See our Photo of the Week (and archive of more) books we recommend

Opinion Advertize Permission
To be notified of new articles Survey Store About Us

Enough Of These Crises!
From the Growing Discussion About Food

by Nic Paget-Clarke
San Diego, California

Is there a food crisis in San Diego County? Yes, there is, and, unfortunately, it is just one of a mess of interrelated crises. For example, there are: the rising and permanent inequality between the rich and the poor (both locally and around the world); the ongoing collapse of the world economy which most recently began in 2008; and the rapidly increasing rate of human-made global climate change.

Behind all these crises, though, there may be one we least expect. For indeed, as we careen along in our hydrocarbon-powered cars, looking out at our hydrocarbon-powered agriculture and our polluted, crime- and war-torn cities, many of us are oblivious to what we see. Also, many of us are too busy to look. Many of us are too afraid to look. Perhaps the most debilitating crisis of all is the crisis of how we think.

We could, after all, simply decide to say “Enough!” and refuse to cooperate in the daily regeneration of these crises -- though we would have to do it together. We could, together, coordinate the everyday bravery we muster to feed our children, to foster our relationships, to “earn” money to survive, to volunteer, to both participate and to struggle-on alone -- and decide that these crises must end.

Hunger and Poverty

But back to these other crises. Why is our food crisis so important? Well, to quote a friend of mine, the crisis with food hits home (whether you live in one or not). And for many, this food crisis is now life-threatening. This is not supposed to happen in the United States (though it always has). Indeed, large sections of our community are now food insecure. That is, they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

According to the San Diego Hunger Coalition, half a million people in our county are food insecure. And, not surprisingly, this “insecurity” is directly related to poverty (low wages, no wages, no land, no home). Worse, according to the U.S. Census, this situation is hitting particularly hard among our children. 33% of Pacific Island children are in poverty, 32% of American Indian children, 24% of Hispanic/Latino children, 23% of African American children, and 13% of white children. (1)
Additionally, this is no passing phase. This poverty doesn’t improve with the ups and downs of Wall Street (though it has everything to do with the essence of Wall Street).

On March 17, 2013, the Brookings Institution released a study (2) of U.S. tax returns which indicates that the rising inequality in U.S. society is permanent. Reporting on this, an article (3) in The New York Times found this report particularly “striking” because the analysis was, “no Occupy Wall Street critique,” but one written by experts from the Federal Reserve Board, the U.S. Treasury Department, and others. And, while noting that income earning has become more inclusive of women, that people of color are gaining more “demographic influence”, and that gays and lesbians are gaining full marriage rights, these more inclusive opportunities are simply integrated into this permanent economic divide. Rather, The Times wrote, “... the economic divide between the top and the bottom is becoming both wider and deeper.”

But don’t we hear in the media and from politicians that the economy is getting better? Well, yes we do, but better for who? The New York Times reports that corporations are increasing their wealth but they are not investing in new jobs. Citing an economist at Barclay’s Bank, The New York Times writes, “ ... corporate earnings have risen at an annualized rate of 20.1 percent since 2008 ... but disposable income inched ahead by 1.4 percent annually over the same period, after adjusting for inflation.” (4).

The context for this is U.S.-style austerity measures such as “sequestration” (700,000 jobs expected to be lost), the “Fiscal Cliff”, and ongoing, massive, state-by-state cutbacks.

Austerity and Privatization

But our economy is not just a San Diego economy, or even simply a Californian, or a U.S. economy -- it is a world economy. And the news from Europe, for example, continues to be grim. Country after country in Europe is teetering on the verge of economic collapse and the “solutions” are huge loans which come with strict rules demanding cutbacks, austerity measures, and the privatization of resources. These countries include Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, and now Slovenia.

Alejandro Nadal, an economist who writes for La Jornada in Mexico City, points out that ever since 1973 and Law 73-7 regarding the Bank of France there has been a very deliberate turning over of sovereign monetary policy to private banks (5) -- groups of private banks with no particular country allegiance.

And this monetary policy shift has led to austerity and privatization being requirements for “country-saving” loans which are now part and parcel of an inexorable trend which is nothing less than the privatization of entire countries. Banks and their corporate allies caused, and now are taking advantage of, sovereign economic crises to further their banking and corporate wealth and power.

For this, the context is the neoliberal policies invented by Milton Friedman, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan - globalization, the “Washington Consensus,” “disaster capitalism”.

