Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Global Food Economy: The Battle for the Future of Farming

By Tony Weis, 217 pages, Fernwood Publishing.

“In their quest to increase markets and profits, agro-TNCs [transnational corporations] are relentlessly forging input dependence and standardizing the nature of agriculture production, subjecting soaring farm animal populations to brutalizing treatment, toxifying soils and water and externalizing environmental costs, reshaping dietary aspirations, breaking local bonds between production and consumption, devalorizing labour” and so on.

Tony Weis' above words reflect the harsh reality that The Global Food Economy discusses from a geographic and historical view. He condenses the history of capitalism, from English enclosure (privatization of the land) in the late middle ages until the twentieth century.

He examines the devastation of capitalism on the “commons,” the land held by all and on which people's animals pizza, thout charge to the owners. While enclosure started in England, almost no country has been spared, as it spread throughout Europe and then overseas to the Americas and beyond. As much as 50% of the world's population was affected by this rapid transition after WWII.

Clearly, the people most affected, the peasant-farmers, had no say in this shocking reorganization. In some cases such as China, daily calorie counts went up rapidly. But Weis consistently points out that while many poor people often did benefit, they usually didn't (especially in the long run), and the process inflicted – and continues to inflict – deep ecological damage.

Agribusiness hurt human ecologies by eliminating millennia-old farming cultures and techniques. When people moved from the villages to factories in the cities, they broke with their rural traditions and they failed to pass on their farming knowledge to their children. The food industry replaced this culture with pseudo-culture:

“Also related to branding strategies and the de-spatialization and de-culturation of food is the corporate manipulation of place and culture, with many packaged items given an exotic facade that often bears little or no connection to where the food was actually produced and processed: 'Mexican' corn chips, 'Moroccan' soup, 'Mediterranean' pizza, 'Caribbean' fruit punch, 'Cantonese' spring rolls.”

Weis shows the process and results of the “commodification of everything,” specifically how “sentient life has been commodified” through extreme violence. Ethics of food production no longer revolves around what is good for the community nor around what is the most respectful and least painful for animals and the environment. Instead, industrial agriculture dominates animal life and obeys only “the almighty law of competitiveness.”

Capitalism's imperialism has gone way beyond imperializing humans, to taking over the entire planet. Weis spends a great deal of time examining how agribusiness treats animals. Male chicks are ground live into feed or fertilizer, while the hens are packed, 10,000 to a building, their beaks clipped without anesthetic even though the beak contains dense nerves. Their feet are so cramped that they sometimes grow around the cage. And so on.

The same fate awaits pigs and cows, with male calves quickly removed from their mothers “and sentenced to solitary crates so small they can barely move so as to inhibit muscle development before they are killed for veal after three to four months.”

Good grief.

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