ETH WFS 2016

So, good morning. It’s really exciting to be here with you, because I can feel your energy and your awareness. What we all want to do here is give you some rocket fuel. And be your groundcrew. We want to make sure you’ve got good navigation resources. Because things look pretty clear from here, but once you are moving, there’s going to be a lot of interference. You can always check back with us when you are underway, but you may be too busy to do that, so this course is a strategy briefing.

Economics is not the most attractive science, unless you are a day-trader looking for tips on predicting the stock market. For a lot of people who want to improve the world and care for the ecology, economics seems to be in the way. Martin has a different view. He said “economics forces people to be honest and to communicate”. I’ve never heard this idea about economics before, but I think it’s very interesting.

Obviously I can’t teach all of economics in one day, but I’m going to introduce you to some of the key sites of analysis. The first one is What IS economics? 


Economics is not about Math, It’s about Power Outline of lecture Concepts to track
History is not over

Institutions are grinding away in the background

Ideology structures imagination
(hegemony + paradigms)

Edge is fertile

what is economics?
♦ commodification
♠ colonialism
♦ modernization
♠ Green Revolution
♦ growth
♦ export
♦ inequality
♣ debt
♣ Free Trade Agreements
♠ financialization
♥ ecology
♥ solidarity
♥ community
land control

“superior science”




Economics is not about math. It’s not a natural science. It’s a set of political decisions that every society in history has made differently. How the economy works is a decision. How the resources of the society will be used. How poverty and wealth are understood and managed. How transactions will happen. These decisions are about power. 

Sometimes we are looking at problems like climate change as technical problems. But the knowledge about these points has been clear for decades. We don’t have an information problem, we have a power problem. What is power?

Martin asked a lot of amazing questions yesterday and showed us some very important things. I want to return to our first stop with the corn. He talked about sweet corn and someone said “Monsanto”. In the same way that he pushed you to find the cause of ecological diversity, I need to push you to understand why the answer to that question is Monsanto. Why does Monsanto control the genetics of sweet corn? And, perhaps more important, why is Martin either the only or one of very few farmers defying this system? Both of those are questions about Power. 

I have degrees in art, urban planning, sociology, economics, and permaculture. So you can chat with me about any of these fields. The reason for that trajectory was that as an artist I started to smell power, and I looked for deeper and deeper answers in each of these fields. In the process I’ve been a professor, a street activist, a union organiser,  chef of an underground restaurant, and written 6 books – all without buying food in a supermarket or eating fast food in more than 20 years.

Sociology has 2 main interests: How does power work? And what’s the relationship between big stuff like free trade agreements and little stuff, like our daily personal lives – our health and nutrition, our feelings of security and connection, our sense of power to build a more ecological world? We have four main methods for studying power. 

  • Look in HISTORY for key events and patterns of power,  leftovers and legacies
  • Look in INSTITUTIONS for structures of power that are working away behind the scenes.
  • Look on IDEOLOGY:  which ideas are most popular and why?  what is the limit of our imagination, sense of the possible: hegemony, paradigm shifts
  • Explore the EDGEs (Martin’s “fronteirs”): voices which are under and outside. What’s been left out of history, where are the innovations that everyone thinks are crazy? Deeper truths/ Struggle for hegemony / how does change happen? people make experiments on the edges. these experiments sometimes become new paradigms 



So I want to start with a very basic idea in economics which I think is very important for food, which is the idea of commodification.
use value ≡ O-O

money ≡ O-M-O
exchange value ≡ M-C-M+ . M to M+ is about concealment, unequal power/position.

In school we are taught that economics is about supply and demand. Many people assume that need is the same thing as demand. But need is only demand when you can enter the market, with something to trade or money to buy. And once we are in the M+ system, we have a commodity chain in which the seller’s only interest is +. 


Colonialism is history, but it is also a form of international relationship which is still alive today, taking different names and forms.

British, French, portuguese, Spanish, dutch conquests of Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and parts of Asia took place from 1400s to 1900s. Realize that people in these places were doing fine. They had agriculture, trade, education, cosmology, medicine, jewelery, art, what we call “natural resource management” regimes, math, science (“experimental method”). Colonialism is that it was a very sophisticated system for taking control of land, labor, resources, and markets… It involved military, economic, political, legal, social, cultural, ideological, and religious tactics. It involved slavery, but slavery is very inefficient. there are cheaper ways. Controlling people’s minds is cheaper. So terror and religion and the idea of “civilization” were used to convince people to see the conquerers as superior and to submit themselves and hand over their stuff.

Example: In India, before the British came, there was a very advanced system of agriculture and people were wearing cotton clothes. Under colonialism, military force and taxation were used to drive peasants off of their  subsistence farms. these people then became what are called “landless laborers”. whereas before they were able to feed themselves from their own farms and their roles as producers and consumers were integrated, once landless these roles have been severed. British companies then invite the landless workers to come work on plantations on their former farms, and these plantations grow cotton. Britain has gained access to very cheap land, good soil, and cheap labor. the Indian peasantry has lost independence and is now dependent on getting “a job” from british companies in order to produce and to consume. The British companies then ship the cotton back to England, where the industrial revolution has just transformed the nature of society and work and there are factories with cheap labor to weave the cotton into cloth.

Then the cloth is shipped back to India, where the British colonial rulers outlaw the production of cloth, thereby forcing Indians who knew perfectly well how to make cloth, to buy it. this is called “getting control of the market”. In this case you see how law is a tool to basically steal stuff from people. One of the important things I want you to remember from this example is that the market is a resource, just like land, labor, water, seed…

One of the social and cultural tactics that colonialism used was the creation of a “comprador class”. These were native people from the colonized countries who were recruited to support the colonizers. They were basically paid off in various ways to help operate colonialism. They got to have western clothes and houses and to send their children to be educated in Cambridge and Oxford and so forth.

Now there was constant armed and unarmed resistance to this system and eventually, by around 1950, almost all of the colonized nations mounted anti-colonial revolutions.

After colonialism the third world or what we now call Global South countries they were having processes to figure out how they wanted to run their countries. this was a very messy process of dialogue. in many places the “nation” inherited from European rulers did not match pre-existing territories of ethnic groups, so it is still a source of great difficulty to work with a political unit that did not match historic social and political patterns. But they wrote some really great constitutions. Think about the fact that these constitutions were written in the 1950s, so they were much more advanced in terms of their conceptions of human rights, civil rights, social justice, class than the French and American constitutions which are supposedly the high point of democracy which were written during slavery and way before women were people. These constitutions often establish much more liberatory civil rights, including the right to education.

