Raj Patel is a writer, activist, and academic who has travelled far and wide to chart the food movement, its heroes, and its opponents. His deep understanding of the forces governing our food system brings clarity to the complicated web of incentives that have given rise to our global predicament. Watch his talk below and then dive into our Q&A for more insight!
Q: You discuss how people latch onto “magic bullet solutions” that fail to address core issues. How can we re-orient the solution mindset towards systemic change?
A: A mindset is something that doesn’t live in our minds. It’s something we learn from the way we move and live in the world. If we’re making barely enough to scrape by, without time to cook or think, well then it’s hardly surprising that we want the quick fix rather than the systemic change. When you’re on minimum wage – and 42% of Americans make less than $15/hour – systemic change is far harder to think about. Systemic solutions are going to take systemic organizing.
Q: If gender equality and female empowerment are key to social innovation in developing countries, how can we help foster those movements?
A: Much of what the US does overseas makes empowerment harder for women because it fails to address the underlying causes of patriarchy. So, for instance, the push for hybrid seed and capital-intensive farming is going to militate against women’s agriculture, because they’re often not in control of household income. Couple that with trade agreements that concentrate market power in corporate hands, and you’ve a recipe for women’s disempowerment. All of this is official US policy done in our names. Much of what we can do to help is to stop what we’re doing already, and take responsibility for it.
Q: You refer to gender equality as a “social technology”. Are there other examples of social technologies that are key to fixing the food system?
A: Corporate personhood is an important social technology. So is federally-controlled money. Part of what systemic change looks like is an imagining of how land can be accessed by the poor, or trade carried out on grounds of equality, moving us beyond these social technologies.
Q: What is the role of technology in food system improvement? Is it an impediment or an asset to creating real solutions?
A: There’s no easy answer to this, but in general the question rests on who’s in control of technology, and who gets to frame the problem that any given technology is set to fix.
Q: What can developed countries learn from the success of woman-powered initiatives in developing countries? Are the challenges developed countries face substantially different?
A: Patriarchy looks different everywhere, but it is a planetary problem. What’s important from the Malawi story isn’t just the idea of feminist organizing, but also the process through which it was developed – grassroots, iterative and directed by the needs of the community.
Q: What are you working on right now, and what’s on the horizon?
A: I’m looking forward to sharing the filming we’ve done on the Generation Food Project, and also to the launch of a book next year co-written with my friend Jason Moore, on a planetary history of capitalism’s ecology.
Q: What’s one thing everyone can do to help the good food movement?
A: Organize over a table shared with old friends and new.
The Change Food Fest “Growing the Good Food Movement” will take place in New York City on November 12 and 13, 2016. We will explore and celebrate change happening in the food system. Rather than simply talk about problems, we will actively look at solutions that are leading us to the sustainable food system we wish to see. Our focus will be on both real and visionary change and will include an exploration into seafood, plant based vs meat diets, possible impacts of new businesses and investment money coming into the food space – and much more. Join us! You can purchase a ticket or host a viewing party of the live webcast in your local community.