On this Global Day of Action, called Occupy Our Food Supply, a day about our food and food sovereignty, food supply, and food and planet devastation -- I had the privilege of hearing Vandana Shiva (and guests) speak in person, in Halifax, NS. The morning was called "A Feast of Conversation about Women , Men and Food". Sponsored by the EAC, Oxfam and Mount St. Vincent University.
I heard today about the need to organize to take back our food, our seed and our soil. I heard that our food system is part of a global system that is hurting the planet and hurting women, in particular. A system that puts profit, mono-culture and dead seed (terminator seeds) before the needs of people and the planet. I heard Vandana Shiva be inspiring and call us to action - not necessarily large planet-changing action - but things that we can do here at home. She did warn us, at the same time, not to think small! We can take on even the largest corporations and win.
The morning began with a presentation by Marnina Gonick, a Women's Studies professor at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax. She talked about sex and gender - that sex is about biological characteristics, and that gender is socially constructed. She spoke briefly about how we sometimes think we are past gender inequality, in the "west" , but that much inequality remains - women, for example, still do most of the housework and childcare even while working fulltime. Men still dominate in business, religion, sports and still make significantly more money than women.
As we heard later from Dr. Shiva this is a problem in most of the world. So as we went through the speakers and conversations, in the morning, we were asked to think about "what difference does gender make? And what difference does difference make" especially when thinking about food. The overarching question was "How does putting Women's Rights and Gender Justice at the heart of food system conversation help mobilize change?" and that is what we spent the morning thinking and talking about.
Dr. Shiva spoke of the following, and although not in her words, I am doing my best to paraphrase and precis what she said:
80% of food worldwide today comes, not from large agri-business, but from small farms/plots, and the majority of them are worked by women. Women's work though is generally invisible. Why, Dr. Shiva asked is that work invisible? Because, Global Capital assumes that that nature is dead and that women don't work! The challenge is to make that work visible.
Several times Dr. Shiva mentioned the violence of the green revolution, and the book that she wrote about it, The Violence of the Green Revolution: Ecological degradation and political conflict in Punjab, 1992, Zed Press, New Delhi. That was about the punjab in 1984 - always described as religious strife but was in fact about land and water and debt.
She mentioned the violence of Union Carbide and the Bhopal criminal disaster that still has meant no justice, especially for the women that primarily carry on the fight. Dow bought union carbide and says that they have no liability for the Bhopal disaster - but when you buy a company you buy not just their assets but also their liabilities - but still there is no justice for the victims of Bhopal. There is a campaign now to remove Dow as a sponsor of the London Olympics as they have refused to actually negotiate (though the Indian gov. is also culpable by accepting, on behalf of the victims, a paltry settlement) This, Dr. Shiva pointed out, was just a part of the violence perpetrated on the planet by the fertilizer and now giant food production companies, like Cargill. Fertilizer comes out of munitions research - It is war chemicals used in agriculture and their names reflect that like Roundup- and Dr. Shiva rhymed off others that I cannot recall. . .
Monoculture, she went on to say, is like war - it is conformist, highly regimented and not at all chaotic, like life.
She had us imagine the picture of many combines going across a field at once - looks like tanks massing on a battle field.
On the contrary - living soil can only be handled by living hands.
She talked about how corporations are given the status of people - but they are NOT people! They do not have minds, they cannot think, they don't have ideas and they should not be able to patent life. As they have no intellect - they cannot have intellectual property.
She talked about not just the sexism, and how women are the ones that have protected the seed, and nurtured the soil, even in the face of monoculture, but the racism in the multi-national food industry that they call the less nutritious white rice superior and the dark coloured, highly nutritious millets traditionally used by women in India, inferior. She went on to talk extensively about the vocabulary of seed and the implications.