One of the most important dimensions of these constitutions had to do with land reform, taking the land back from the colonizers and redistributing it to the people. But in many cases, the best land in the nation remains in the hands of foreigners or national elites and is not used for local consumption. If you want to understand why postcolonial nations are “poor” or hungry look at who owns the best agricultural land, what is being grown there, and who gets to eat it. This is why in the US, winter tomatoes from Latin America are seen as an ongoing form of imperialism. An excellent book which explains exactly the cycles of postcolonial impoverishment and environmental destruction in Latin America is Bill Weinberg’s War on the Land (pdf here).

In addition to the failure to truly recover the land, another failure or incompletion of decolonization was the story about superiority. While there was very much debate and effort to re-embrace traditional culture, the educated people of the society who were in a position to provide leadership and expertise had been educated in the colonizer’s science and economics. These were often the national elites who had helped to free the country, but they may also have come from the comprador class, and hoped to benefit from continued relations with the former colonizers, this time as “partners”. Even if they weren’t looking out for their own personal gain, as “leaders”, they often implemented forms of national development which sought to improve conditions by copying the ideas of the colonizers.

Another leftover piece of colonialism is “paternalism”. This was the ideology used to control humanitarians from the colonizing country. It said that even though this system seemed brutal and tragic, it was really better for the colonized people, because they had been so uncivilized before. so enslaving and brutalizing people and destroying their way of life was recast as doing them a big favor. And you can see this same ideology is still active in discussions about sweatshops “well yes, it’s terrible, but at least it’s a job.” Even fair trade in some way depends on this idea: Who really falls for the point that Europeans eating chocolate helps poor people?

So while postcolonial nations were trying to figure out how to manage “independence”, the capitalist countries (Europe and US) were competing with the socialist bloc (at first the USSR and more recently China) for control of postcolonial countries’ resources. So they were sort of trying to seduce the third world into forming alliances with them. The great historic struggle between capitalism and socialism, from the perspective of Latin America and Africa, was not about any ideological issue, or even about class warfare, as it was in Europe and the US, it was simply a question of which bloc was going to give them a better deal for their resources.

Readings about decolonization

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Pierre Clastres, Society Against the State


The capitalist countries’ offer was this promise called “modernization theory”. If the third world countries would focus their economies on export then they would get economic growth. Growth in turn was promised to bring increased standard of living (education, healthcare, longer lives, less infant mortality, infrastructure like roads, electricity, telephones, and environmental quality). The promise was that the third world nations would slowly become first world nations and even, eventually, democracies. It was a big sales job to both sides. If the taxpayers of the former colonizer countries “invested” in the colonies, then we’d get world “peace”, because with increasing incomes and standard of living, nations would have no need for war.

investment > control/direction > “superior” technology

Green Revolution

India became independent in 1947. By 1952 American agencies had a strategy for getting control of Indian agriculture by new means. The “green revolution” of hybrid seeds were a strategy For economic power. In The Violence of the Green Revolution (pdf here), Vandana Shiva goes into painstaking scientific and statistical detail to show that the hybrid seeds which were promoted by these first world labs (funded by the Ford Foundation) were not superior to the traditional varieties. They were more dependent on chemical inputs, required more water, put farmers into debt, and in many cases did NOT produce more food. They were designed for monoculture and export, not in fact to address “hunger and poverty in the third world”, and they can be linked to an increase in inequality and even to the emergence of ethnic conflict. But the ideas of superiority are so powerful that they overwhelm the empirical reality of failure. And, even more sadly, they overwhelm the reality that traditional varieties were very productive.

This same logic is being used to bully and force farmers and countries into biotechnology. This is the future because we say it is, despite biological, ecological, health, and productivity concerns, despite the fact you don’t want it. You have to take it because we say it’s good for you. 


The Green Revolution promises assume that large-scale monocrop production is more efficient. This is called “economy of scale”. In his book, Family Farming, agricultural economist Marty Strange analyzes in very careful detail how it is that this is wrong for farming. That large monocrop farms are less efficient, and more economically fragile than small farms. More recently, Peter Rosset has expanded this analysis to postcolonial farms in an article which demonstrates again that small farms are more productive. fragile ecologically and economically. 


Underneath the idea of economies of scale is another idea, which is the rarely questioned presumption that growth is a priority.

Martin talked about this yesterday when he talked about the contribution cows have made to civilization as the ability to be in a place.

So what is growth? When we talk about economics, one of the basic issues is how do we define a successful economy, and the main way that is defined at the moment is growth (total dollar value of the economy’s output). a successful economy is seen as 3% compound growth forever. But there are several problems with this concept.
1. Compound growth forever if we could achieve it, produces much more than we need, so it’s not an accurate goal.
2. It doesn’t say anything qualitative about what we produce. If growth is the goal, toxic chemical spills and cancer are very good aspects of the economy, because they generate business.
3. Compound growth doesn’t respect any kind of ecological limits.
4. Growth doesn’t tell us anything about what we do with profit. So a country can have an impressive growth rate, but all that money might be kept in the hands of an elite.
5. Growth can result in overproduction, which is a big risk to business and industry security.
6. Lots of economic activities that aren’t even measured by growth.

There are alternative approaches to measuring an economy. One would be to measure inequality, the gap between the rich and poor. Another would be to measure quality of life in various ways. (health, education levels, leisure time…). A third would be to define “enoughness”, which is something a lot of alternative entrepreneurs have done. They are pretty clear about defining limits to their businesses, how much they can produce maintaining quality of the product and quality of their own life, how much income is enough for them.

A few books to look at:

Maria Mies, The Subsistence Perspective (excerpts)
J.K Gibson-Graham, 
Post-Capitalist Politics
Richard Douthwaite, 
the Growth Illusion and Short Circuit
Herman Daly, 
Beyond Growth and Steady-state Economics
David Harvey, 
Seventeen Contradictions
Edward Goldsmith, 
The Great U-Turn and 7 Paths of ecology

Export & Externalization

Growth actually leads to a worse problem than lack of productivity, which is overproduction. Overproduction is a crucial concept for food economics. When there’s a whole lot of something available, the price falls. Since the profit margin on agricultural products is so small, a fall in price often means that the selling price is lower than the price of production. This is a disaster for farmers. While people making TVs can distinguish their product by making it different colors, or put it in a warehouse for a few months, most farm products cannot be re-branded or stored. So farmers are very vulnerable to the effects of overproduction. The only solution is to find another market, and this is why big agricultural producers in the US work so hard to to find ways of getting rid of their products. USFoodAid is one mechanism for this. Nothing better for farmers than the government buying their products at a set price for emergency purposes. But generally this problem is solved in other ways, by finding a place to export to who needs what we’ve got too much of, or where ours will be cheaper. This is a good strategy from the overproducers’ point of view, but it can be a disaster for the local producers who suddenly find a new seller in the market, selling at desperately low prices. The fate of these farmers is an “externality”.

