years ago I was amazed to learn that the newest growth industry in India is the weight loss business. I saw thousands of small, skinny people sleeping on the side of roads and train tracks; I could also see billboards promoting slimming diets. With almost a billion people, India has over 100,000 people who are well—off to super—rich. Servants are cheap and always available from the underclass of those slight drab little people who hustle constantly for their next meal. The wealthy, particularly women, do no physical work and ordinary exercise like walking or hiking are not popular, hence diet and gym centres are increasing as western style fat laden food becomes chic. But still it came as a shock to someone forced to clean off her plate while she was exhorted to think of the starving children in India.

In countries like USA and UK where children are growing up on sugar laden drinks and fat filled salty snacks, youth obesity has reached alarming rates. In Central America, many children in private school uniforms are bursting their buttons as they drop their empty foil bags on the sidewalks. I found his chapter, ´you have become Mexican´, the most horrific — every Canadian who voted for NAFTA should read it. It explains both poverty and obesity graphically enough to convince the most devoted Wal—Mart shopper.

Stuffed and Starved by Raj Patel: A Book Review by Theresa WolfwoodIt is important to our survival to understand this phenomena and the widespread response to it. Patel presents a wide and comprehensive analysis of world food production from the forgotten rural producers to the corporate processors and sellers to us, the consumers. He writes the stories of alternatives, new visions of food production and distribution, the empowerment of small farmers, mainly women. He writes that rural communities are leading the way in forging a new and different food system.

These Ugandan farmers are at the mercy of global markets.

“Community organizations are fighting back for a deeper kind of choice.”

He documents the increasing strength and desirability of local markets — where he says that, contrary to supermarket propaganda, food is better, cheaper, fresher and more varied. So if one cannot grow one´s own food, there are now many alternatives to mass marketing. He writes about the growth of Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) initiatives in many countries which cut down on transport as well as recycling money back into the local economy. Buying local and trying to buy local organic helps de—link us from the powerful global corporations, including the petroleum industry.

At the same time as local initiatives are flourishing, many groups are going global with solidarity and support for each other. The most successful, Via Campesina, an international grouping of many national and local groups, including Canada´s National Farm Union, has organized against the WTO, NAFTA and the IMF as well as corporations in defence of small farmers and farm workers — with great success. The Slow Food movement, started in Italy in response to the invasion of global fast food franchises, now everyone from Prince Charles to Percy and Louise Schmeiser ( see for the story of these courageous Saskatchewan farmers) have endorsed Slow Food. Via Campesina continues to spread its work and here is a recent quote from the Transnational Institute in Netherlands, “Via Campesina´s rise to prominence as a transnational peasant farmers movement fighting against neoliberal land policies has helped to generate new meanings of global citizenship giving concrete expression to the popular civil society saying of ´not about us without us´.

Urban agriculture, pesticide—free, flourishes in Havana and Tokyo, inspiring food activists in many cities to take over vacant and city land to grow food. Allotment gardens for apartment dwellers are sought after everywhere. Going beyond the now corporate co—opted use of the word ´organic´ these new movements now recognize the importance of ´organic´ agroecological farming in contrast to the supermarket mass monocultured ´organic´. It is all about that slogan — if we found healthy food security it has to be with us.

“It´s an approach that farms with nature, developing and maintaining soil fertility, producing a wide range of crops, and matching the farming to the needs, climate, geography, biodiversity and aspirations of a particular place and community… develops deep local expertise, and means farmers aren´t disposable and substitutable resources as they are under the reign of ´industrial organic.´ It promises to be able to feed the planet.”

As Patel documents in detail (100 pages of references) the disasters and failures of globalized food system, he weaves in stories from everywhere of the wonderful new vision and creative actions of those who see beyond despair and lead us into another deeper choice of reclaiming and empowering a world of food for people grown by people.

In his closing words, Patel shows us, “The way we become singular is to become plural. That means coming together locally, regionally and internationally, to better understand the choices we make and the food we eat in the places we make them. As the MST [Brazil´s movement of the landless] put it, ´Against barbarism, education. Against individuality, solidarity´. It is time to organize, educate, savour, reclaim and build anew.”

Get this book, read it, pass it on and get involved. Get the DVD and invite your neighbours and friends to view and discuss it.

The DVD of Patel speaking on the issues in his book to The National Farmers Union 2008 Convention is available for $20 from: National Farmers Union, 2717 Wentz Ave. Saskatoon, SK. S7K 4B6

Filed under Book Reviews, Raj Patel