Empty Calories

If you’ve followed the food crisis at all, you’ve seen the name Raj Patel pop up again and again, like some sort of jack-in-the-box development and agriculture policy expert. A young visiting scholar at the University of California–Berkeley, Patel’s had the rare academic fortune of having the many problems predicted in his new book, Stuffed & Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, come to pass.

In a recent profile in the San Francisco Chronicle, Patel talked about how the World Bank and the WTO have “hampered” sustainable agriculture, encouraged food trade instead of watching over small farmers, and removed the last buffers between “the price shocks and the bellies of the poorest people on earth.” (On Patel’s blog, he amusingly notes that he has “worked for the World Bank, interned at the WTO, consulted for the UN and been involved in international campaigns against his former employers.”) In Stuffed & Starved, as quoted in the Chronicle, he writes that in every country, “the contradictions of obesity, hunger, poverty and wealth are becoming more acute.”

In India, for example: “In 1992, in the same towns and villages where malnutrition had begun to grip the poorest families, the Indian government admitted foreign soft drinks manufacturers and food multinationals to its previously protected economy,” he writes. “Within a decade, India has become home to the world’s largest concentration of diabetics.”

Meanwhile, the food riots continue. Patel says to expect more.

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