Global Food, Health, and Society

A Colby Community Website for ST297, Fall 2018

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 4)

Superfoods’ Dark Side: Increasing Vulnerability of Quinoa Farmers in Bolivia

While vegetarians and health fanatics in Western countries are promoting the intake of the superfood quinoa because of its high nutritional values, local Andean people in Bolivia and Peru can no longer afford to eat this staple food of theirs because of surging food prices (Blythman, 2013). Superfood are food items that are not only very nutritious, but which also claim to have exceptional health benefits. Nowadays, they are fashionable food like Golgi berries, chia seed, kale and etc. Being one of the world’s most popular health foods, quinoa (keen-wa) is well-known for its high nutritional values: it is gluten free, high protein, fibre and many other vitamins and minerals, and is considered to be one of the few food items that contain all nine essential amino acids (Gunnars, 2018). Although it is usually prepared like a grain, Quinoa is actually a pseudo-cereal that is related to the spinach, chard and beet family (Thomson, 2017).

In 2013, United Nations declared the year to be the International Year of Quinoa, demonstrating how this small, nutritious grain became a global favourite (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 2013). Nonetheless, behind all the buzz about this tiny seed hides a history of more than 7000 years (Winkel et al., 2016). A look at the history of quinoa will give us a perspective on how this crop come about, and how the growing demand for this healthy food affects the countries they are grown.

Quinoa is a tiny, yet nutritious seed that is one of the most popular healthy foods worldwide (Gunnars, 2018).

Quinoa is originally from South America, and has remained the staple food for indigenous people of the Andean region over centuries because of its fantastic adaptive qualities and high nutritional values (Ruiz et al., 2014). Currently, the main producers of quinoa in the world are Bolivia and Peru, together producing more than 80% of quinoa in the world, followed by Ecuador, USA and China (Bazile et al., 2016). Quinoa has always been considered as a neglected crop – its cultivation was mainly for domestic consumption and was considered as a “peasants’ food with no commercial value (Chelleri et al., 2015). However, since the 1970s, quinoa’s high nutritional values caught the interest of American and European consumers as an exotic and healthy superfood (Chelleri et al., 2015). The ‘discovery’ of the crop resulted in a rise in global demand for the crop, and this led to a rapid increase in its market price (Ruiz et al., 2014). The price of quinoa has dramatically increased by 600% from 2000 to 2008 alone, as shown in figure 1.

Figure 1. Quinoa production and price (2001-08) (Ofstehage, 2012).

The rise in quinoa’s market price led to an increase in the production of the crop as farmers saw it as an economic opportunity. Yet, quinoa producing countries like Bolivia still remained to be one of the poorest and most food insecure countries in South America (Jacobsen, 2011; Hall, 2016). In fact, the national consumption of quinoa in Bolivia actually fell by 4% from 2006 to 2011 despite a rise in production (Hall, 2016). With a population of 9.1 million, Bolivia is considered as the poorest country in the Andean region. Almost 80% of the rural population in the country live below the poverty line (Jacobsen, 2011). This paradox points to an important aspect of quinoa production chain that needs to be discussed.

Under the rising global demand for quinoa, Bolivian farmers face pressures from different sides: increasing their production to accommodate for a growing international market while safeguarding traditional knowledge, preserving biodiversity, meeting household needs and making a profit. On one hand, farmers hope to benefit from the growing quinoa trade, but on the other hand, they are made vulnerable by this rising trend in different ways.

A Bolivian farmer harvesting organic quinoa in his fields in Puerto Perez, Bolivia (Cherfas, 2016).

Referring to figure 1, the price for quinoa has risen dramatically, particularly between 2006 to 2008, while the production of quinoa has not increased as much as its price. The high price of quinoa encouraged farmers to sell their better-quality quinoa and retain the less nutritious ones for the domestic market. In some cases, farmers would even sell most of their valuable quinoa for self-consumption, and turn to cheaper and less nutritious alternatives (Ofstehage, 2012). The increasing price of quinoa also made it difficult for local people to purchase the staple food that they had always consumed, forcing them to abandon quinoa for other staples such as rice and pasta. Although the rise in global demand for quinoa brings income to certain segment of the farm economy, it has affected the food security situation of the Bolivian population.

Figure 2. Domestic consumption, production, and export of quinoa in Bolivia (1995-2010) (Jacobsen, 2011).

According to figure 2, while the export of quinoa has increased from around 1998 to 2009, domestic consumption has decreased. The major foods that contribute to the daily caloric intake of Bolivians have been shifting from quinoa to bread and pasta (Borda, 2013). The boom of quinoa can be seen as a saving grace for farmers as they can sell them at a higher price, but at the cost of local people’s accessibility to the staple that has been part of their food culture for centuries.