The TPP and Increasing Corporate Influence

Meanwhile, in the Americas and the Far East, a different take on the same process is taking place. Here it is a vision, a plan-in-action called the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In California, we know about NAFTA, the North America Free Trade Act, and now we are learning about the TPP. Under the 20-year-old NAFTA, millions of people have been driven off their land in Mexico by multinational corporate prices which undercut local farmers. And, while in Mexico many people came North to the U.S. and many moved to large cities like Mexico City, here, many jobs went South to U.S.-run maquiladora factories, where thousands work for low wages in unhealthy conditions. Now, we are discovering that the TPP is “NAFTA on Steroids.”

With at least 12 countries involved in secret TPP talks (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S., and Vietnam), leaked documents and what is publicly revealed threaten a dark future. A future (a now) of corporate control of environmental, labor, freedom-of-information, and patent policies backed up by World Bank-associated courts where corporations are able to sue entire countries for damages and changes to sovereign laws. More foreboding yet, this primarily U.S.-sponsored super-Free Trade regime coincides with the U.S.’s openly-declared military shift from Europe and the Middle East to East Asia. A shift to guard sea routes, back up local regimes, and line up against the number two economic/military power in the world – China.

Industrial Agriculture and Climate Change

Which brings us to one of the biggest crises of all – global climate change. There are varying estimates, but at least 45% of the greenhouse gases (GHG) which are causing climate change are attributable to industrial “Green Revolution” agriculture. Global climate warming impacts range from the rapid melting of both the North and South Poles’ ice sheets, to a rise in sea level, and changes in sea and weather currents. NASA warns of impacts in every region of the world.
“North America: Decreasing snowpack in the western mountains; ... increased frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves in cities that currently experience them.
“Latin America: Gradual replacement of tropical forest by savannah in eastern Amazonia; risk of significant biodiversity loss through species extinction in many tropical areas; significant changes in water availability for human consumption, agriculture and energy generation.
“Europe: Increased risk of inland flash floods; more frequent coastal flooding and increased erosion from storms and sea level rise; glacial retreat in mountainous areas; reduced snow cover and winter tourism; extensive species losses; reductions of crop productivity in southern Europe.
“Africa: By 2020, between 75 and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to increased water stress; yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 percent in some regions by 2020; agricultural production, including access to food, may be severely compromised.
“Asia: Freshwater availability projected to decrease in Central, South, East and Southeast Asia by the 2050s; coastal areas will be at risk due to increased flooding; death rate from disease associated with floods and droughts expected to rise in some regions.”

Industrial agriculture-sourced GHGs are a result of both reliance on oil-based energy instead of the sun, and global production and distribution instead of local production and distribution. Specifically, that means using oil to manufacture fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other “inputs”. It means manufacturing and fueling industrial-sized harvesters and any number of other very expensive machines. It means transporting food around the world by plane, by truck, by ship (all of which need fuel) and having to refrigerate while travelling, while storing, while marketing. And all for the capital benefit of Monsanto, ADM, DuPont and others.

Towards a People’s Assembly

These interrelated crises are capital-making projects for the wealthy few who own the world’s multinational corporations. They are impoverishing the world’s peoples and making our lives unbearable. Their culture confuses us, their wage schemes impoverish us, their Wall Street derivative-based scams gamble with both sovereign nations and individual families. Their extraction of resources, of the very life of Mother Earth, is making this planet uninhabitable. These crises are a way of life for some, a way of hunger, misery and death for most.

If we want, though, we can decide to end these crises. Together we could build a calm and peaceful world based on an understanding of biodiversity and an understanding that reciprocity and solidarity can be the cultural, economic, and environmental basis of what sustainability really is. We don’t have to define “development” and “growth” as stock market returns and an ever-increasing rate of capital accumulation at the expense of others. If we decide to, we can build local economies and networks of democratic communities. We can join together with the already growing food justice movement – and grow our own healthy food – feed our own community. We can join with the Indigenous people, family farmers and peasants of the world who are already organizing in their millions for food sovereignty, women’s equality, and land for those who work it.

We can talk to our neighbors around San Diego County about organizing a major People’s Assembly to decide what we want to do about food.

Published in In Motion Magazine June 3, 2013

Also see:

  • This article was previously published in:
    Growing Discussion About Food newsletter Vol. 1 #3
  • Footnotes