Hey you! Food justice movements do draw lines between your local products and agricultural reform

Food sovereignty and change does begin with conscientious consumers

| July 11, 2013
Hey you! Food justice movements do draw lines between your local products and agricultural reform

Harvesting Justice: Transforming Food, Land, and Agricultural Systems in the Americas

by Tory Field and Beverly Bell
(Other Worlds,
2013;
$10.00-$20.00)

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Chewing on a mouthful of locally grown lettuce, I wondered if the claims I'd heard about the global food-justice movement were true. Was there a line to follow, however crooked, between my purchase of these greens, land reform in Brazil and opposition to genetically modified seeds in California. Or was it all just empty calories?

As a somewhat conscientious consumer and occasional Taco Bell boycotter, I've hoped that the movement was real. But it hasn't always been easy to perceive the connection between marching for improved farmworker rights, signing a petition against factory feedlots and cooking up beets from a CSA (that is, community supported agriculture, which usually comes in the form a box of assorted veggies delivered to people who contribute to a local farm's financial well-being).

Those connections form a tight weave in the new book, Harvesting Justice: Transforming Food, Land, and Agriculture in the Americas. Using "food sovereignty" as the secret sauce, the book sautés the individual ingredients of sister movements into a coherent, flavourful whole.

The book was created for the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance -- a network of organizations allied with La Via Campesina, which advocates for culturally appropriate (think tortillas in Mexico instead of bread), ecologically sound (no GMOs) and small-farmer friendly food systems.

The book's authors, Tory Field and Beverly Bell, do a lot more with food than just write about it. Field is a farmer who co-manages the Next Barn Over Farm, a CSA program in western Massachusetts. Bell has worked for decades with small farmer organizations in Haiti, including those who set fire to agricultural aid after the 2010 earthquake. The farmers didn't see the donated seeds as aid, but as a Monsanto "trojan horse" undermining their control over their own food.

Both authors are also members of Other Worlds, an organization that educates the public about citizen movements and builds community alternatives to corporate globalization. Introducing us to farmers speaking in their own voices, they describe how fighting the dominance of agribusiness and relocalizing the food system are indeed two sides of the same coin.

The book merges five years of field research and interviews, and describes more than 100 case studies of advocacy campaigns and alternative food systems in the United States and around the world. The authors interview New Mexican farmer and teacher Miguel Santistevan, who insists that "We don't like the way the food system treats the earth and its negative health effects on the people, [and] we are working to actualize an alternative."

They introduce us to Rosnel Jean-Baptiste of Heads Together Small Peasant Farmers of Haiti (Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen), who says, "It's not houses that are going to rebuild Haiti, it's investing in the agriculture sector."

And they encourage consumer action through the words of Ben Burkett, president of the National Family Farm Coaltion. "No matter what us farmers plant, the consumer's got to change the system,"  Burkett says. "As long as they don't complain, there's no need even talking about it. The marketplace dictates."

Designed for use as an organizing tool

Accompanying the book is a curriculum of teaching exercises called "Sowing Seeds," intended for use in community and academic settings. The curriculum is dizzyingly comprehensive, a kind of "best of" in food systems education culled from sister organizations.

Have you ever wondered how many tonnes of tomatoes a picker needs to pick each day to earn minimum wage, or what the salary of David Novak -- the CEO of the company that owns Taco Bell -- would add up to in tonnes of tomatoes at the same rate? It's all in here. Consumer, producer and retailer perspectives are all explored through engaging exercises. Suggested workshop formats may come in handy if you are an educator or organizer.

You may want to nudge your local bookseller to carry Harvesting Justice. I'm guessing they won't be sorry. It’s not only highly readable but may catalyze actions such as getting local food into school lunches. The stunning photos serve up inspiration to get off your duff and transform the local food system.

Because it provides that kind of inspiration, this is the kind of book that your local food co-op, farmer’s market or anti-hunger organization might consider using as a study guide. It can help connect the dots between community groups doing related work and break up any sense of going it alone.