Furthermore, increasing demand for quinoa and globalization is changing land use and increasing the crop’s genetic homogeneity (Ruiz et al., 2014; Chelleri et al., 2015). Since quinoa real is the most commonly purchased and consumed type of quinoa, many farmers turn to mono-cropping to gain more profit (Chelleri et al., 2015). The change in land use threatens the genetic diversity of quinoa and its associated human culture (Bazile et al., 2016). The rapid expansion of quinoa production and entry of new producers is threatening both the ecological sustainability and the social integrity of local communities. The rise of quinoa production has also led to a shift from traditional small-scale manual cropping to large-scale mechanised cropping methods (Winkel et al., 2016). The transition from an integrated farming systems to a more mechanised system with reduced biodiversity and increased use of tillage has not only changed the landscape, but also put pressure on the quality of soil (Ofstehage, 2012). With the worldwide demand for quinoa increasing rapidly, we should be more aware of its consequences and not turn a blind eye on the social and environmental justice issues it raises.

 

References:

  1. Bazile D., Jacobsen SE., Verniau A. (2016). The global expansion of quinoa: trends and limits. Frontiers in Plant Science. 7(622)
  2. Blythman, J, (2013, January 16). Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa? The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/16/vegans-stomach-unpalatable-truth-quinoa
  3. Borda, C. (April, 2013). Bolivia’s Nutritional Status. Retrieved from http://oxfamibis.dk/sites/default/files/media/pdf_global/bolivia_pdf_files/report_-_bolivias_nutritional_status.pdf
  4. Chelleri L., Municci G., Skrimizea E. (2015). Does community resilience decrease social-ecological vulnerability? Adaptation pathways trade-off in the Bolivian Altiplano. Regional Environmental Change. 16, 2229-2241
  5. Cherfas, J. (2016, March 31). Your Quinoa Habit Really Did Help Peru’s Poor. But There’s Trouble Ahead. National Public Radio. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/03/31/472453674/your-quinoa-habit-really-did-help-perus-poor-but-theres-trouble-ahead
  6. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. (2013). 2013 International Year of Quinoa. Retrieved from: http://www.fao.org/quinoa-2013/en/
  7. Gunnars, K. (2018, June 28). 11 Proven Health Benefits of Quinoa. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-proven-benefits-of-quinoa
  8. Hall, A. (2016, April 21st). The economics of quinoa: superfoods’ dark side. Retrieved from http://economicstudents.com/2016/04/the-economics-of-quinoa-superfoods-dark-side/
  9. Jacobsen SE. (2011). The situation for quinoa and its production in Southern Bolivia: from economic success to environmental disaster. Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science. 197(5), 390-399
  10. Ofstehage A. (2012). The construction of an alternative quinoa economy: balancing solidarity, household needs, and profit in San Agustin, Bolivia. Agriculture and Human Values. 29(4), 441-454
  11. Ruiz B. K., Biondi S., Oses R., Acuna-Rodriguez,  I., Antognoni, F., Martinez-Mosqueira, A. E., Coulibaly, A., Canahua-Murillo, A., Pinto, M., Zurita-Silva, A., Bazile, D., Jacobsen SE., Molina-Montenegro, A. M. (2014). Quinoa biodiversity and sustainability for food security under climate change. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development. 34(2), 1-11
  12. Thomson, J. (2017, June 13). Quinoas Seed or Grain Debate Ends Right Here. Retrieved from: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/quinoa-is-not-a-grain_n_59380558e4b0aba888ba7b44
  13. Winkel T., Bommel P., Chevarria-Lazo M., Cortes G., Del Castille C., Gasselin P., Leger F., Nina-Laura JP., Rambal S., Tchit M., Tourrant, J-F., Vacher J-J., Vassas-Toral A., Vierira-Pal M., Joffre R. (2016). Panarchy of an indigenous agroecosystem in the globalized market: the quinoa production in the Bolivian Altiplano. Global Environmental Change. 39, 195-204

 

 

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna: A Fish in Troubled Waters

The decline of Atlantic bluefin tuna is the quintessential example of human overexploitation at sea. In this blog post, I hope to not only identify major threats to this species but examine the historical roots of these threats.

Background

Historically, humans have fished tuna sustainably for centuries: a feat which can primarily be attributed to the relatively low demand and value placed on bluefin tuna. Tuna were initially caught along the Atlantic coast mainly for sport as opposed to consumption. At the very height of tuna sport fishing during the mid-1900s, bluefin tuna still sold for only a few pennies a pound in the United States, and carcasses were often ground into cat food, sent to landfills, or dumped back into the sea (Corson 2008). Even as a food product in Japan, bluefin tuna was unpopular due to the unusually red, smelly, and bloody qualities of the meat, which differed greatly from the mild tasting fish typically consumed by the Japanese at the time, mainly white fish and shellfish (Corson 2008).