The well-being of the exporting farmers relies on not having to pay for or think about the fate of the other farmers whose market they undercut. It also depends on their not having to pay the true prices of transportation, and other things.

The profit on any product is the gap between the selling price and the costs. If you can’t make money by raising the price or selling more products, another way to increase the profit is reduce the costs. One way businesses reduce costs is by externalizing. This means that instead of paying to dispose of toxic waste in the correct manner, they dump it illegally. Instead of following the labor laws, they risk workers’ lives, or pay them less. This externalizes the costs of their business onto the workers’ health, the environment, etc. International trade depends on a transport system that externalizes the costs of pollution.

So why would you want to build an economy based on export? In the late 1700s and early 1800s, some British economists started to study trade. Their ideas have been taken very seriously – perhaps too seriously – and taken out of context. They are still revered today despite very different conditions. One of the most important things which has changed is that in their time it was unthinkable that any businessman would make investments outside of his home country.
Their basic idea can be summarized as “if you can get it cheaper elsewhere, go for it!” and “if someone is willing to buy it, export it!” The problem with this theory is that while it’s true some products can be produced more cheaply in one place than another, this cheapness often ignores issues to do with the environment, employment, quality, security and culture. 

  • Why is it cheaper there? Because of slave labor? Because of fewer environmental rules? In other words, because of externalization?
  • What is the effect here of abandoning domestic (national/local) producers?
  • Is the product really as good as what can be produced here?
  • Do we really want to sell our best stuff to the highest bidder, or do we want to keep it for reasons of culture, security, etc.?
  • Which kind of businesses are in a position to benefit from export? Large producers and middle-men.


So there was this promise to the postcolonial nations that if they did growth and export they would become like the colonizing countries. It has been a 65 year experiment on the postcolonial nations and there has not been a single case of “success”. Every country which looked like a success – Korea (see Walden Bello, Dragons in Distress), Argentina, even the Baltics for a minute (see Woolfson)  – have later run into big trouble.

in the 1960s a critique emerged from the postcolonial nations that the form of development being promoted by their former colonizers was not actually modernization along the path that allowed them to develop, but something they described as “dependent development”. the postcolonial nations were to play certain roles in the assembly line of products, roles defined by the modernized nations, but roles which were dependent on foreign production processes and consumption patterns. so the term ‘dependent development’ can be used to describe projects which allow for some kinds of development, but are dependent and therefore not allowing the third world country to have autonomous power in economic policy and development priorities. From this concern, some postcolonial economists proposed an alternate development policy of “import-substitution” which would build up domestic industries specifically to provide goods 

Despite continually changing the technologies and the jargon, the promises of modernization theory are still what you find on the webpage of the World Bank and in all the Free Trade Agreements. All of the possible meanings of development are collapsed into the project of “market access”, which means exporting as much as possible. The presumption is that if you can sell more and more stuff somehow, this will help the country.


Helena Norberg-Hodge, Learning from Ladakh (book and film)


While many postcolonial countries have achieved certain appearances of development, such as fancy airports and tall office buildings and air conditioned shopping malls with luxury brands, but when you look deeper at the costs for labor rights, environmental degradation, healthcare, you often see the rise of wealthier classes at the cost of new ways of impoverishing the poor, whether by destroying the subsistence base or by creating a hell of sweatshops.

Cell phone penetration” especially gives the impression of a democratic level of development, but this may also be an illusion. If we can look beyond the airports and cellphones, we don’t have to look very deeply to find shocking conditions for children, women, poor people, rural people. We can look at rates of out-migration, child labor, environmental toxicity, education of women, as well as more traditional measures like hunger and health outcomes.

It is hard to believe that these conditions can exist side-by-side with enormous wealth generation which has happened globally and in many countries. The explanation of this situation is what economists call “inequality”. A country can have a high rate of production and exports, but almost all of the wealth can stay in the hands of a very tiny minority of the country. And it appears that inequality is increasing globally, and within most countries, including the so-called “first world”, “developed”, or “rich” countries. The US and Canada have been following the growth model, with increasing inequality, environmental degradation, hunger, basically they are going backward if we evaluate development with standards like health and hunger.


Modernization theory isn’t just an Ideology. It’s a set of policies enforced by the two most important financial Institutions, the International Monetary Fund & the World Bank. These were created in 1944 ostensibly to regulate the economy after the war. The World Bank was to give large loans for infrastructure development. The IMF was to give short term loans in case of economic crisis. now their roles are less distinct.

in the 1970s OPEC was making huge oil profits, which they deposited to private banks. being banks, they wanted to make more money on the money so they wanted to loan it out and get interest. but this was so much money they didn’t even know where to loan it. they decided to loan it to third world countries. at the time, countries were not thought to be defaultable. so huge amounts were loaned out at very low interest, and next to no oversight over what the money would be used for, perhaps assuming that it would be used to develop the economy. Much of the money was given to non-democratically elected regimes or dictators. They spent a lot of it on military to repress resistance movements in their country. A good amount of it was spent on luxuries or put in foreign bank accounts.  Some of it was spent on what are called “symbols of development”, like one skyscraper or an elegant airport, or a fancy highway that went a short distance. Very little of this money was spent on infrastructure or any kind of economic development that would build the country in the long term or benefit the poor.

In the 1980s, interest rates skyrocket, and export earnings in major commodities that third world countries depend on the earnings from declined and the loans can’t be paid. At this point the IMF steps in to buy out the loans. IMF bailouts rarely have a positive impact on the people of a country in crisis, what they are doing is bailing out the banks.96% of the Greek bailout has gone to private banks, lots of them German banks. So Germany really bailed themselves out for making bad loans, they weren’t really helping Greece. So the IMF became the loan-holder for the third world debt and at this point, they say “we’ll roll over your loan” (like taking a second mortgage), but they toughen up the rules. they say “we want to make sure you can pay, so we’re going to help make sure you’re running your economy in a way that will ensure you can pay.” This “advice” takes the form of Structural Adjustment Programs, which are also known as Structural Adjustment Conditionalities.

These “programs” are really conditions imposed by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other International Financial Institutions (IFIs). What Greece is going through right now is exactly what so many Global South nations have been going through since the 1980s. The people are suffering and the national economy is being damaged in order to pay for irresponsible decisions by foreign investers. 

What SAPs basically do is liquidate the economy through budget-cutting and privatization. Money should not be spent on any kind of social services, food subsidies, government inspections, or enforcement (so they lay off civil sector workers), education and healthcare should not be free (so user fees are imposed). Government-owned enterprises, like oil, mines, the transportation and water system, should be sold off to the highest international bidder. This means that a foreign corporation, instead of the government, will decide about the fees for using the water, transportation, energy, etc. Reduce the price of labor by repressing organizing, suspending labor laws, lowering minimum wages, and devaluing the currency (to make labor cheaper for foreign corporations) and to make exports cheaper on the global market. These same kinds of cuts are called “austerity” programs when they’re implemented in Europe. Different names for the same thing.

