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Food justice is about more than food security and nutrition

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Wednesday, 06 August 2014

Food justice is about more than food security and nutrition

We need fundamental change in the food system that has developed in the rich world, particularly in the last 75 years or so.

It is dysfunctional and unjust — and it fails to deliver a safe, secure, sufficient, nutritious diet sustainably for everyone with equity. As Amartya Sen noted more than three decades ago, if people go hungry, that is about them not having enough food to eat, not a characteristic of there not being enough food to eat.

The majority of the world's chronically hungry people are rural, most living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Increasingly, all societies are also faced with problems of being overweight and obese. Our concern should therefore be with malnutrition of both too little and too much and the systemic reasons why — taken together — this is growing and spreading globally.

The systemic issues concern poverty and powerlessness and their expression in different societies and the resultant consequences for people's lives and diets. Such concerns are missing from too much thinking on food security and nutrition.

However, these problems are not confined to poorer countries. Indeed, in 2012, the United States spent $78 billion on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for over 46 million Americans.

Most approaches to reducing malnutrition still focus on technological innovations to increase food production as the main solution — rather than social, legal, economic and cultural innovations.

However, the true driver of innovation has been the needs of the rich, not the poor. Current food production patterns grew out of the recent history of European imperialism and colonialism, and the development of capitalism to date.

For the key actors in the rich world's food system — from input suppliers to retailers — the key driver of change has been competition between them for who makes what money out of food. But they had to operate in environments governed by problems with overproduction, limited demand and saturated markets, as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development pointed out more than 30 years ago.

The basic problem for business is that we do not need that much food for a healthy life. Enough is all we need. Consuming more than enough causes health problems, yet food businesses compete for capital and returns alongside other business not facing such pressures — people can buy loads of clothes, DVDs or shoes but not consume 4-5 times their food needs. It has led to pressures to increase the amounts consumed, to create more eating opportunities and ever more varieties of processed, value-added — more profitable — foods, and foods that turn cheap materials into expensive ones, which is what much meat and dairy is today.

The industrial, fossil-fuelled production model that developed, which needs uniform ingredients, has also encouraged mono-cropping, with research and development tending to focus on the need to develop technical fixes for the problems that this form of production causes, and to focus heavily on relatively few crops that are widely traded — neglecting many other plants and animals that have always been part of diets in different parts of the world.

Source: devex.com