After World War II, a drastic shift occurred in the popularity of tuna as advanced refrigeration technology prevented smelly, red-fleshed fish from spoiling and the Japanese began to acquire a taste for rich, fatty red meat, such as beef, from Americans. This resulted in an increased demand for bluefin tuna that also happened to coincide with a period of massive globalization. Japanese planes delivering electronics to the United States began to capitalize on cheap bluefin tuna available in New England to fill up their empty planes on the flight back home, where the tuna was then sold for thousands of dollars. As the popularity of bluefin tuna skyrocketed in the Japanese sushi market, trends in American sushi soon began to follow suit, and by the 1990s, the bluefin tuna was in high demand worldwide (Corson 2008).

Today, sushi is a multibillion dollar industry, and bluefin tuna has grown to have immense market value in the global economy, particularly in Japan. In fact, between 1970 and 1990, fishing for bluefin tuna in the Western Atlantic rose by over 2,000%, while the average price paid to Atlantic fishermen for bluefin exported to Japan increased by 10,000%. One extravagant demonstration of the increasing value of bluefin tuna occurred in 2013, when an owner of a Japanese sushi restaurant chain paid a record $1,763,000 for the first bluefin tuna sold at the renowned Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo (Associated Press 2013).

Unfortunately, the high monetary value in tandem with the increasing rarity of the bluefin tuna has created an anthropogenic allee effect, where the smaller the population of bluefin, the more valuable the rare tuna becomes and the more heavily exploited they are by humans. With Japan consuming approximately 75-80% of the worlds’ catch of bluefin tuna, some major Japanese corporations are prepared to take advantage of this effect (Hamilton et al. 2011). For example, Mitsubishi, a company which handles 35-40% of Japan’s imported Atlantic bluefin tuna, has been deep-freezing and stockpiling thousands of tons of bluefin each year, seeking to profit by selling bluefin at extremely steep prices in the future when the bluefin tuna is extinct or near extinction. With declining populations only accelerating the process of extinction, Atlantic bluefin tuna are a species at significantly high risk.

Major Threats

Overfishing is the single biggest threat to Atlantic bluefin tuna today. The story of human overexploitation of Atlantic bluefin tuna exemplifies a pivotal moment in marine history. After World War II, there was not only a surge of globalization leading to the high demand for bluefin, but also a surge in new war technology that was redirected towards fishing efforts, ultimately leading to a massive expansion and intensification of global fishing (Blackford 2008). Fishing fleets began incorporating sonar and radar to detect fish schools, while special buoys, or fish aggregating devices, were used to attract pelagic fish like bluefin tuna. At-sea freezing technology was also developed, allowing vessels to stay out at sea for longer periods of time and expand their fishing territory. Giant nets called purse seines were introduced to enclose and scoop up entire schools of fish from large sections of the ocean. These purse seines quickly became the most common gear used in the Mediterranean, leading to the emergence of a technologically advanced fleet of purse seining vessels. Despite scientific evidence of overfishing and depleted bluefin tuna stocks, during the period of 2005-2007 alone, the European purse seine fleet doubled in size as more vessels were employed to hunt down dwindling bluefin populations, with subsidies continuing to sustain the EU fishing industry at a rate of more than €800 million per year (Willson 2012). What resulted from these technological advancements in fishing was a new era of industrial scale, commercial exploitation of the sea.

However, not even advanced fishing technology could satiate demand for bluefin, resulting in the boom in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Underneath the surface of the bluefin industry lies a massive black market conservatively valued at $4 billion (Guevara et al. 2010). At its peak between 1998 and 2007, more than 1 in 3 bluefin was caught illegally (Guevara et al. 2010). Illegal practices occur throughout the bluefin industry from fishing vessels and farms to distributors in Japan all the way up to government officials. For example, fishing vessels would illegally catch undersized tuna and hire banned spotter planes to locate schools of tuna from the air (Guevara et al. 2010). Vessels and ranches would deliberately underreport catch data and a market even emerged around trading quotas, where one vessel sells it’s nation’s quota to a foreign vessel that has overfished (Guevara et al. 2010). Giant cargo vessels, or reefers, also pose a significant problem, in addition to ranches, as a means of sneaking in illegal tuna. With a length of over 100 meters, reefers essentially act as floating freezers to store tuna caught by various fishing vessels (Chartier 2013). Reefers have become the perfect loophole to sneak in illegally sourced fish through transshipping, the practice of transferring fish catches from one vessel to another, which often occurs outside of regulated exclusive economic zones (Chartier 2013). As catches are transferred from boat to boat and then aggregated on a single reefer, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine which vessel caught which fish and where.