SAPs also include opening any protected markets to imports. This is how the Jamaican dairy industry was destroyed in 1993. 

SAPs supposedly have the purpose of improving the national economy, but even the WB’s own economists document an inverse relationship between sap implementation & growth.

Since the early 2000s, as a result of international humanitarian organizing, there have been some programs, like the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative or the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, which create the appearance to reduce or even cancel the debt payments. However, almost always these reductions went hand-in-hand with further structural adjustment.  The countries which have received the debt relief have indeed been able to restore parts of the budget to health and education. There are some statistics showing improvement. But the colonizers seem to never give up. They’re back with a new kind of debt, called Public-Private-Partnerships in which the debt doesn’t actually count as national debt, so it’s harder to track. where the private sector is guaranteed large profits, and the risk remains with the government. The Takoradi 2 power plant and Teshie-Nungua desalinisation plant are two cases in Ghana where private companies are guaranteed large profits, which is causing both high prices, and high government payments. (According to Maximilien Queyranne from the IMF Fiscal Affairs Department, the fiscal risks of PPPs are “potentially large” because they can be used to “move spending off budget and bypass spending controls” and “move debt off balance sheet and create contingent and future liabilities”. He also warns that they “reduce budget flexibility in the long term”. Jubilee article.) 

In the last few decades there have been many campaigns to investigate and question the legitimacy of imposing external conditions on sovereign nations’ economic policies, causing such a massive human cost. As a result the IMF and World Bank have cleverly renamed Structural Adjustment Conditions as “Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, and they even make countries “participate” in writing them.

There is also a lot of investigation of where the debt came from in the first place. Some of the debts are very old debts, taken out for very dubious purposes by people who are not around any more, like dictators who maybe used them to build a palace, or a fancy airport, or even to buy military hardware to repress democratic movements in their countries. Maybe they stashed some of this money in Switzerland. Some of the money was spent on things that look like “development”, like dams. The interesting thing about dams is that the companies that build them are usually foreign companies, and the energy created is usually used by corporations, but the price is paid by the indigenous people who lose their land, by environmental and cultural destruction, and by the money paid by all the people of the country, even though they don’t receive the benefit of using the energy. Like any salesmen, those who sell dams and other projects like that promise it’s going to have a transformative effect and the country will no longer have poverty afterward, and like any salesmen they are not accountable for the final outcome of what they sold. And a lot of the debt is the fault of irresponsible banks making bad loans, and when the accumulation of all those loans causes the banks to become insolvent, the country is held responsible. There are even special investment funds, or predatory hedge funds, called “debt vultures”which speculate (and thereafter profit) on the debt of countries in economic crisis..


The profit is control

Obviously not all debt is the same. There are good and reasonable, and payable loans. There are irresponsible and deceptive loans. There is leftover debt. There are various kinds of manipulative debt, such as indentured servitude. And there are many traditions of debt relief from the Christian idea of Jubilee to the Muslimprohibition on charging interest.

Debt affects the food system from the farm level– where many farmers are struggling to pay a debt that may have been a deceptive debt– to the level of national policy –where a country cannot protect the farming industry because of structural adjustment conditions. National debt becomes a powerful means of international control. The debt and how it is managed, even how it is is “forgiven” is not given or maintained with the intention to generate money profit, they generate control. they generate the right of the former colonizers to dictate the economic policies and even laws in postcolonial nations. but what this means is that they dictate the conditions of daily life for the poorest of the poor.

These IFIs are set up to help nations in times of financial crisis. But what they actually do is use that crisis as a point of leverage to impose free trade policies and other economic policies that destroy any kind of economic policies that nations might have established to achieve their own goals of “development”.

The so-called third world countries, or postcolonial countries, or what we now call “the Global South”, are seen as incompetent basket-cases who just don’t have the intelligence to be modern. The reality is that many of these countries have tried to implement much more socially just policies, like land reform, anti-hunger policies, civil rights, universal healthcare, and education. They have tried to devote the wealth of their fertile soil and natural resources to their own people, but they have been seduced or tricked or forced into relinquishing control over their economy. And so the wealth that is theirs is being sucked away by other countries. For example, Africa and Latin America are full of what are seen as “poor countries”. The reality is they are countries with massive wealth in terms of ecological resources, and because of this they have been assaulted in every possible way, from military invasion (which is sometimes done by secretly fomenting civil war), to debt-blackmail, to bad advice and bad contracts, to dirty deals with the elites to sell out their own people, and to the the ideology of superiority which convinces big parts of the population to believe that the export path is the only way.

So the ex-colonizers, in new forms could go continue raping the Global South and telling everyone it was good for them. And then when poverty continued, and socialist and democratic movements rose up in those countries, the Global North blame them for being lazy, unintelligent, violent, and corrupt. And in the case of the US with Latin America and the Caribbean, engaged in decades of undeclared war against every kind of social movement which endangered their access to resources

And despite a lot of information about how it doesn’t work, first world citizens still buy into it because they believe that any kind of “investment” or “advice” is “helping” those poor people over there, which is the same “paternalism” left over from colonialism. there is a legacy of colonialism in western ideology just as there is in the third world.

The same thing is happening in the Global North, where it’s called “austerity”. It’s Structural Adjustment policies, exactly. It’s destruction of the commons, public goods, budget cutting, labor repression, increasing desperation and dependency. All in the name of being “efficient”. But we’ve already learned that you can be highly productive and more secure without being an efficient monocrop.

More reading about “modernization”:

Catherine Caufield, Masters of Illustion: the World Bank and Poverty
Joseph Stiglitz, 
Globalization and its discontents and The price of inequality
Naomi Klien, 
Shock Doctrine
Eduardo Galleano, 
The Open Veins of Latin America
Stephanie Black, 
Life & Debt (film)

Free Trade Agreements”

  • What’s the difference between trade, free trade, and Free Trade Agreements? Trade is an ancient and basic human activity. Free Trade is a popular but controversial economic theory from the late 1700s which says that sovereign nations should not have any barriers to trading. Free Trade Agreements are not the same thing as Free Trade. Free trade Agreements are a set of treaties between countries that establish international legal structures.
  • Free trade agreements include NAFTA, the WTO, the FTAA, the TPP, the TTIP… Those are the multilateral trade agreements. There are also bilateral trade agreements (between two countries).
  • Who is involved in writing the contents of the treaties? Not citizens groups, not environmental groups, not UNDP, not World Health Organization, not UN Working Group on Climate Change, not human rights and civil rights lawyers… Only multinational corporations have access, and people who represent their interests, along with governments. Only people who play a global game.
  • What’s in those treaties? What they do is create new international constitutions for the right to do business. These supercede national constitution. They supercede most United Nations declarations and agreements. These treaties cannot be re-written or renegotiated.
  • What does “the right to do business” mean? Eliminating any kind of law of a sovereign country which prevents a foreign corporation from doing a business project.

