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Author/Activist challenges people to be part of the Food Revolution

October 14, 2009

[Despite the fact that Vandana Shiva is a world-renowned author and activist, there was no media coverage of her talk in Grand Rapids last night. This is in contrast to last week’s visit by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman who also addressed environmental issues.]

Internationally known activist and author Vandana Shiva spoke at Fountain Street Church last night to a crowd of over 500 people. The title of her talk was Food Security in Women’s Hands. Shiva is the author of numerous books on environmentalism and feminism. Her most recent books are Earth Democracy and Soil, Not Oil.

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Shiva began her talk by stating, “Freedom begins with freedom for nature…….for all beings. And that freedom means living free of fear and free of hunger.” “The issue of human hunger,” Shiva said, “is at a critical point in human history, where 1 billion people are in permanent state of hunger and another 2 billion people suffering from poor diets.” Her analysis of why the food global food system is unjust is informed by her feminist critique of power. Shiva feels that as long as “womanly hand of Gaia or your mother” has been caring for food, it has never ruined our bodies. Once food became a commodity and came under the control of systems of power, hunger and poor diet expanded.

Shiva also asserted that in nature everything is food or is someone else’s food. There is no imbalance and nothing is wasted. But now, new studies are showing that the current food system leads to tremendous waste. She looks at the example of how animals are raised for meat to underscore this system of waste. “Animals were meant to eat grass, not grains,” Shiva said. “Now humans are competing with animals for grains.” So much energy and resources are used to feed livestock instead of feeding people. Feeding cows grains for example makes us all less healthy and the structure of animal feed operations means that concentrated amounts of animal waste is now a major source of water pollution. This contrasts drastically with traditional Indian culture, which sees cow dung as sacred. Shiva even said that there is a festival for cow dung on October 17th in India.

“In a womanly world there has never been a scarcity of a permanent kind. Nature provides abundance. If you live within nature’s abundance, there would never be anyone in need. In fact, it is a sacred duty to save seeds.” Seed saving was a major theme of Shiva’s presentation. She stressed that seed saving is an ancient practice and was/is a way of preserving both diversity and the future. However, there is a war against seed diversity and Shiva called out Monsanto as a major culprit, since Monsanto has been genetically modifying seeds an attempting to patent seeds around the world.

Shiva said the patenting of seeds is just another form of colonization. She pointed out that the word patent has a long history within colonization. “The letter that Columbus brought when he arrived in the Americas was called a Patent, it was an open letter for colonization, because it said that the King of Spain could now claim the land because Columbus carried this letter.” Today the word patents continue this same type of colonization, where now the products of the land are commodities and have been given legal ownership to corporations.

Continuing on this theme of colonialism Shiva then cites then several European thinkers who supported colonization. She mentioned a phrase they used repeatedly, terra nullius, Latin for “an empty land” or “land devoid of anything.” Many European thinkers believed that the Americas were not really populated, since Native people where not seen as fully human. However, the larger problem was that the land was not being used to make money and therefore devoid of value.

She calls the economy of what indigenous people of the Americas and all around the world practiced an “economy of abundance” where you only use what you need. This contrasted radically with the European notions of capital and wealth.

Shiva stressed that the shifts in food that are taking place today are radical and are affecting all of us. She believes that food should stay in the hands of women in order to avoid catastrophe. “The monoculture of the mind will not tolerate food diversity, but women have always practiced biodiversity.”

empowerment of women and children

One example of monoculture is where plants that have not been made into commodities are now called weeds. “There was nothing like a weed in traditional societies. Everything had a purpose, a use.” Most greens are uncultivated foods, but when monoculture controls the food, you must have a war on biodiversity. One example of this warfare is the Monsanto created herbicide RoundUp. Shiva also pointed out that pesticides were originally designed to kill people during warfare, but the chemical companies figured out a way to convince governments that this chemical weapon could now be used to kill “weed.”

Dr. Shiva said that the “Green Revolution” was supposed to help bring more food to the world, but what happened was that multinational corporations became wealthier and the only foods that increased in production were rice and wheat, which are not sufficient for a healthy diet.

Shiva says that our current food system is unsustainable. She said that since a large percentage of the unsustainability is the fact that most foods travel long distances before they are consumed. Our dependence on fossil fuels in this current food system is a major source of globalized greenhouse gases. What the activist/author said we need to do is to reclaim localized food systems.

Localism is a big part of the current struggle in India, where farmers are battling companies like Monsanto and Coca-Cola. When Monsanto was recently brought to court in India over their attempts to control seed stock they made it clear that they had every right to charge people what they want since they owned the intellectual property rights of seeds. Some communities in India have fought this and won.

With these monocultures of the mind,” Shiva said, “We end up having a war against food, the land, climate, water and our bodies. It is time to take back the seeds, which will be our bodies. We have to take back the seed for diversity and because the type of seeds they are now creating have no life. Feminists have marched to take back the night, but we need to take back more than the night, we need to take back the world. Women are at the forefront of this movement and need to be acknowledged as the leaders in our future. As long as we have a masculinized approach to food production we will have no future. When we have just a few companies controlling most of the food production, we have a totalitarian food system, a food dictatorship. What we need is a food revolution, which begins with the seed and in the kitchens of the world.”

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