Food The Global Experience

One of the things that we all have in common is that we must eat to survive.  What we are able to consume often says much about where we stand in the race/class hierarchy.  As a western middle class woman, food is something that I am able to consume almost at will.  There are some items because of their  price, and so-called “exotic nature” that I will never consume, but generally speaking the world is my buffet for the taking.

Due to globalization and the exploitation of third world labour, westerners are privy to various different kinds of food year round.  image A mere 60 years ago a kiwi in New York would be an oddity, and today they are as commonplace as apples and corn.  Of course with these new products we have had to find ways to incorporate them into our meat and potatoes diet…enter the celebrity chefs and the fancy cookbooks.

Almost every step between food being cultivated and arriving on our dinner tables is rife with exploitation.  To ensure that we are able to make use of the  vast cornucopia of items celebrity chefs play a vital role.  If  bok choy is for sale but we have no idea what to do with it, its value will be useless to the companies that are producing it for profit. I use the term companies because most of the food we consume today is the result of agribusiness.  Ask yourself why those that are trained to give us our food passports are primarily white. How many celebrity chefs of colour can you quickly name?  It is not an accidental phenomena that the Jamie Olivers  and Michael Smiths of the world exist. 

Our cultural ambassadors to the exotic are overwhelming white males.  This is nothing less than invisible cultural appropriation.  How is it that a white male becomes expert in a culture that he was not reared in?  How is it that he, and he alone is capable of transmitting this message?  It is because the white male normalizes our exotic consumption. The white male body is embedded with an authority and proficiency  that does not exist in a body of colour.  Just as he has raped foreign lands for profit he is now expert in consumption to facilitate cultural appropriation.

As with every glutinous empire food has become big business. Gorging ourselves has become a hobby as we consume the products of the vanquished.  We don’timage care that at 50 cents a pound per banana, the person that laboured picking it did not get paid, but those bananas are a tasty fruit that can be turned into great deserts. Chiquita has a long history of worker exploitation, aided by the US military, as well as funding terrorist organization to destabilize governments. Our need to consume this sweet fruit out weighs the crimes the company commits to ensure we get our daily potassium. 

We may believe that we are enriching foreign countries by our purchases butimage this is simply not the case. Clinton argued for an end to the Lome agreement which gave favoured status to Jamaica to trade with Great Britain.  This means that Jamaica now has to compete for business with Chiquita and dole on the open market without the benefit of the government subsidies that they receive.  The once flourishing banana industry of Jamaica is a thing of the past.  Land that once provided a decent living now lays idle.

This is just the story of the humble banana.   We now export products like potatoes to warm climates that are perfectly capable of growing this food because we have instituted unfair trade agreements.  image The IMF encourages that farmers plant medicinal herbs or spices for the market.  It would seem at first to be a good alternative to raising food, but when governments are no longer able to sustain the artificially low cost of food where does this leave third world bodies that have been forced to stop producing for subsistence?  Many tropical countries have no dairy industry, and are suffering with a declining produce industry?  When we take our yearly pilgrimages to the sun the food that we are consuming is not indigenous to the areas that we are travelling to.  People are eating Idaho potatoes in Jamaica imagine that.

The restaurants that have opened spreading “American culture”, may hire local image workers but they do not use local produce.  For the purposes of standardization companies like McDonalds import everything from the US.   On top of destroying their healthy choice food options, we are introducing high fat, artery clogging alternatives with very little nutritional value.  

Supermarkets are filled with our left overs.  In the states chicken breasts are what are prized because they contain the lowest amount of fat but what happens to the rest of the chicken?  The rest of the chicken is for sale in a third world country.  Along with receiving the cuts of meats that we as westerners reject they also get the chemicals that we inject into our food.  With no other alternatives because we have destroyed their local markets people indigenous to third world countries are consuming our high fat, chemically injected rejects.

This is all occurring because of Western desire to consume.  Not only do we have a sense of entitlement when it comes to food we expect to be unreasonably cheap.  There are many costs to western privilege that go unseen by us.  We do not see the impoverishment that it produces nor we see the damage that it does to the environment.  Changing what local peasants have grown on land for generations to grow for the market is leading to land desertification.  When indigenous people are finally able to return to subsistence farming they will find that the land that they have come to depend on is no longer able to produce what they need.  This we can thank companies like Monsanto for.  Rather than delve more deeply into the ecological costs of development, because that would lead to a paper, I will state for now that the earth was not meant to sustain this form of living.  We are killing ourselves with this reckless path.

We must begin to think about the ways in which we consume food and the companies that we support.  Simply because an item is cheap does not mean that it is a “good deal” for all parties concerned.  It is time to recognize that our grandmothers knew something when they planted their gardens and pickled their preserves.  We need to start to consume locally and demand a better quality of food for all.  Our need for sustenance does not outweigh the right of others to have a healthy life sustaining diet.  This change of consumption is not only the human thing to do, it is the ecologically smart path to undertake.

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