Food for All: How to Respond to Market Excesses

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On Thursday, June 28, the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition will release Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet in New York City. Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights a contributing author of Eating Planet, and shares his or her views on how to fix the broken food system. If you live in NYC, you can register to attend for FREE by clicking HERE, or tune in on the 28th via livestream. We will be taking questions in real time from the audience, from the livestream, and from Twitter and Facebook.

Raj Patel argues that climate change, financial speculation, and other factors have disrupted the food system. (Photo Credit:

In his introduction to a chapter in the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition’s new book, Eating PlanetNutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet, award-winning writer, activist, and academic Raj Patel describes five reasons for the multiple failures of today’s modern food system and suggests important policy responses.

More than 1.5 billion people worldwide are overweight and another 1 billion are hungry. Both problems are signs that while the current food system has worked to produce calories and profit, it has failed to nourish the world. According to Patel, there are five reasons why the food system has come up short:

1. Climate Change. Global weather has been unpredictable, with storms, floods, and droughts occurring with greater intensity and frequency than in the past. These weather patterns have reduced global wheat harvests by 5 percent over the past 30 years.

2. Biofuels.  Investment in biofuels has distorted the planting decisions of farmers toward crops that are used for fuel rather than for human nutrition.

3. The Western Diet.  The emphasis on meat and empty calories means that a great deal of land is dedicated to producing feed for animals, creating grain-poor geographical areas and populations.

4. Financial Speculation. Some models suggest that financial speculation has tied the price of food to other commodities, increasing price swings and costs in food markets.

5. High Oil Prices. The high cost of oil has extensively driven up production and transport costs for food.

“Unfortunately, governments are doing little directly to address the underlying problems,” says Patel. Russia, for example, announced a wheat-export moratorium in 2010, which worked well for farmers there, but caused a panic in global wheat markets. National governments need to go beyond ad hoc measures that leave the central initiatives of the global food system largely unaddressed, says Patel.

Many of the more-innovative policy responses to the failures of the food system can be found at local, municipal and sub-national levels—with food policy councils that experiment with ideas for guaranteeing the right to food to local citizens, according to Patel.

Some cities have attempted to address one of the problems with the food system—the availability of sugar—with an innovative “sugar tax.” The tax raises prices on items high in empty calories, such as carbonated beverages.  The tax, however, may affect the poor disproportionately because they spend a greater amount of household budgets on food than the rich.

A more effective policy would be if a tax on sugar, such as the soda tax, were a part of a larger public health project to make the food industry liable for health costs and create more food choices for everyone, says Patel.

Ultimately the goal is not to eliminate soda or sugar, but to end poverty, and this conversation has been long overdue, Patel says. In this conversation, local and regional levels of innovative policy need to be expanded to break the cycle that limits access to healthy food and the profiteering of the food industry from it.

Patel envisions a counter-movement against the status quo which asserts democratic control over the food system, and many systems will often experience this for the first time.

If you live in NYC, you can register to attend for FREE by clicking HERE, or tune in on the 28th via livestream. We will be taking questions in real time from the audience, from the livestream, and from Twitter and Facebook. You can also purchase your own copy of Eating Planet for $3.99 on Amazon or iTunes.

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