Food Rebellions! Crisis and the Hunger for Justice

Holt-Giménez, Eric
Patel, Raj
Shattuck, Annie
Pambazuka Press, Cape Town, Dakar, Nairobi, and Oxford, 2009, ISBN 978-1-906387-30-390000, 260 pp.
Reviewed by or other comment: 

Kaur, Manmeet

Why are people fighting for food in some parts of the world while there are excesses in others? What role do international organisations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) play in this matter? Are people concerned about this state of affairs, and what do they have to say about it? Is there really not enough food to feed the world? Are technological innovations the only way to feed our populations? What about our future: is the current food system really a sustainable one?

These are some of the questions that came to my mind when I read the synopsis of this book, and - true to the questions that it inspires - Food Rebellions has provided a very interesting exploration of the international food crisis and the different dimensions of our society in which it is rooted. It brings together critical questions of sustainability, assesses international systems and organisations like the World Bank, the IMF, and multinational corporations and shows how they are failing people in their conduct, analyses contemporary food-security issues - and all through a prism of a sustainable, people-first model.

The book strikes a good balance between delving into our present unsustainable food systems and introducing different voices from those who are working towards more sustainable agricultural practices.

The first half of the book tries to unravel the story behind the world food crisis, exploring how capitalist industrial production methods are pushing the rest of the world to adopt practices that are not conducive to the welfare of their people or the environment. It also explores the false hopes inspired by new-technology initiatives, from the 'Green Revolution' to genetic modification to agro-fuels. It reflects well on how we are opening such a big window for technological interventions to take over our spaces, while devaluing traditional practices and wisdom like organic farming and small bio-diverse farms, which may in fact be the only way to meet our needs in a sustainable way. It re-affirms a faith in organic and sustainable agriculture with compelling support such as studies claiming that organic agriculture could actually increase global food productivity by as much as 50 per cent. It also opens an important discussion on how the World Bank and the IMF have been key players in manipulating the 'developing countries' to open up their markets, which has allowed countries like the USA to dump their excess food, thus disabling smaller agricultural producers. It separates the proximate and the long-term policy flaws that have led to this global food disaster.

The second part of the book brings a ray of hope, with inspiring insights into the importance of small, organic, bio-diverse farms in moving towards a sustainable future. It looks at how this crisis can be an opportunity to change and rectify our relationship with the means by which food is produced. It explores the African food situation in terms of the struggles of the Green Revolution and offers agro-ecological solutions. The book builds a very strong case for adopting greener practices of production and allays concerns about insufficient yield caused by archaic production methods. It ends with very interesting appendices of voices from all over the world, demanding a secure and sustainable food order.

Throughout the book the authors use many examples to substantiate their arguments, presented in the form of text boxes, which are quite an interesting read on their own, and make the narrative very relevant to real problems around the world.

For me some important lessons to emerge are in the realm of international policy. It was very enlightening to understand the role of the World Bank's Structural Adjustment Programmes, which forced 'free markets' on all their 'beneficiaries' and thus played a crucial role in inducing this crisis. Another inspiring lesson concerned initiatives in the USA, where on one hand their policies are inflicting unsustainable practices on the rest of the world, but on the other there are US farmers who are reverting to greener methods and building a healthier relationship with their food.

I felt that the book struck a good balance between building an argument, providing a lot of examples to substantiate views, and offering some possible solutions to the growing crisis. What really impressed me was the way in which it brings together economic policy, multi-national players, technological interventions, people and their suffering, and the possibility of addressing the crisis with definite solutions. It is a commendable effort at building a holistic critique of the current food system, and a strong argument for more emphasis on food sovereignty.

One of the book's strengths is its straightforward dialogue: the language is accessible and makes complex structures easy to relate to. It is organised well, with two clear sections - the first exploring the crisis and the second looking into solutions. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in issues related to food distribution/ markets, the current global crisis, the role of capitalism and international organisations, and hopes for an alternative future. I would also recommend, since food is such an intrinsic part of our lives, society, culture, and economies, that this book be read by everyone with a concern for our present, our future, and our rights - and specifically our right to food.