Vandana Shiva, who the Martlet interviewed on the eve of her President’s Distinguished Lecture and the conferment of her honourary Doctor of Laws at UVic, is one of the world’s leading crusaders in the field of food security.
Food security is a relatively new term and new problem, only needing official definition in the past two decades. “The definition of food security is so established now,” says Shiva, “with the UN and everyone else. It basically is having access to adequate food, healthy food, safe food, good food and culturally appropriate food.”
Global food security faces an age-old problem according to Shiva: greed. “The biggest challenge facing food security is corporate greed,” she says. “Corporate greed is . . . creating a trade system that privileges the subsidized and makes it cheap, allows dumping, destroys local production and local markets in the name of increasing food production.”
Shiva says problems that arise from industrial monopolies cross international borders and are not unique to any one country. “The combination of these monopolies has been put into international free trade law. We will have to revisit the [economic] assumptions because these companies are trying to take it to another level — whatever wasn’t made subject of free trade, wasn’t commodified, now through the Trans-Pacific Partnership they’d like to put it all in.”
Canada joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement, whose 11 signatories include Australia, Chile and Vietnam, on Oct. 8, 2012. Japan announced on March 15 that it is interested in joining negotiations.
Shiva relates the problem directly to Victoria’s backyard. “For example, I have been told the University of Victoria tries to procure locally, gives priority to local procurement. Those kinds of Trans-Pacific Partnerships would make local procurement illegal.”
Shiva says the international policies of economically driven agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, combined with the lobbyist-led policies of national governments, treat food not as a life-sustaining necessity, but rather as a thing to be bought and sold for profit. “The industrial system is not producing food anymore; it’s producing commodities. If it makes more money to use that commodity to turn it into biofuel — which is the large diversion of corn and soya — or into animal feed, then that’s where it will go.” She says most industrially grown food is not reaching humans. “It’s driving cars and creating torture factories for animals.”
Shiva points to the inefficiency of an agricultural system that must change in the face of rapidly growing populations. “Industrial agriculture uses 10 units of [energy] input to produce one unit of food,” says Shiva. “That’s a very inefficient way to produce food. Ecologically, we can use one unit to produce two or three units of food. And so, we have to go ecological because the earth is limited, and [population] numbers are increasing.”
Shiva is adamant the change must come now and must come from more than just our day-to-day interactions with food. “At this point, the issue is not so much the consumption patterns; it still is, but I think it’s more the indifference of not knowing that the corporations that are bringing you bad food are also stealing from the poor. And that is where the solidarity must grow. Where first-world people must realize, ‘I have a right to good food, but I also have a responsibility to grow my own food so I don’t have to steal the land of the South and empower the corporations.’ Because the narrative is that if all the stuff is coming from the South, it’s removing poverty. No, it’s removing the poor.”
Shiva has a simple, powerful action to put North Americans on the road to secure, sustainable food. “When you think of food, you think, ‘It’s what’s on my plate.’ We have to realize when we think of food, we’re talking about the planet, the world, all people and all life.”