The appendix fills nearly 15 pages, introducing us to groups like the Food Chain Workers AllianceFirst Nations Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative and the Honduran Garifuna organization. While these organizations are scattered around the planet, they form the foundation of a localized, alternative food system.

Reading about how people transform the way they farm and eat makes you want to reach for a big soup pot, cut up some onions and cook up your own plans with your neighbors. Harvesting Justice gives you more than the recommended dose of civic engagement.

Daniel Moss wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. As a consultant, Daniel works with communities and organizations around the world to advance democratic and sustainable stewardship of our shared commons.

This review first appeared in YES! Magazine and has been reprinted with permission.

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Comments

More bullshit telling us to be better consumers, rather than attacking the problem where it really exists, in the system of food production itself. These people are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Case in point:

Daniel Moss wrote:
...they encourage consumer action through the words of Ben Burkett, president of the National Family Farm Coaltion. "No matter what us farmers plant, the consumer's got to change the system,"  Burkett says. "As long as they don't complain, there's no need even talking about it. The marketplace dictates."

This is the essence of eco-capitalism: change individual lifestyles if you wish, but don't you dare do anything to threaten the power and control of agribusiness over food production, or interfere in any way with their right to reap huge profits from the exploitation of the planet and its animal and human inhabitants.

Thing is, it is consumerisim that drives the market not the other way around. Sure, the market will attempt to drive the consumer but it's backwards thinking to believe the consumer has not real part in that. 

Buisness exsists to make profits, if the people wish cheaper goods and do not care how they get them, business with reciprocate. If a large number of people refuse to purchase things for social reasons, the business will reciprocate. If people decide they will pay more for something, the markets will reciprocate by charging more.

Remember, an item is only worth what the consumers will pay and buisness will sell what brings them the most profit (be it lots on the cheap or less for more or whatever). You can tell industry to play safer, in some countries but you can't control much with globalization and it's hard to bring in standards that are already accepted. People, however, can easily change the market. 

Thing is, viajante wants to turn the economy on its head and depict the consumer as being in control. It's a myth invented by right-wing academics to take the capitalist class off the hook for the overproduction, waste, and environmental degradation caused by their prime directive: the maximization of profit.

Michael Löwy wrote:
Contrary to the claim of free-market ideology, supply is not a response to demand. Capitalist firms usually create the demand for their products by various marketing techniques, advertising tricks, and planned obsolescence. Advertising plays an essential role in the production of consumerist demand by inventing false “needs” and by stimulating the formation of compulsive consumption habits, totally violating the conditions for maintenance of planetary ecological equilibrium. The criterion by which an authentic need is to be distinguished from an artificial one is whether it can be expected to persist without the benefit of advertising. How long would the consumption of Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola go on, if the persistent advertising campaigns for those products were terminated? Such examples could be indefinitely multiplied.


Thomas Princen, in "Consumer Sovereignty and Sacrifice: Two Insidious Concepts in an Expansionist Economy", wrote:
In the end, the idea of consumer sovereignty doesn't add up. It is a myth convenient for those who would locate responsibility for social and environmental problems on the backs of consumers, absolving those who truly have market power and who write the rules of the game and who benefit the most. It makes the idea of unlimited economic growth appear both natural and inevitable. But consumers don't have perfect information, they're not insulated from the influence of marketers, and they don't write the rules. Their consumption choices seem broad, but are in fact tightly constrained (one chooses between nearly-identical car models, not between an automobile-based transport system and a mass transit one). Their "rule" over the investment and production decisions of major corporations is limited at best. It is a fiction highly convenient for those who do well with endless economic growth on a planet of seemingly endless frontiers.


John Kenneth Galbraith, in The Affluent Society, wrote:
Wants are dependent on production … production, not only passively through emulation, but actively through advertising and related activities, creates the wants it seeks to satisfy.

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