She then made several excellent points about productivity. I have thought a lot lately about how we move to a sustainable economy - how do we stop the insistence on "growth" to be productive? in this vein Dr. Shiva mentioned that if you consume what you produce it is not considered "productive" - so there is a tendency to want to move to monoculture and exporting food as this is then rated as an improvement in productivity, though people may have gone from feeding themselves to starving! In addition, these days a lot of "food" is grown to make bio-fuels and run cars and/or to feed animals. It is totally untrue, she insisted, that large scale agriculture produces more food, in fact, as she put it: TLC (tender loving care) produces more yield than NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium- the ingredients of chemical fertilizers - you know the kind that you can use to make bombs) Monoculture is NOT more productive. We just count it that way. (See Who's Counting by Marilyn Waring - just my suggestion, not mentioned by Dr. Shiva)
So the food system is occupied by the corporations and we need to re-occupy our food. Food should be for people not for profit. Not just food, either but other agricultural products - as Dr. Shiva said, 95% of all cotton grown in India is BT cotton and the seed is owned and controlled by Monsanto. The seed once planted cannot be used to gather seed - it must be purchased every year and cannot be saved. In order to buy the seed, you need to get into substantial debt. This is a major reason for the increase in the number of farmer suicides in India in the last ten years - 250,000!
The boundary between reality and spin, Dr. Shiva said, has dissolved and we have to work very hard to see reality. We need to support diversity and women and she drew our attention to a group - Diverse Women for Diversity. - part of her organization - Navdanya for which there were several fundraisers during her visit to Nova Scotia.
Dr, Shiva returned later from some Q & A - but in the meantime there was a presentation about the Local situation by Dr. Patti Wiliams. She spoke about the N.S. Participatory Food Costing project. She talked about how food is too expensive for families that earn a low income (just fyi - almost 30% of Nova Scotians earn minimum wage) - not that food costs too much, she reassured us as farmers have to make a decent living, too. But that income inequality in society means that women (who earn less) and especially single mothers do not have enough income to feed their children nutritious meals.
She showed a video that is worth taking in - spoken word and typography. . . It is only a minute long and worth watching. . .
Tim Merry - Kinetic Typography from Jeff Harper on Vimeo.
In Nova Scotia there is a LOT going on -- time to seize the moment - we have a wave of people wanting to buy local, an explosion of farmer's markets and lots happening with the N.S. Food Security Network.
When Dr. Shiva returned after we had "conversations at our table" I seem to have recorded what sound like a lot of aphorisms -- all of them good - but she was answering questions which I did not record and all of this is great stuff. So here it is, as well as I could record it:
Silence is not neutral. It mans that you are taking the side of the oppressor if you do not speak out.
Life is about meaningful work, and serving the community, not about money.
I am part of the web of life - think of us all as microrhizome fungi - (I think I have that right?) spreading out as a network below ground but all networked together - a great picture (and made me want to find out more about it!)
Corporations claim intellectual property - stealing the knowledge from indigenous peoples and then profiting from it. There is no intellectual property in this area - it is piracy - and is in fact called bio-piracy!
We can fight the corporate control of food - we do not need the billions that they have to win against them - we need solidarity and networking and we can beat them [Hey - we can be like the fungus!]
Through most of history we have eaten food that is good for us, now we are eating food that is a curse for us. High fructose corn syrup should NOT exist.
The knowledge of sharing is where we create abundance. the culture of sharing is what we need to build.
Everyday Ghandi said "make me more womanly" . Women have relationships to each other and to the soil and seed. . . men need to nurture a relationship soil, seed, the eath that is more like women. To be non-violent is a cultivated trait - men need to be partners, and it is a benefit for them. . . Men, who have got used to the system of dominance, will ind life more joyful if they engage in partnerships with women.
Conservation can become the basis of production. (In answer to a question about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault) We need to keep seed adapting while the climate changes - we need to turn to the women to the soil and the seed, and away from monoculture and chemicals and nurture the soil - that will keep seed and the food supply secure.
Centralized systems of corporate control (a few companies control the world's food, a few companies are the world's retailers etc.) create hunger - not our inability to grow enough.
Monoculture produces commodities, not food. You can have more and more of may or few commodities but still have hunger. Food distribution systems are driven by subsidy and profit. 50% of the food in the world is wasted - monoculture and shipping long distances creates waste. Shipping means breeding food for long shelf life instead of taste, quality and nutrition. (breeding for rocks!) "fresh" means that you can eat it right away - not bred for shipping long distances.
Soil organisms are what feed us.
Asked what she recommened that we do/action we should take Dr. Shiva said:
No monoculture of the mind! We do not all have to take the same action. We need local activists, people working for organics, to create and nurture farmer's markets, we need research - how can we overcome monoculture and the practice of making high cost, low quality food, cheap? We need to make corporations pay the real cost of what they produce and sell. We need to protect seed and soil and build a global seed campaign.
So ends my notes on a talk by Vandana Shiva and others on the Day of Action on food - Let's re-occupy food!