ICCAT Corruption and Controversy

The primary governing body in charge of Atlantic bluefin tuna is the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). ICCAT was formed in 1966 to manage the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas (ICCAT 2007). In theory, ICCAT sets yearly total allowable catch limits based on scientific advice provided in stock assessments conducted approximately every two years by their Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (SCRS). However, ICCAT has been infamous for implementing poor management practices, instead referred to by other conservationists as “an international disgrace” and the “International Conspiracy To Catch All Tuna” (Brower 2014).

One of the biggest controversies surrounding ICCAT occurred in 2008 when scientists recommended a total allowable catch of 15,000 mt to maintain the current eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna population and 10,000 mt to work towards population recovery (ICCAT 2009). However, ICCAT decided to set a quota of 28,500 mt with actual catch estimated to be 61,000 mt, or 1/3 of remaining stocks, when accounting for IUU fishing (ICCAT 2009).

Ultimately, the plight of the Atlantic bluefin tuna serves as a significant case study for examining the human relationship with the ocean and revealing a history of overexploitation that extends to marine species beyond bluefin.

References

Associated Press. 2013. Bluefin tuna sells for record $1.76M in Tokyo. Inquirer.net, Manila, Philippines. Available from http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/335515/bluefin-tuna-sells-for-record-1-76m-in-tokyo (accessed December 2017).

Blackford, Mansel. 2008. A Tale of Two Fisheries: Fishing and Over-Fishing in American Waters. Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective 1:92-106

Brower, K. 2014. Quicksilver. National Geographic, Washington, D.C. Available from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/03/bluefin-tuna/brower-text (accessed December 2017).

Chartier, François. 2013. Floating freezers full of tuna, but where did it come from? Greenpeace France, Paris, France. Available from http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/floating-freezers-full-of-tuna-but-where-did-/blog/45021/ (accessed December 2017).

Corson, Trevor. 2008. The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice. Pages 1-416. Harper Perennial, New York City, New York.

Guevara, M. W., Willson, K., Garcia Rey, M. 2010. Overview: The black market in bluefin. The Center for Public Integrity, Washington, D.C.

Hamilton, A., Lewis, A., McCoy, A. M., Havice, E., Campling, L. 2011. Market and Industry Dynamics in the Global Tuna Supply Chain. Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency.

International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). 2007. Introduction. ICCAT, Madrid, Spain. Available from https://www.iccat.int/en/introduction.htm (accessed December 2017).

ICCAT. 2009. Report of the 2008 bluefin tuna stock assessment session. Report of the biennial period 2008-09. International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.

Willson, K., and Canet, J. 2012. A Mediterranean feeding frenzy. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Washington, D.C.Worm, B., and Tittensor, D.P. 2011. Range contraction in large pelagic predators. proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108:11942-11947.

Food Sovereignty: A “Re-Peasantization” of Food Systems

Food Sovereignty

“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.” – Declaration of Nyéléni, the first global forum on food sovereignty, Mali, 2007

First coined by La Vía Campesina, the International Peasant’s Movement, the concept of “food sovereignty” is one example of the potential to radically transform our current unsustainable, inequitable agroindustrial food system through the empowering of indigenous and peasant communities. While many have looked to science for solutions to our current food crisis, what is really necessary to push for large-scale change is a grassroots social movement that operates outside of our current industrialized, capitalist food system and instead prioritizes the fight against systematic exploitation, oppression, and colonization.

There are several misconceptions surrounding the idea of “world hunger.” For example, many believe that world hunger is caused by the scarcity of food rather than systematic barriers to accessing food. Many others turn to the Green Revolution as the solution to food insecurity with its seemingly revolutionary use of modern technologies such as agrochemicals and transgenic crops.

The truth is, we are currently living in a time when global inequities are at their highest levels with nearly half the planet’s wealth concentrated into the hands of just 80 individuals and a sixth of the world’s population who qualify as “hungry.” In fact, there is an extensive history of “de-peasantization” where small farmers were robbed of their autonomy and intentionally made dependent on green revolution technologies, leading to displacement by foreign companies or governments or trapping them in cycles of debt.

“Our modern food system is a true regime of food apartheid that undermines democratic and community control of our food systems. It does so with privatization/corporatization at the expense of people and the planet for profits.” -Food First

“The food system is built upon land theft and genocide of indigenous people and the exploitation of Black and Brown labor. Black farmers currently operate less than 1% of the nation’s farms, having lost over 12 million acres to USDA discrimination, racist violence, and legal trickery. 85% of the people working the land in the US are Latinx migrant workers, yet only 2.5% of farms are owned and operated by Latinxs. People of color are disproportionately likely to live under food apartheid and suffer from diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other diet related illness. Labor laws continue to permit the exploitation of farm and food workers.” -Soul Fire Farm

In Food Sovereignty: Global Rallying Cry of Farmer’s Movements, Food First’s Peter Rosset wrote that that “food sovereignty goes beyond the concept of food security… [Food security] means that… [everyone] must have the certainty of having enough to eat each day … but says nothing about where that food comes from or how it is produced.” While food security is often limited to conversations about scarcity of food, food sovereignty takes on a more holistic, preventative approach by tackling the root causes of food insecurity and asking questions about power and control.

