Monday, September 27, 2010

Michael Pollan and Raj Patel: The Politics and Economics of Food (How Markets Promote Famine and Subsidize Sickness)

(Extra credit opportunity for HUM 121 students)

The Politics and Economics of Food (How Markets Promote Famine and Subsidize Sickness)
Unwelcome Guests

Most Americans seem to know little about what is in the food they eat, by any standards a pretty remarkable state of affairs. Our first speaker this week is Michael Pollan, author of several books on food. His 2008 talk, "In Defence of Food", encourages us to look at food from a common sense, rather than a scientific perspective. His advise on what to eat is simple - "Eat food, not too much, mostly vegetables". But what is food? He also advises "not to eat anything that your great grandmother wouldn't recognise as food."

On the relationship between food and health, he notes that around 1960, the average US citizen spent 18% of their income on food, while their healthcare expense was about 5%. Nowadays, the average US citizen spends only 9% of their income on food, but their healthcare bill is up to around 17%. He discusses the role of the farm bill in shaping the food choices available to Americans, by heavily subsidizing corn and soy, and explains why the cheapest foods in the modern supermarket are the least healthy ones. He concludes that the agribusiness is overreaching, both politically and technologically, while a grassroots resistance movement is growing to food hegemony.

After a junk food song, "Twinkies and Ding Dongs" by Slash J. Frank, our second hour features Raj Patel, speaking on "The Hidden Battle for the World Food System". He will be asking questions such as

"Which unhealthy ingredient is in ¾ of all processed fast food?"
"What is lecithin?"
"Why is there no Wal★Mart in Germany?"
"What is Bunny Chow, and how does it relate to the apartheid laws?"
"Is your food made to suit you, or are you made to suit your food?"
"What is the importance of the Italian Communist Party to food?"

He rejects 'supermarket democracy' which allows consumers to choose from multiple different brands of the same toxic junk, and suggests that the answer is not shopping but political organising.

To Listen to the Episode

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