The world currently produces enough food to feed the planet. Yet, 1 in 9 people go hungry, and at the same time, more than 2 billion are obese. What accounts for what the United Nation calls a “double burden” of malnutrition?
Author, professor and activist Raj Patel writes about inequities in the global food system. Patel is a research professor at the University of Texas-Austin and author of the 2008 book, Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the Food System.
“We’re in this sort of period of globalization where workers’ wages find themselves going lower and lower,” Patel says. “That means communities from right outside this door to a world away find themselves in a position where if you have zero money, then you are not able to eat all all. But if you have a little, then you’re only able to afford cheap food, and that food is likely to make you more overweight.”
Patel points to corporate control of the food system and liberalized international policies that have allowed fewer and fewer companies to continue their power over food pricing, distribution and even the types of food grown. The crisis is only exacerbated by a world population that’s expected to reach 10 billion in a few short decades, combined with increased agricultural challenges that come with climate change.
Patel says he sees some encouraging signs globally, especially from grassroots movements. One example is La Via Campesina, a global network of farmers’ organizations united fighting for food producers’ rights. From their efforts, they’ve helped push to get food sovereignty included in the national constitutions of Ecuador, Bolivia, Nepal and Venezuela.
Patel has spent his career fighting for a more just food system. He says, “Activism is the rent that we pay to live on this planet.”
Can GMO’s fight world hunger?
GMO is short for genetically modified organism and describes plants that have certain traits genetically modified. These changes could be to increase resistance to herbicides or added nutritional value. The majority of scientific literature says GMO’s are not harmful to human health. But GMO’s continue to be controversial among consumers, particularly in developed countries.
Despite the controversy, some food producers and researchers are pushing for a better understanding of GMO’s, including farmer and dietitian Jennie Schmidt, who grows genetically altered crops on her Maryland farm.
“I think for the consumer to overcome the mistrust that’s been started in in genetically modified foods is to have a significant tangible direct benefit to them,” Schmidt says.
Full Frame goes from the crop fields to the research labs to understand the promise and challenges of developing new crops to feed the population.