What kinds of laws can be eliminated?

  • Economic protections: When a country has an industry or sector that is considered important to the economy, they often have some kind of economic policy protections for that sector. It could be subsidies to support that sector, it could be tariffs to make sure that imported goods don’t undercut the local goods, it could be quotas to limit the quantity of imports in that sector. Such methods of protection are illegal within free trade agreements. (Worse yet, third world countries are often forced to eliminate their subsidies and tariffs while powerful nations maintain theirs. The result is that powerful nations’ products are sold on the global market below the price of production, which is unfair competition.)
    The results:

    • 2012: US exports 38x more corn to México than before NAFTA. Subsidized US corn is sold in México below the price of production. As a result, the domestic price of Mexican corn dropped by 66%. 2.5M farmers in México lost livelihood. In first 7 years of NAFTA, Migration doubled to US.
    • South Korea has been trying not to open its rice markets (the US exports more rice to South Korea than Thailand does ?!)...Just as corn in México is a central part of economics and culture…Rice is not a mere commodity…Rice is cultivated in most of the 1.1 million farming households…Importing more rice (at a lower tariff rate) will destroy the Korean rice producers….If we fail to foster the ‘heirs’ to self-sustainable farming, the local communities will not survive the free trade movement. ” Lee Dong-phil
  • Non-tariff or “technical” or “behind borders” barriers to trade are any kind of law which in the logic of FTAs could prevent the sale of a product, or make it more expensive to produce a product: this is all law regarding food safety such as bans on hormones in meat (the WTO only respects standards set by Codex, whose standards are much lower than many European nations’), laws about chemicals like the EU REACH regulations, EU bans on GMOs, environmental laws governing emissions, product safety, rules about marketing (such as advertising limitations on cigarettes or infant formula), labelling laws, agricultural quarantines, packaging requirements or mandates for recyclable product design, and what are being called “localization barriers”(any rules favoring local producers). There are several different ways that these laws are eliminated:
    • equivalence”: trading partners’ standards must be treated as equivalent. For example meat that is deemed safe by USDA must be treated as “safe” under European standards.
    • harmonization”/”regulatory coherence”: re-write any existing law to bring in line with the trading partners’.
    • dispute-resolution system: Panel of unelected trade lawyers who are committed to and responsible for only one paradigm. They are not responsible for balancing trade law with human rights or ecological treaties. Every case of food safety or environmental protection has been overruled so the nation is told to eliminate their protective law. In many cases the threat of bringing a case is enough to get a poorer nation to eliminate their law. 

No new national laws can be written which conflict with corporations’ business plans. Implementing other international agreements, such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which was led by African scientists, becomes impossible. This makes any kind of climate protective agreements legally impossible to implement.

  • intellectual property: While these agreements eliminate laws that inconvenience multinational corporations, they actually force the passage and enforcement of other laws, for example the enforcement of patent rights on pharmaceuticals and seeds (despite the fact that most of the seeds being patented were looted from the global heritage of biodiversity and knowledge (this act is called biopiracy or bioprospecting). Intellectual property rights protected under Free Trade Agreements includes corporations’ right to advertising. So the codes limiting how infant formula can be advertised would be illegal violations of Nestle’s “intellectual property”.
  • investment rights: This is one of the most vague and far-reaching aspect of free trade agreements. It allows corporations to directly sue governments over laws or actions which conflict with their “expected profits”. What this means for food is that large retailers like ALDI cannot be forbidden or limited, or as was common in the past required to partner with local businesses. They make unfair competition with local retailers, they sell unhealthy food, and they remove all the profits from the national economy. It also means that nations cannot have any limits on who can buy the land, so more and more of a country’s land could be owned by foreign companies. Investor laws also accelerate the process of dismantling environmental, product, and food safety laws by allowing powerful corporations to sue governments directly, without even going through the official dispute resolution processes. They can claim that any law which makes it more expensive for them to do business is “expropriation”. (Here’s a briefing from some lawyers for their corporate clients.) List of cases
  • services: Free trade agreements also allow corporations into areas of the economy where they have not been allowed before, such as government procurement and what are being called “services”. That means, water, transportation, energy. There’s a database of impacts on the Global Trade Watch website and you can click on any sector of the economy. So I clicked “environmental cleanup”. When this government contracting has to be opened to foreign companies they can then say that the laws or definition of “clean” is too strict for them to do business.  Database of predicted impacts of WTO services agreement in different sectors of the economy.
  • Although FTAS purport to be international treaties between sovereign nations, they involve many undemocratic mechanics, “bullying”
    • Dispute Resolution Mechanism
    • threats to use the Dispute Resolution Mechanism. 
    • consensus” and democracy, bullying in the negotiation process. Secrecy and avoidance of democracy within the countries, hiding it from their own people.
    • Contradictions (a point of insight): it’s not just about deregulation. It’s about whatever is in the corps’ interest. When it’s about wanting to dump cheap corn or buy land, they want deregulation of markets. When it’s about wanting to get paid for patents on medicine and seed, they want regulation. If it was really about free trade, these agremeents would be only one page. It takes hundreds of pages and years to negotiate, because the corporations are writing all kinds of twists and turns to benefit themselves.
    • Because there has been so much opposition in WTO, the powerful companies make hundreds of bilateral deals. This bullies other countries to conform.
    • pre-“certification”
  • short-term effects
    • Exposing your agriculture to world market prices, which the IMF forced jamaica to do with Milk, which NAFTA did to Mexico’s corn market, as New Zealand did starting in the 1980s, means that domestic consumers need to pay world prices. It also means that domestic industries are unprotected from global price falls. this means that if chinese peaches are cheaper than australian peaches, the retailers in australia will buy chinese peaches, and the domestic producers will not be able to sell to australian supermarkets.
      • Often trade is reported in the value of goods. But the problem with this is that the same quantity of export can change value with changing global prices. Moreover, as in an Australian case, one multinational soft drink beverage plant sited in Singapore for export to Australia can put a dent in trade figures. So aggregate figures don’t tell us much. Some researchers try to use volumes instead. But it’s hard to see anything of interest until you look at a specific sector or product.
      • From the point of view of farmers, you can’t presume that trade agreements will help them. The question is who will control their price in the future? Global markets, the price of imports. This system does not get overproduction under control, it does not secure farmers’ access to markets. 
    • The United States remained the world’s largest exporter and importer of food by value in 2011, with shares of world food exports and imports of 10.2 per cent and 8.9 per cent, respectively. The value of US food exports and imports both increased by 17 per cent in 2011 to US$129.6 billion and US$112.5 billion, respectively. So this is why there’s an interest in bullying others to open their markets.
    • farmer suicides around the world
    • Baltics most rapid implementation of this kind of policies in the world. Massive 12% growth. Core and periphery. Best land in Latvia sold to foreigners. Lithuanian labor costs competitive with China. Depopulation of the land. also fertility has dropped and life expectancy, which results in 20% population loss in 10 years.  Shadow economy, no labor rights. Charles Woolfson brand new book on Baltics. Also Bohle and Greskovits on Baltic agriculture.
  • long-term effects: dependency/loss of productive capacity, alienation of resources and skills, biosecurity, culture, nutrition, safety.
  • Data from global trade watch sector by sector and investment regs.

