17 July 2008

Back Talk: Raj Patel

"We're encouraged to see these social problems as individual problems.
about dieting, not political action--about some ethic of control of the
self. It's
much easier for media left and right to be thinking that if we
shop ethically
and make the right choices, we will be free. We can only
be free if we get
involved in the politics so we can make free choices."
~ Raj Patel

Once again, Christine Smallwood has produced a provocative "Back Talk" column at The Nation. You can find it here. This time the subject is Raj Patel, scholar, writer and activist whose new book is entitled Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System (Melville House, 2008). I've not read the book. But it apparently starts with a chapter on food riots (Patel mentions these briefly in the Balk Talk interview), is resolutely non-consumerist, and makes clear many of the non-obvious links between the food "choices" available to us and broader political-economic institutions.

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Blogger Ben said...

i'm not entirely sure i see the same disconnect between individual shopping choices and engaging in more collective political action. Slow Food, the organization that sprang out of a group of italian anarchists is now very much focused on getting individuals to make more responsible (and enjoyable) personal choices in cooking, shopping and eating. hugh fearnley whitingstall, a brittish food-person/cookbook author has a book called "meat" where he talks a lot about not just the negative vote of refusing to buy meat that has been raised/produced unethically, but also of the positive vote we, as individuals cast by supporting the local responsible butcher or farmer. We all spend so much time and money on food every day that it seems like an area where individual action is a pretty powerful tool, and shouldn't be cast as an alternative to collective action.

18 July, 2008 10:08  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Ben, In the US, at least, people tend to think that having bought this or that nominally 'green' or 'sustainable' product, they've done their bit. The notion that they need to work for policies that would support local agriculture - where that would imply actually interacting with farmers is off the charts.

in my own home town, the local food coop located itself in a place where nearly no one can reach it without driving. It is a consumerist undertaking and not worried about issues of transportation (which effect how much time, say, we have to think about the sorts of food we eat).

Are buying and protesting mutually exclusive? No, obviously. But do most people stop with buying? Yes.

18 July, 2008 10:21  

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