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Bello's Food Wars: A great holiday read

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Walden Bello's latest, The Food Wars, is a great gift idea for the socially conscious reader in your life.

 

For a slim volume, it tackles many of the world's crucial problems. In a mere 149 pages, Bello explains the connections between hunger, economics and ecology. Whether you're a farmer, a veteran urban gardener, or know little about where the food on your plate comes from -- you'll learn something from this book.

A prolific writer and leading campaigner in the global justice movement, Bello brings his precise analytical prose to the question of the food crisis that exploded with the steep rise in commodity prices that led to the 2008 food riots. A number of countries were hit hard, perhaps most notably in Haiti, where Canada has been deeply involved in a coup and its aftermath in recent years.

The food wars chronicled include those in Mexico, the Philippines and Africa, the latter a continent where "a whole continent's economic base" has been destroyed by "doctrinaire economics." The pro-agribusiness doctrine spelled out in Paul Collier's bestselling The Bottom Billion comes in for sharp criticism.

One the most interesting chapters in the book deals with the state of China's hundreds of millions of farmers, hordes of whom have been heading back to the countryside as work in the cities has become scarcer (even China has been affected by the worldwide recession). Bello traces the history of the country's peasant class, who were essential to the victory of the 1949 revolution but who have always been in conflict with the Chinese state.

Bello doesn't pull any punches, concluding that the present system of large-scale agribusiness is unjust and needs to be replaced. Not just because it displaces local peasant cultures and destroys traditional subsistence production, but because it's inherently environmentally unsustainable, requiring major energy inputs in production and transportation.

Not surprisingly, Bello is an advocate of small farmers (re)developing local agriculture. But he doesn't present this as merely a matter of informed, ethical consumption. It's also about the producers of food getting organized. The final chapter outlines successful examples of resistance by social movements internationally. Bello points in particular to the example of the group Via Campesina. The umbrella network's name means "The Peasant Way," something the world, thanks to books like this, is starting to learn and value.

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