A Global Food Crisis and A Global Financial Crisis
by Sophie Gore Browne


While the familiar terms ‘recession’, ‘depression’ and ‘financial meltdown’, weigh heavy on the news and still manage to stir anxiety among readers, we have become worryingly anesthetized to the idea of a “global food crisis” that marked the first half of this years headlines. 

On November 13th, there was a Responses to the Global Food Crisis panel as part of the Interdisciplinary Humanities Centre ‘Food matters’ program of events at UCSB and barely 30 people attended. This reflected the diminished sense of urgency with regards to the continuing food crisis, despite the World Banks prediction that a further 44 million people will total the number of malnourished at 1 billion this year. 

The financial crisis is prioritized in the media over the food crisis, which in reality are two very interrelated issues, with similar root causes, symptoms and potential solutions. Over the Thanksgiving weekend break, there were numerous news stories about goodwill food centres unable to cater for the increased number of people arriving to receive a free meal on the national holiday. There occurred two remarkable incidents which exemplify the combined impact of the food crisis and the financial crisis. At a Wal-mart in NY state on Black Friday, a stampede of 2,000 consumers were so desperate to grab the best bargains they trampled to death a 34 year-old worker, named Jdimytai Damou. In Colorado, the San Francisco chronicle reports, a 600 acre farm opened their fields to the public to help themselves to left over vegetables after the harvest, and expecting a maximum crowd of 10,000 people to turn up, were shocked to be completely overrun by an estimate of 40,000. These separate instances highlight the consumption and distribution imbalance in the global food economy, which the global food panel asserted as problems that should not be regarded as burdening poor nations but rather poor people world-wide. 

David Cleveland, a professor in Environmental Studies, emphasized that the problem was not a matter of lacking supply to meet growing demand but in peoples lack of the resources that gain them access to that supply. He has researched sustainable agriculture and development with small scale farmers in Bawku, (in Ghana, West Africa) for one and a half years and from that experience he described how the local markets were full of food which hungry people couldn’t afford, ‘The food crisis is defined not only by the presence of food but by the ability of people to buy that food.’ Individuals unable to buy the necessary commodities to ensure their own survival is the culminating point of crisis where the two separated issues of financial recession and inflated food prices cross. 

The concern is not the points of overlap between the two problems but the similar policies used to relieve the issues, which is essentially a policy of diffusing the problem by pumping it with more money to increase production to feed the growing population and more money to bail out the banks. This can only end in further disaster when the very causes of the problem are used as the solution, the causes being overproduction by large scale mono agribusinesses and risky methods to increase bank loaning capacity. 

David Cleveland derided the trickle down mainstream approach to the distribution problem. “This does not work with 800 mill malnourished in world. Even mainstream economists , journalists publishing editorials are questioning Milton Friedman. Should our CEO’s of companies making record profits be taking home thousands of times more income than the worlds poorest people.” 

Food security from the top down versus food sovereignty in the form of land rights as human rights from the bottom up are both at the frontier of policy changes taking place at the global and the local level. The World Hunger challenge included in the Millennium development goals, is concerned to genetically engineer staple crop varieties to contain most nutrients. In Santa Barbara the Orfalea Foundation is committed to supporting local food system that will feed the kids in all the local Santa Barbara schools fresh, local produce. “The re-orientation of our whole distribution and production system to focusing on local food for people here is the ultimate solution.” Says Cleveland. 

In Isla Vista, Farms for Humanity located at I.V. Eclectic café is part of this new grassroots movement, offering seasonal, organic, local produce, easily accessible, fresh and fairly priced for any I.V. student needing to top up on some healthy greens

If you are interested ‘Our Daily Bread’, a documentary exposing the inside workings of the food manufacturing industry is showing at Campbell Hall Wednesday December 3rd at 7:30pm.