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WAKE UP AMERICA! Raj Patel

Political change is mandatory if we are to transform our global food system.

Who is Raj Patel?

Raj Patel is a scholar, award winning writer and food activist. Having earned prestigious degrees from Oxford and Cornell, he serves as a research fellow at the School of Development Studies in Africa and the Institute for Food and Development Policy.

Patel is author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System as well as his New York Times bestseller, The Value of Nothing.

I chose to highlight Raj Patel in my WAKE UP AMERICA! series because he sheds light on the root problems within our food system that few people care to acknowledge. The system is corrupt and causes tremendous human suffering.  How can we have 1.5 billion people who are overweight while we have a billion who are hungry? More importantly, what can be done to fix it?

In the words of Raj Patel

The reason 1 out of 2 American children will at some point need food assistance in their lifetime is not because we don’t have enough food.

  • The problem of hunger is not with production of food but with distribution and it will take political action to fix that.
  • The notion that we can impact our food system by “voting with our forks” is not effective. Those most impacted don’t have the resources to vote with their forks.

Higher taxes on junk food without lowering prices on healthy food is only going to hurt poor people. 

  • Taxing unhealthy foods is part of the solution. “Data from the University of California at San Francisco indicates an estimate of a penny per ounce tax on sweetened beverages would prevent nearly 100,000 cases of heart disease, 26,000 deaths, 8,000 strokes and 24,000 cases of diabetes per year in the next ten years.”
  • Taxation, education, limits on marketing, research, and political will are what’s needed to transform our current food system.
  • Companies who profit from products responsible for ill health are fighting regulations that we need desperately. We are so heavily tilted toward powerful corporations instead of sustainable foods that are good for us and the environment. This isn’t about telling people what they can eat. It’s about leveling the playing field.

Factory farming profits because they are not responsible for the long term costs of their production.

  • Factory farms escape the consequences of their actions. Run-offs from these factories, for example, have caused huge dead zones in places like the Gulf of Mexico. The companies suffer no consequence, financial or otherwise.
  • Factory farming corporations argue they are helping to provide cheap food. We don’t need cheap food, we need higher wages so all people can afford to buy food.
  • If we enforced environmental and wage regulations, factory farming would be much less profitable.

Meat has gone from a luxury to a staple.

  • There is a direct correlation between cheap meat and low wages.
Exploited farm workers is a serious, serious problem. 
  • Tantamount to slavery, workers aren’t paid a livable wage, have been found chained to their quarters to prevent escape, and are forced to buy their food at inflated prices.
  • The Coalition of Immokalee Workers united and persuaded companies like Taco Bell, McDonalds, Whole Foods, and eventually Trader Joe’s (who fought the move for a long time as did Whole Foods) to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes. This raised wages for lifting 2.4 tons of tomatoes daily from $11,000 to $20,000 per year. The fight is ongoing to improve deplorable working conditions. Wal-Mart has yet to sign agreement.
  • Don’t be fooled by trendy marketing materials and eco-friendly looking, organic labels. Responsible consumers are connected to the voices of workers, usually people of color if your food is grown in the U.S.  A woman died on an organic farm in the U.S. in the recent past because she wasn’t given water in 100 degree heat.

In 2008, traders on Wall Street starting investing in food after cashing out oil contracts.

  • Greedy speculators on Wall Street began betting on the price of food, which drove up the traded price, which coincided with retailers increasing their mark-ups.
  • The war on poverty in the U.S. helped relieve hunger until the era of “freewheeling free markets” reversed the progress going from 20 to 50 million who don’t have enough food today.
Higher food prices impact political stability around the world.
  • When governments refuse to do anything about greed in the marketplace, citizens will eventually take to the streets in protest. This happened in 1917 in the U.S. with a major food rebellion which successfully drove food prices down. These rebellions are happening all over the world.

My Takeaway

To fight our corrupt food system, government subsidies must shift from corn and soy (used mainly for high fructose corn syrup and animal feed) to whole foods and local farms. We must enforce regulations so corporations bent on profits at all costs, exploitation of workers, and environmental hazards have to pay the consequences for their actions.

People love food bargains regardless of what they can afford. Those that gravitate toward high fat, salt and flavorings in junk food don’t recognize (or care) that companies have injected their foods with addictive ingredients on purpose. Food courts, drive throughs, and Quik Trips are packed with people spending money to support this contribution to obesity.

Social stigma is misplaced. There is more of a stigma on me for not eating meat then on the obese guy snarfing down a 1000 calorie piece of sausage pizza! If I tell the parents of my child’s soccer team I don’t think we should eat at Pizza Hut before the game, I’m looked at as spoiling all the fun— as a radical, zealot, goody two shoes. I’m all for a splurge now and then but it shouldn’t be the norm.

A Healthier YOU begins…

…with asking where the food comes from that you purchase when you go to a store. Support local farmer’s markets and if you are going to consume meat, do so occasionally and know where it comes from. If you buy cheap meat from a superstore, you can bet you are supporting factory farming. PLEASE STOP! Consider supporting Raj Patel and others in the Generation Food Project (click to learn more).

Learn more about Raj Patel. His books are available on Amazon.

Learn more about The Food Revolution and how you can purchase the entire summit in audio and .pdf formats.

The Food Revolution Network, founded by food activists, John & Ocean Robbins, conducted a series of audio interviews with twenty-four of the most well respected researchers, doctors, and authors, with a focus on how we can improve our food systems and lead healthier lives. This series will provide summaries of each of these interviews so that we may all improve our health by eating more consciously. Please read intro to series for disclaimer.

"Go to bed with a dream and wake up with a purpose."

 

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