The six pillars of food sovereignty are:

1. Focuses on food for people

2. Values food providers

3. Localizes food systems

4. Puts control locally

5. Builds knowledge and skills

6. Works with nature

“Food sovereignty is not just about access to good, healthy food, or about sustainable forms of food production: it is about transforming society.” -Food First

If we are to sustainably increase food production using less land and resources while taking into account an increasingly unstable, unpredictable future caused by the compounding effects of climate change, social unrest, and financial crises, it is vital to incorporate a social justice dimension to food security.

Professor Miguel Altieri of UC Berkeley proposes an alternative agroecological system based on centuries-old socioecological and cultural systems used by indigenous and peasant communities. The current industrial food system uses at least 75% of the world’s agricultural land and most of agriculture’s fossil fuel and freshwater resources to feed barely 30% of the world’s population. In contrast, more than 500 million peasant farms around the world are using less than 25% of the land and almost no fossil fuels or chemicals to feed 70% of the world population.

If we are to envision a food system that is both socially just and environmentally sustainable, it is critical to fight for peasants’ right to their seeds, land, water, and a market of their own.

Food Apartheid

One example of this intersection between social justice and food security is with the shift in language from “food desert” to “food apartheid.” Food justice activist Karen Washington proposes to replace the term “food desert,” areas void of good-quality, affordable fresh food, with the term “food apartheid” to take into account the systematic racism permeating America’s food system.

“I was just in Pennsylvania and North Carolina talking about food deserts, and the topic of food justice and food sovereignty, and putting it out there that it means nothing to me. I asked people to define it, and, of course, they gave me their cookie-cutter definition: “Communities who have limited access to food.” That means nothing. Who in in my actual neighborhood has deemed that we live in a food desert? Number one, people will tell you that they do have food. Number two, people in the hood have never used that term. It’s an outsider term. “Desert” also makes us think of an empty, absolutely desolate place. But when we’re talking about these places, there is so much life and vibrancy and potential. Using that word runs the risk of preventing us from seeing all of those things.

What I would rather say instead of “food desert” is “food apartheid”, because “food apartheid” looks at the whole food system, along with race, geography, faith, and economics. You say “food apartheid” and you get to the root cause of some of the problems around the food system. It brings in hunger and poverty. It brings us to the more important question: What are some of the social inequalities that you see, and what are you doing to erase some of the injustices?” -Karen Washington

Reparations Map for Black-Indigenous Farmers

Another example of an attempt to build a more equitable food system is a digital project created by Soul Fire Farm, a BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) centered community farm committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system. This Reparations Map features different farmers of color all over the US seeking reparations: “financial payments made today to help make good on the systemic injustices of the past 400 years.”

“The food system was built on the stolen land and stolen labor of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and people of color. We are claiming our sovereignty and calling for reparations of land and resources so that we can grow nourishing food and distribute it in our communities.”

References

Brones, Anna. “Food apartheid: the root of the problem with America’s groceries” The Guardian, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/may/15/food-apartheid-food-deserts-racism-inequality-america-karen-washington-interview

Collier, Andrea King. “A Reparations Map for Farmers of Color May Help Right Historical Wrongs” Civil Eats, 2018. Retrieved from https://civileats.com/2018/06/04/a-reparations-map-for-farmers-may-help-right-historical-wrongs/

“Food Justice and Food Sovereignty in USA” Nyéléni Newsletter, 2015. Retrieved from https://viacampesina.org/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/09/2015-09-Nyeleni_Newsletter_Num_23_EN.pdf

Gerber, John. “Social Justice is a Core Component of a Sustainable Food System” UMass Sustainable Food and Farming Program, 2016. Retrieved from https://sustfoodfarm.org/2016/07/20/social-justice/

Grillo, Christine. “Transform or Reform?” Johns Hopkins, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/news-room/dodge_lecture/miguel-altieri.html

Holt-Giménez, Eric. “Food Sovereignty: Changing the Food System by Changing Everything” Food First, 2017. Retrieved from https://foodfirst.org/food-sovereignty-changing-the-food-system-by-changing-everything/

Mooney, Pat and Bassey, Nnimmo. “The road to food sovereignty” New Internationalist, 2017. Retrieved from https://newint.org/blog/2017/12/14/peasants-feed-world

Provost, Claire. “La Via Campesina celebrates 20 years of standing up for food sovereignty” The Guardian, 2013. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2013/jun/17/la-via-campesina-food-sovereignty

“Strategic Goals” Soul Fire Farm, 2018. Retrieved from www.soulfirefarm.org/about/goals/