Free trade agreements of this type started roughly in 1995 with the implementation of NAFTA. But these policies had already been tried in “Structural Adjustment Programs”.

Resources: Public Citizen, Global Trade Watch, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Corporate Europe Observatory.


One of the central policy agendas of SAPs is privatization. Privatization has a long history.

Enclosures movement in England 1400s to 1700s: subsistence farms, grazing lands, forests were entitlement: this is called commons. The people were driven off this land.

Colonialism was the same process in foreign countries.

Basically using the law to deprive people of resources that are their rights and then sell it back to them.

SAPs said that privatization was good for the economy. Austerity said that privatization was necessary for efficiency.

Free trade enables corporations to call everything “business” and then to be entitled to run it their way. Privatization is very clever. First was utilities like gas and electricity and telephones. Then prisons, healthcare, education. Things that people need. It takes away things that are common goods and allows corporations to own them and profit from them.

But what biotech does is it privatize the very processes of life.

Biotechnology/GMOs as a method of privatizing the very process of life. The very short version of what agricultural biotechnology is: paternalistic claim that farmers don’t know how to grow enough (and a lie about existing overproduction), distracting gimmicks about improved nutrition, longer shelf-life, which only corporations want (this is not a consumer benefit), but the reality is that by manipulating the genes they can control the process of plant development so that the plants become impotent, and will only grow and reproduce when we pay the price. (long version here) These are called “terminator” and “traitor” technologies. And the latest news about biotechnology is that the industry has developed a set of new techniques which they have designed so that they do not exactly meet the EU and other standard regulatory definitions of what is a GMO, which means that the EU will have to pass new legislation to stop these things from being approved. But also farmers are abandoning these technologies. GMO News here:,

Turning life into a toll road where you have to pay to keep driving every few miles. That’s the last stop of privatization. The cynical view is that undermining nutrition in food is a way to privatize human health the same way, we have to pay to stay alive. Sugar and diabetes are the perfect system: put sugar in everything, makes people sick, then they have to pay constantly to stay alive.That’s the most obvious example. But of course you could say the same about carcinogens… Cause cancer and then cure it.

A key to the strategy of of privatization is the destruction of alternatives. Horizontal and vertical integration/consolidation do this. In the US, two big companies bought the entire slaughter and butchery part of the commodity chain for beef. And that meant the only way to sell a cow was to go through them. But farmers cooperated and undid this. According to Phil Howard, an expert on consolidation:

Food chain clusters are formed when groups of firms join together to control every step in the food chain through these processes of horizontal integration, vertical integration and global expansion. The links may be through formal or informal agreements, including mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures or strategic alliances. Although their boundaries are constantly shifting, several potentially emerging clusters have been identified. For instance Cargill and Monsanto form a cluster, with Monsanto providing genetic material and seeds, and Cargill involved in grain collection and processing, and meat production and processing. Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the US, is linked to this cluster selling case-ready meat… DuPont/ConAgra and Novartis (Syngenta)/ADM have similar ties.

Vegetable growers may soon find themselves in a similar situation. Genetically engineered (GE) crops are controlled by just six multinational corporations, and the technology is being used as a tool to consolidate the seed supply. Crop farmers are then being locked into food chain clusters through “‚€œbundling,”‚€ or linking patented seeds with contracts, chemicals and credit. Monsanto’‚€™s Roundup Ready seeds can only be used with Roundup herbicide, even though cheaper versions of this herbicide are available. Pioneer DuPont seed gives better interest rates on financing, depending upon how much ‚€”approved”‚€™ products the farmer buys, and approved chemicals include those from Syngenta, Bayer/Aventis, and Dow. The precedent set with GE seeds is also being extended by “‚€œbundling”‚€ chemicals and other inputs with conventional seeds. Syngenta‚’s hybrid barley can only be purchased in conjunction with the company’s growth regulator and fungicides.

Cargill is the biggest grain company in the world. They have used both horizontal and vertical integration. So they are not only now distributing grain, they are owning the seed, and contracting farmers. They can tell farmers what to grow, and the farmers won’t have a buyer unless they grow GMO seed. Meanwhile the farmers are increasingly saying that these seeds don’t work. But it won’t matter if they have no alternatives.

But even quicker and more efficient and easier than horizontal and vertical integration is pollution. If the containment zones for biotech crops fail, which they are obviously doing because the companies are busy suing farmers for illegally growing their crops (farmers who said they never did and never wanted to!), if they can contaminate the seed to such a point, then there will be no biological alternative.


The current global economic crises are very complicated and overwhelming to try to understand. But that doesn’t mean we can just say “I’m not smart enough to follow all that so I’ll let the economists understand it for me.” Financialization is a process of converting the meaning of any business or any resource into a dollar value, and then guessing about what that value will be in the future, and then gambling based on those guesses. This activity has become the major economic activity in the world, more than actually producing things. In fact this gambling economy is 100x the size of the productive economy. But when these gambles lose, real companies, real jobs, real land is lost. For farmland, the trouble with this system is that the price of farmland is based on its value in the casino game, by the wild bets and schemes of the gamblers, not how much you can make by farming it. And the big players in the global food system increasingly are playing this game, not a game that is about producing and distributing food.

Era of Sovereignty:


Why are these US politicians turning against FT? sunshine.Teaching ourselves what was happening. Educating people. It was hard to learn. There weren’t a lot of academics involved.


PERMACULTURE. From 1930s in Australia in Japan, farmers were developing ideas about sustainable agriculture, in terms of water use, no-till, forest farms. In 1978, the concept permaculture was developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia. There are many permaculture institutes providing education and consultation on projects. Taught in every country of the world.

