effects of CAPITALISM
If we are what we eat, as the well-known adage suggests, then we should bear witness to Vandana Shiva’s insight that “the hijacking of our food systems is the hijacking of our democracy.” Under capitalism, food’s nutritional value is subordinated to its value as a commodity. The result of the worldwide spread of capitalist farming has been a drastic reduction in biodiversity, the poisoning and destruction of whole ecosystems, such as the nearly-extinct coral reefs, and hunger and famine for hundreds of millions of humans worldwide.
The global food system is under assault from the twin specters of monopoly and monoculture. Regarding the latter, twelve plant and five animal species make up 75 percent of the world’s commercially produced food, and 60 percent come from only three crops – rice, maize and wheat. Massive fertilizers and pesticides are needed to maintain this unnatural agricultural system, affecting every step of the food chain, from pesticide infected bees to fish-killing algae blooms spurred by fertilizer runoff.
Despite record harvests, the number of hungry people worldwide has soared to nearly 1 billion. The powerlessness of the global poor finds its mirror in the power of agribusiness: just four companies control at least three-quarters of international grain trade. In the United States, by 2000, just ten corporations–with boards totaling only 138 people–had come to account for half of US food and beverage sales. In the United States, 87 percent of the beef cattle are slaughtered by the four largest firms, and the four largest firms process from 57 percent to 76 percent of corn, wheat, and soybeans. In Brazil, the world’s third largest food exporter, less than 1 percent of the population owns about 54 percent of the fertile agricultural land, and 32 million people are officially considered destitute.
Labor conditions in these industries are deplorable. The life expectancy of US farmworkers is forty-nine years. Seven Florida growers have been convicted of slavery involving more than 1,000 workers. And the living conditions among independent farmers in the global south is arguably worse. A quarter-million farmers in India have taken their lives because of debt induced by the high costs of nonrenewable seed, which spins billions of dollars of royalty for corporations like Monsanto.
Vandana Shiva incisively concludes with an ultimatum: “We will either have food dictatorship for a while and then a collapse of our food systems and our societies, or we will succeed in building robust food democracies, resting on resilient ecosystems and resilient communities. There is still a chance for the second alternative.”