Food Will Win the War

If you are a millennial foodie like me, chances are that you have followed five or more food accounts on Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube, have at least two apps on your phone that help you find the best restaurants wherever you go, or have food shows like Chef’s Table and Ugly Delicious recommended to you by Netflix based on your watch history. Nowadays, we are constantly bombarded with imageries of food of different kinds wherever we go, whether we are walking down the streets, shopping in malls, or scrolling on the internet at home. Regardless of being a cook or not, food is a very integral part of our lives, and it is this pervasiveness of food in our daily lives that makes the representation of food in media an implicit yet favourable tool of propaganda. With the abundance of movies, documentary films, TV shows, photography, and advertisements related to food that are present in today’s society, it is hard to imagine and evaluate the political significances of any one particular representation of food. However, if we go back in time to the periods of World War I and II, we can find a lot of straightforward examples of how food is being used as a tool of propaganda in media.

In this post, I will bring us back to a key moment in the history of food media by examining the short film Food Will Win the War, an animation made by the Disney Studios for the United States Department of Agriculture in 1942, which is during the World War II. By using food as a symbolic field to assert national power and identity, and to boost a sense of patriotism, the short animation film is an epitome of how food media could reflect and shape American ideologies in terms of food production and consumption.

Food as Weapon

Although the short film is produced to reassure Americans that US was growing food for both domestic use as well as supplies to the Allies, and to praise the hard work and sacrifice of farmers, it is not hard to find the political messages embedded in the film. First of all, the militarisation of food is an obvious theme throughout the film. It transforms the image of food as not just energy fuel for daily activities, but also weapons that could help America and the Allies win the war against the Axis, as suggested by the title of the film. The film is quick to evoke a sense of patriotism at the very beginning, where the narrator says that the “American agriculture” is the light of hope in the darkest hour of the World War. This is followed by visuals showing the amount of farmland in US is greater than all of Europe combined, and that the number of farmers in the country is twice as many as that of the soldiers in Axis (Figure 1.1 and 1.2). The constant juxtaposition of military machines like tanks and battleships with farming equipment such a planting machines, milking columns and potato diggers further emphasises the idea of food as weapons and suggest that the farmers are just as important as the soldiers fighting in the war.

Figure 1.1. Visualisation of the amount of farmlands in US compared to the sizes of European countries combined (Screenshot from YouTube)

Figure 1.2. American farmers are praised for their hard work and sacrifices (Screenshot from YouTube)

The sense of American imperialism is also apparent through a series of hyperbolic images that shows the statistics of what US farmers produce in a year using visual images of famous landmarks around the world. For example, to help audience visualise the fifty-two billion and eight hundred million pounds of wheat that US famers could produce in a year, the film shows that “if all this wheat was made into flour, they’d be enough to snow under the entire German Panzer Army”, which is a comparison that puts the Axis power at a weaker position.  The film also tells the audience that US farmers produce two billion, eight hundred and fifty million bushels of corn a year, but this number is very abstract until we see hear that if all that corn is “grown into one huge ear, it would make a bridge from London to the Black Sea”, accompanied by an image of a giant corn descending across the whole Europe. This is another example of how the film uses exaggerated visuals to assert America’s dominance over other countries. Even though different types of food are mentioned in the short film, but they are not praised for their effects on human body and health, but are reduced merely as a tool for America to advance their power during the war.

Figure 2. “…if all this wheat was made into flour, they’d be enough to snow under the entire German Panzer Army..” (Screenshot from Youtube)

Figure 3. If all that corn is “grown into one huge ear, it would make a bridge from London to the Black Sea.” (Screenshot from YouTube)

Quantity over quality

The images of grotesque and exaggerated amplification of food sizes compared to famous world landmarks also show how excessiveness is hailed as indicator of success rather than its quality. The emphasis on quantity over equality both reflects and shapes a culture where the ideas of abundance and excess are seen as solutions to the problem of hunger and signs of national security amidst the devastation of the World War. For example, the films illustrate how the yield of vegetables in US is sufficient enough to cover the Great Wall of China, and excessive loaves of bread baked from American flour could form a series of pyramids the length of Suez Canal. In many ways, the film promotes a sense of security and success through material abundance, which is an ideology that underlies many agricultural developments in US in the next few decades.

Power of machinery over nature

Another recurrent theme in the film is the use of machines for food production. The narrator attributes the success in agriculture to farmers who are ready for sacrifices, but this would not be possible without the “farm machinery, battalions of combines, regiments of truck, divisions of corn pickers, potato diggers, planting machines, columns of milking machines”. Visually we see numbers of machines harvesting and producing vast quantity of food effectively.