ORGANIC agriculture also began to be articulated in the 1930s based on traditional practices, biodynamic ideas and the search for scientific alternatives to chemical-based agriculture. Already in 1928, the Demeter certification of biodynamic agriculture was established in Berlin. In 1997 Demeter became an international symbol. Soil Association founded in UK in 1946 based on the interrelation between farming, ecology, and human health. In 1964, Natur et Progres was founded in France, and in 1972 the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements was also founded in France.

ECOVILLAGE term developed 1978 to promote sustainable living. Built on communal movements of 1960s and 1970s. 1995 Global Ecovillage Network now with sites in 70 countries on 6 continents. Linked with ideas about “voluntary simplicity”. The idea of questioning what makes for a satisfying life, embracing self-sufficiency and life with ecology, has very old religious and secular roots going back to epicureanism in ancient Greece, Henry David Thoreau in the US, many British practitioners, Gandhi. Ideas about reducing consumption and worktime, increasing self-sufficiency, critical reconsideration of technologies…


FAIR TRADE started in the 1940s and 50s by radical churches to express solidarity and support with 3rd world or what we now call Global South countries. In the 1960s it was further developed as a form of anti-imperialism in Europe and North America. The idea was to bypass retailers and corporations and establish direct relations between producers and consumers. The Whole Earth Catalog founded 1968 already applied this idea to relationships within the US and canada.

COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE started in the 1960s in Germany and Japan, “farming with a face on it”. Committed relationships between consumers and a farm. Sharing in the fate of the farm, visiting, participating and learning about the farm. Making a circle, knowing the story. This is the opposite of global commodity chains where we don’t know who makes it, under what conditions, with what externalities. This model is like Tocatta and Fugue now, there are many different iterations to make it work in different contexts. 

BOYCOTTS 1965 United Farm Workers led by Cesar Chavez created a farmworkers strike and consumer boycott which resulted in the first union labor contract with farmworkers in 1970. 1977 Boycott in US and Europe of Nestle for misleading and dangerous marketing of infant formula in global south. In 1981 the world health assembly passed the first of many resolutions and recommendations limiting the use of and advertising of infant formula, 60 countries have specific codes regarding advertising. To win with a boycott you only have to impact 10-15 percent of sales.1 Shopping matters.


CFSC Community Food Security Coalition founded early 1990s in US (closed in 2012). Wrote first white papers on this topic. The 1992 Los Angeles riots…prompted the department of urban planning at UCLA to conduct a study of the neighborhood’s food system… The synthesis between urban anti-hunger interests and farmers’ economic sustainability perspectives was to be laid around the notion of “food security”, defined after the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization as “the state in which all persons obtain a nutritionally adequate, culturally acceptable diet at all times through nonemergency sources”. Andy Fisher, one of the study’s authors, called for a comprehensive reform of hunger alleviation in a policy paper considered a cornerstone of the community food security approach, emphasizing a shift from compensation to prevention: “Food security differs from hunger in certain crucial ways. First, food security represents a community need rather than an individual’s plight, as with hunger (…) Second, whereas hunger measures an existing condition of deprivation, food security is decidedly prevention-oriented, evaluating the existence of resources – both community and personal – to provide an individual with adequate acceptable food (…) A food system offering security should have sustainability such that the ecological system is protected and improved over time, and equity, meaning as a minimum, dependable access for all social groups”… successfully introduced legislation supporting community food projects as part of the 1996 Farm Bill, securing federal funding ever since. This is where many economic innovations, especially those around affordability, have been generated.

SLOW FOOD founded Italy 1986 to promote local foods and traditions of gastronomy and food production. Became an international in 1989 and founded a University of Gastronomic Sciences in 2004. 100,000 members in 150 countries.

The Slow Food Manifesto 1989: Our century, which began and has developed under the insignia of industrial civilization, first invented the machine and then took it as its life model. We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods. To be worthy of the name, Homo Sapiens should rid himself of speed before it reduces him to a species in danger of extinction. A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life. May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency. Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food. That is what real culture is all about: developing taste rather than demeaning it.

1992 UNDP : Food Jobs and Sustainaible cities. Jac Smit.

1995: anti-WTO Geneva, Zapatistas. FT=”recolonization”

1999 José Bové: Anti-McDonalds /anti-WTO multifunctional agriculture

1999: Seattle WTO

2003: Lee Kyung Hae

VIA Vía Campesina founded 1993 as an international farmers organization. Represents 200 million peasant farmer and fisherfolk families in 70 countries. Since 1996 they have promoted the international policy concept of “food sovereignty”, the “right to feed oneself”, encompassing land rights, indigenous and agroecological practices, domestic market protections, and cultural preferences.

Nyéléni Declaration 2007: Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety 2000. 2016 working on establishing a liability protocol.: Led by African farmers. Written to protect traditional varieties from biotech and other problems, to allow nations to regulate transportation and implementation of these technologies.

Food as community, not as commodity

Most important thing you need to know about social movements is that they don’t just happen because things get bad. They happen for different reasons. They happen because people stop blaming themselves and start believing in alternatives.

Social movements scholars argues that what social movements do is change the culture… they create new ideas and make them hegemonic – make our ideas compelling!

There are countless versions of the idea. The movement proliferates serious and cute jargon like “foodshed”, “food justice”, “farm to table”, “urban farming”, “locavore”, “indie food”, “small batch”, “nose to tail”, “seasonal cuisine, “sustainable cuisine”… when ‘organic’ was coopted by corporations, the movement went deeper, “local food”, “know your farmer”…

My version of the cosmological and cultural quest of the Local Food movement is “food as community, not as commodity”. Robert Pekin runs a CSA in Australia. In Australia as in many countries, there’s a big problem now with farmer suicides. The farmers are in so much pain when the farm isn’t financially viable that they kill themselves. Says that direct marketing makes farmers feel they have relationships, they can’t kill themselves because people care about them.

How do we spread an idea and a culture? The scholars use a lot of jargon. I like action movies: Quest, Heros, Spaces to experiment, Gadgets…

LEXICON In my interviews with farmers and artisan producers, I ask them why people buy from them. The answer is startlingly consistent: “The story.” People are willing to pay more, make extra trips, suffer inconvenience, change their recipe – because more meaningful than the commodity itself is the story. The story is the undoing of global commodity chains, which are all about making the story invisible. Symbol schemes like bio or fair trade don’t give us the story, they just tell us that the story is ok. offers “information artworks”, each of which presents a concept or practice, makes some part of the food chain into a story we can know and tell.

