In honour of World Food Day, Tal Tyagi explores why in a world of plenty, millions go to sleep with empty stomachs. Volunteering in the summer holidays, fundraising and putting a red nose on are all very well and good. However, only when we recognise the structural failings of the global production and distribution of the food supply, can we genuinely make hunger history.
Behind every meal, every mouthfull and every grain of rice is a chain of processes that occur so that food falls onto our plates. What is so scandalous about this process is that the wealthiest countries contribute the least to the production of the world´s food supply. On the other hand, the world´s poorest countries produce the most. Tonnes and tonnes of wheat, fruit, corn, dairy products, vegetables and all kinds of meats are produced in Asia, Africa, Central and Latin America. It is hard to stomach why starvation, malnourishment and deprivation plague these parts of the earth.
If Karl Marx in the late nineteenth century saw the primary contradiction as being that of worker and boss, in the twenty-first century, the same exploitative relations exist between the ´first´ and the ´third´ worlds. First world countries are largely shopping centres where commodities are sold, not where they are made. They are matrix societies, parasitic on the rest of the world. Here, childhood has been extended into late twenties where the norm and possibility of university education means that we consume for a long time before we work. In the ´third world, childhood was put up for sale along time ago. The sweetness of chocolate, coffee and sugar is diminished by the fact that the cocoa and coffee beans and the sugar cane is often cultivated by young children whose own family have no other option but to sell them into slavery.
On world food day, those of us lucky enough to be born in the opulent West need to reflect. As beneficaries of the status quo, we are in some ways responsible for the plight of our brothers and sisters. Too often their situation is out of sight and out of mind. It may be hard to swallow but we have in our cupboards, our fridges and our lunch boxes, a share of other people´s starvation. Evidence that we have more than our fair share can be highlighted by the obesity epidemic. In the UK alone 67% of men and 57% of women are either overweight or obese. Binge, boredom and comfort-eating is a luxury afforded by our position in the world. An even more pressing example for our part in this plunder is the West´s willingness to waste. We should be absolutely ashamed that every year consumers in industrialized countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa!
Nestle/Creative Commons License
So what can we do? The work of NGOs such as this one should not be played down and donations and awareness-raising activities are admirable to say the least. There is also a place for ´conscious consumerism.´ Not only do the virtues of vegetarianism include a healthier and cheaper lifestyle, a large proportion of the grain is transported away from the starving masses of the global South towards the cattle of the global North. Understanding supply and demand, we can use our wallets as weapons against food poverty.
Nevertheless, no country has been brought out of poverty through philanthropic endeavour alone. What is needed is an acknowledgement of the disease at the heart of this issue, ignoring this is only to tackle symptoms. Fundamentally, food is not produced to be eaten, it is produced to be sold. Naturally, this means it goes where the money is. Attempting to alter this will require globalization´s main players, transnational corporations, to change their ways. Either voluntarily or through force.
Pressure groups, recycling commandos and direct action foraging movements have given rise to a second French Revolution whereby big supermarkets are now forced to give unsold food to charities. If this could be emulated on a global scale, the potential for poverty alleviation would be enormous.
Fundamentally, food is fuel. Only when you are nourished, do you have the energy to play, study, grow and develop intellectually. Education and infrastructure programmes are also a necessity but food security along with access to clean drinking water should be our primary concern. Without food, you don´t have energy to do anything and the little you have, you use to scamble an existence (not a life) together. Food insecurity does not only lead to empty stomachs but wasted talent and wasted lives. There are Beethovens in Honduras, there are Shakespeares in South Africa, the person with the potential to cure cancer could be starving as you read this. By not adequately addressing food insecurity, the growth of humanity itself is stunted.
Tal Tyagi is currently a Politics Student at The University of Warwick.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
Have an opinion on this or another topic? Why not write for our blog? Click here to find out more and get in touch.