Figure 3. “Farm machinery, battalions of combines, regiments of truck, divisions of corn pickers, potato diggers, planting machines, columns of milking machines…” (Screenshot from YouTube)

After World War II ended in 1945, the urgency to supply huge amount of food for soldiers in the war front was no longer needed, but the idea of agricultural productivity and abundance as an indicator of success remained. A few years after the war came the beginning of the Green Revolution, which was a period of time when food production in places like US, Mexico, and South America were greatly increased due to deployment of technological advancements, including the development of high-yield varieties of grains, mechanisation of production, and the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers.

The analysis of Food Will Win the War gives us a glimpse of a key moment in food history that reflected a changing culture in food production and consumption in US. Nonetheless, the ideologies promoted in the film are not just products of World War II, but are continuation of historical ideals. The phrase “food will win the war” was in fact the slogan of an agriculture campaign led by Herbert Hoover, the head of United States Food Administration during World War I. Even after the World Wars ended, the spirit of “food will win the war” seemed to have continued, manifested in the ‘war’ of increasing food production around the world through industrialisation and technological advancements, forever changing the way we eat.

 

References:

Disney Studios. Food Will Win the War (1942). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAh_H1LFZbs.

Bossert, D. “Food Will Win the War: The Disney Way” Cartoon Research, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/foods-that-make-up-most-of-the-calories-american-consume-2015-2

Grey, Houston S. “‘A banquet for all the world’: democracy and consumerism in Disney’s Food Will Win the War” Critical Studies in Media Communication 35.4 (2018): 363-375.

Tunc, Emin T. “Less Sugar, More Warships: Food as American Propaganda in the First World War” War in History 19.2 (2012): 193-216.

 

Colby Local Food Documentary

The Future for Maine Seafood

  The state of Maine economy depends on seafood from the Gulf of Maine. Luckily, the sustainability of the lobster industry in Maine has not wavered over the last few years. This industry remains as the largest agricultural output, just ahead of potatoes. Although that is good news, the seafood industry within the state as a whole, beyond just lobsters, shows evidence of a decrease in populations of key species over the past few years. This is due to the rise of water temperatures. In response to these low catches, the sustainability of these species has come into question and action to manage them has been taken. In addition to the lowering catches, recent policy changes have made the continuing success of the seafood industry in Maine more difficult.

  In my lifetime alone numerous industries have suffered due to environmental factors. The marine ecosystem is no different as the influence of global warming, invasive species, and the rise of sea levels has taken its toll. Lobsters are extremely impacted by sea temperatures and in 2010 the gulf of Maine experienced the most optimal temperatures for lobster harvesting; therefore, increasing the survival, growth, and population of this species. Since that year studies have shown that the populations are declining and will soon return back to the more normal size catches that lobstermen are were used to prior. Some believe that this optimal water temperature drove the lobsters from Southern New England and New York waters into the gulf of Maine and will soon drive those lobsters even further North into Canada. Figure 1 shows a study completed by the Maine Research Institute on how the populations will proceed in the future years if the marine environments continue to change at the same rate.

  In another study completed by seven members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, presents a different opinion. This group stated that because of the warming waters a huge predator of colder water lobsters, cod, has been eliminated from the Gulf of Maine. Cod feeds on baby lobsters and with their species moving North to seek colder waters, the lobsters population has had a stronger advantage than they have in the past. A similar phenomenon was studied of the coast of Long Island when their water temperatures rose. The black sea bass and striped sea bass pray on lobsters in warmer waters than cod. Their numbers increased on Long Island and drove the lobsters into colder waters to escape these predators. The Gulf of Maine seemed to hit the most ideal temperature between these predator species in 2010, allowing them more hospitable habitats in the water temperature in the gulf of Maine. Furthermore, as water temperatures rise there is an increase in waterborne diseases, such as black shell disease that have the ability to kill off lobster populations.

  A subject that was not explored within this research was the increase in industrializing unexplored species and invasive species. The two species that threaten the marine ecosystem the most are the green crab and codium. The green crab typically takes over the habitats of the peekytoe and rock crab populations, whereas the codium is a spongy green algae that covers shellfish beds hindering the shell fish’s ability to grow in these areas. These species have hurt these populations in addition to weather related incidents. Also growing in terms of size is the interest in industrializing seaweed species. Rather than having a negative impact on seafood that the invasive species have, the seaweed industry is actually aiding in keeping lobster habitats in the Gulf of Maine hospitable. Similar to the forests we have on land, seaweeds and eelgrass, aid in reducing carbon dioxide pollution and therefore are keeping the acidic balance in the ocean. Without this buffer system, the ocean acidity is increasing, which hinders the growth of species that rely on carbonate to grow their shells for protection such as crabs and lobsters.