TABLE: The most important thing on the table is the stories we can tell about the food. Sometimes I’ve had the experience that people feel that the point of impact is what they put in their mouth. But I would argue this is not so powerful for social change. It’s more important how we help to build social meaning around food. Is it purism about my body or about dialogue that moves things forward?  In the Local Food movement, every farm has a story, every cheese has a story, every recipe has a story. And these stories are complex and unfinished. We wonder about the farmworkers, we wonder at the Chinese terrace farms, the chemistry of bread, and why grandmother’s potatoes tasted best. We have learned to eat in the company of earthworms and piglets, incomplete labels and pending regulation, comfort foods and “fair” foods, soil and ghosts.

HEIRLOOM Avery Gordon researches histories that have been lost. In this enterprise she welcomes “haunting remainders”. She is hospitable to ghosts with unofficial stories to tell.4 Why don’t we recognize this tomato? The conversation about that will take us through the entire food chain. The Local Food movement has been hospitable to the ghosts of animals, fragile varieties, distant farmers, humble farmworkers, displaced peasants, all the former inhabitants of burned rainforests, generations of home-cooks and their unwritten recipes. We have tried to find a place at our table for all of these and more. They’ve made dinner much more interesting as we develop our palate to taste the terroir, the history, culture, and political economy from which the food has come. And the conversation turns to how we can learn to cook in a way that supports a global food system that is just, diverse, and secure.

Creating spaces and events where food is a destination is a way to get people to think about the pleasure they get from food and to convince them to invest more of their money in a food system they believe in. Every dinner table is such a space. But there are also now more public spaces as well. These spaces take the form of food truck vending zones to annual festivals. In Australia food festivals include cooking classes and lectures by chefs. In addition to traditional farmers markets, there are a number of entrepreneurial spaces celebrating artisan food. In Berlin Markethall Neun has a street food market, a breakfast market, and a dessert market and Neue Heimat offers drinking and music surrounded by artisan food vendors all day on Sundays. I ran an underground restaurant which was a space to get people to connect with the pleasure of food, to learn about high-quality ingredients and about buying direct from farms, and to make new ideas about how they want to spend their food money, where they want to get their food, cooking instead of eating out, etc.

Experiments and opportunities for people to develop new meanings and commitments. They take the new idea and make it practice-able. They help people believe in TATA and AWIP. Here’s a compendium of alternatives 


Eyerman and Jamison explain that social movements generate new roles and Melucci and many other social movements scholars note the importance of personal identity in contemporary movements. I like to be a little more straightforward and call this “heroism”. The local food movement has created new archetypes of heroism.  As farmers have moved into direct marketing (which has not always been an easy transition in terms of resources and personality), they have produced new identities valorizing their calling, as autonomous entrepreneurs, traditional agrarians, peaceful pastoralists, stewards, husbanders, and ecologists. Farmers are active teachers, discussing agronomy, varieties, and cooking. They are an army of bodhisattvas visiting the city. Full of joy, carrying novel perspectives on life, death, and money, as well as a level of scientific knowledge that astonishes their “educated” customers, these iconoclasts seem whole even though they are out of fashion. In 2008 an urban farmer, Will Allen, received the MacArthur Genius Grant.

Some farmers have taken a stronger stance. This is Lee Kyung-Hae at the WTO ministerial protests in Cancún México in 2003. Shortly after this photo was taken, he made ritual suicide to make his point. 

Chefs have embraced a responsibility to create “sustainable cuisine” which means not only attending to issues of food production, but finding ways to do community nutrition and cooking education. Alice Waters created the Edible Schoolyard Project. Dan Barber researched how the Local Food movement can effectively change the global food system through his concept of “the third plate”. Barny Haughton created the Square Food Foundation, which provides cooking classes to elders, sex workers, and troubled youth. “Food is a class issue…There’s no reason why people with less money should have to eat rubbish. It’s all about information and confidence and access to ingredients… it’s cheaper to do it that way.” Chef Ann Cooper’s foundation is devoted specifically to reforming school food to ensure child nutrition.

Even retailers have taken on a leadership role in the movement. Sam Mogannam purchased his father’s grocery store, Bi-Rite Market, and has transformed it into a leader of small retailers. He works directly with farmers, even loaning them money to rebuild after fires and other problems. He has written a book, Eat Good Food, and founded a non-profit cooking education program, 18 Reasons. “We believe in the transformative power of food. We love good food and think that every person has a right to eat well.”

Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery makes 175 loaves of bread a day. He has decided hat’s the right number. He spends the rest of the time teaching restaurateurs and home cooks to make their own bread. My latest work is about how artisans like Chad make business decisions. Charles Heying’s research on artisan industries in Portland finds collaboration, mentorship, and solidarity within and across industries, rather than competition. I am studying how they make decisions about resources, how they want to work, and how they create relationships along the commodity chain and with the commodity itself. Paul Cavallo of Spitfire Motorcycles describes his work as “This is all about building something that has a soul.” 7

I’ve met cheesemakers who were electricians and plumbers, who went on vacation to italy, fell in love with food, fell in love with cheese. Go back to NZ or Australia and buy a herd of buffalo. Clevedon Valley MozarellaAusBuff Stuff

And let’s not forget the heros at the last point of the commodity chain, who I’d rather call “cooks” than “consumers”. They cultivate new values, tastes and desires, and train themselves to what Robert Bellah et. al. call “practices of commitment” – to farmers and whole animals, to region and seasonality, to cooking in an ecosystem.

The new heros have resurrected dead crafts, such as butchering and affineur (cheese manager), “Farmers market manager” has changed from a part-time job for an environmentalist to a career path. “Brokers” do personal shopping for chefs and “foragers” gather wild foods. I want to show you a quick video, not only for the content, but because the video itself is an example of how to be helpful. And I think these new roles are making new archetypes not only of heroism, but masculinity

to do

challenge the legitimacy of growth as economic goal, the inevitability of FTAS, the idea that farms are not productive, and the superiority of former colonizer’s ways

Ask hard questions about power, control, and economics in your projects: are they export-based? do they decommodify food, create direct economic relationships, protect culture, protect smallholders’ access to land, build and maintain control over marketspace, hold middlemen accountability and transparent, keep life and commons safe from privatization, heal the land…

build alternatives to prove to yourself and others that alternatives are possible

change the world struggle for hegemony: create a new idea, and turn it into culture. 


privatization vs. commons

externalizing costs vs. solidarity

growth vs. enoughness

export vs. import-substution

commodification/middlemen vs. direct/use-value/story/community/relationships/meaningful (or at least transparent)

lowest price vs. solidarity with ecology, people, culture…

superior/centralization vs. sovereignty (who decides what is good and for whom? who writes the law? how does “no” work?

fast/degradation vs. slow (protect culture)

centralization/consolidation vs. farmers controlling their own land and markets

industrialized food production vs. agriculture in ecology

exploiting the land vs. healing the land

who writes the law, defines what is good, for your economy?