Tuesday, March 05, 2019

The Economics of Food

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
Dom Helder Camara

As each year passes many people are eating worse, not better, high prices prevent people buying the food they want and a great number of people are eating less of the more nutritious foods. This indifference of people about their own food supply is one of the most surprising features of our social life.

Why does the farmer grow crops? Because there are people who want to eat? No so. As far as the farmer is concerned, they can go without if they do not the money to pay for it. there are people wanting all sorts of things, but nobody is going to try to provide them because there is no profit to be made. Yes, profit! The farmer grows food with a view to making profit, on which he lives. The food processers and distributers engage in the self-same purpose—that of making profit.  Bakeries make bread for no other purpose than profit.

If it is more profitable to use artificial fertilisers to grow more crops then the farmer uses those chemical fertilisers. If bakery companies find that supermarkets do not want their bread to go stale too quickly on the shelves then the baker adds preservatives.

The more anonymous the origins of the food we eat, the better we prefer it. We aren't burdened with the  responsibility of knowing whether it is the suffering of the beast of the field or the suffering of the field-hand, poisoned by pesticides and fertilisers. Yes, even vegetarians cannot escape social culpability unless they only eat what they themselves grow or only choose organic but this being capitalism, money and economics will always come first both for producer and consumer.

The current industrial model of farming is unsustainable. It is not based on methods of conservation but rather uses enormous resources that can only be purchased from the market. Large-scale and monoculture farming uses inorganic fertilizers, increases water usage and destroys biodiversity with the use of herbicides and pesticides. Today’s livestock-based food system consumes grains that people have traditionally eaten. And farm factories where livestock are crowded together need chemicals, antibiotics and hormones to control bacteria, and the animals’ manure pollutes the water table. Big Ag corporations are interested in maximizing profit, not in a sustainable and healthy food system.

So long as society is run in this way, we will have the present state of affairs—the factor that is wrong is neither the farmer, nor the baker, nor even the public, but the commercial motives of capitalist society that produces these potentially harmful food manufacturing practices. Only within a socialist framework can we have a rational food policy. A rational food production system would not see food produced determined by the needs of Big Business to maximise profits. The food industry will not produce food except for profit.

The most important point to reiterate is that there is currently the ability to produce enough food to adequately feed the world’s population. The primary problem facing the developing world is the distribution of food and its control. The problem is a not lack of food, but rather lack of access to it. Capitalism has created the supply-chains in which food can be efficiently transported around the world. The motivation for farmers must no longer be for sale and for profits through sale, but for human beings, to satisfy their needs. Malnutrition and actual hunger threaten the working people around the world until the production and distribution of food is taken out of the hands of the capitalists and politicians. The question is this: Will the people eat – or will the food corporations be allowed to accumulate profits as usual. Even bread and milk – the mainstays of life – have not been exempted from the machinations of the economic and political bosses working hand in glove. There is no other way out. Food must be under the control of the people themselves through committees of the consumers and the producers. Such a step will mean more and better food for every man, woman and child.

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