  This past year another large factor has begun to affect this Maine industry, President Trump announced that the United States entered a trade war with China. The result of this was a twenty-five percent tariff on United States lobsters imported to China. This decreased the value of exported lobster by sixty-four percent in just one year and dropped the profits of these exports by over seven million dollars. As of now, the majority of lobsters being shipped to China are from Maine because Canada has not been catching nearly the numbers that Maine has. Many local fisherman as well as wholesale businesses have seen the impact of these tariffs and many have had to lay off workers because of it. China also implemented that all packages being received from the United States have to be manually checked rather than pre-checked. This means that live lobsters are being left at inspection stations for days, leaving them more likely to be spoiled by the time they get to their final destination.

  Another large market for the selling of Maine lobsters internationally has been Europe, which has also begun to decrease for other reasons. Canada recently created a brand new trade deal with Europe that puts the United States in another disadvantage. With these two recent downfalls, the future of the industry is now more dependent on its ability to increase the domestic market rather than the international one.

  The majority of the news pertaining to the future of Maine seafood is negative. Although this is true, there is some hope. The addition of the up and coming seaweed industry and the implementing of more control over the amount of fish being exported overseas are moves in the correct direction. The governmental policies explored could have a positive effect on the growth of the lobster species over time as the demand may decrease. This would leave more lobsters in the sea to reproduce. This process will take time, but we can all hope for a better future for the seafood industry as more steps are being taken globally to combat climate change.

 

Work Cited:

“Maine Real Estate.” Maine Economy – Facts and Figures, Maine Home Connection, www.mainehomeconnection.com/MaineEconomy.

Overton, Penelope. “Gulf of Maine Lobster Population Past Its Peak, Study Says, and a Big Drop Is Due.” Portland Press Herald, Portland Press Herald, 23 Jan. 2018, www.pressherald.com/2018/01/22/lobster-boom-over-as-population-starts-to-decline/.

The Associated Press. “Maine Lobster Industry Looks to Grow US Market While Tariffs Drive down Demand Overseas.” Bangor Daily News, Bangor Daily News, 20 Sept. 2018, bangordailynews.com/2018/09/20/business/maine-lobster-industry-looks-to-grow-us-market-while-tariffs-drive-down-demand-overseas/.

The BDN Editorial Board. “How Maine Lobsters’ Future Could Depend on Seaweed That Surrounds Them.” Bangor Daily News, Bangor Daily News, 4 Jan. 2016, bangordailynews.com/2016/01/04/opinion/editorials/how-maine-lobsters-future-could-depend-on-seaweed-that-surrounds-them/.

Valigra, Lori. “Maine Lobster Exports to China Fell Steeply in July as Trump Trade War Intensified.” Bangor Daily News, Bangor Daily News, 10 Sept. 2018, bangordailynews.com/2018/09/10/business/maine-lobster-exports-to-china-fell-steeply-in-july-as-trump-trade-war-intensified/.

Woodard, Colin. “Gulf of Maine Will Become Too Warm for Many Key Fish, Report Says.” Press Herald, Portland Press Herald, 21 May 2017, www.pressherald.com/2017/05/21/gulf-of-maine-will-become-too-warm-for-many-key-fish-report-says/.

The Inauthentic Hamburger: How War and Globalization Changed a Vietnamese City’s Food Scene

Having studied abroad in the United States for years, one of the many kinds of food that I miss from Nha Trang, my hometown in Vietnam, is a hamburger. This may sound odd to you; after all, the US is the birthplace and global capital of hamburgers. The truth is, the hamburgers I ate in Vietnam bore very little resemblance to the ones served at McDonald’s here in the US. And although that means the hamburger I had was inauthentic, it did not stop me from enjoying the dish. In fact, it stirred my curiosity about how the hamburger came to Nha Trang, and what the recent arrival of McDonald’s and other fast food chains means for the future food scene in my hometown.

A typical hamburger in Nha Trang

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The Rise of Plant-Based Foods

 

My last blog post discussed the obesity epidemic, citing the statistic that about two thirds of adult Americans are overweight or obese. My final project researches a way of eating whose followers weigh on average about 40 pounds less than those that eat the standard American diet.   This is the diet of plant based eating, which promotes the consumption of fruits and vegetables while excluding meat and animal products.

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Food Security

With the continuing population growth, food security has become an increasing problem as food accessibility differs for certain places and groups of people showing the inequality in food accessibility. The past half-century has seen a growth in food production, however not all people have seen an increase in their accessibility to food. Looking forward, food accessibility seems to be a growing issue, as growing competition for land, water, energy, as well as the exploitation of our sources will require a reduction on our impact on the food system in order to continue to be able to feed the growing population. Continue reading

Seeing is Believing

This class has made me think about many things that I hadn’t before. In particular, where the food comes from that I eat at Colby’s dining halls every day. For my first blog post, I wrote about Global vs. Local Food and the differences between buying from an industrial farmer or supplier versus a local one. Colby switched it’s dining services provider to Bon Appétit several years ago, and since then a real effort has been made to buy locally. For my final project, I wanted to make a video that explores who supplies our food.

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