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Presentation advocates global food justice

Marissa Pie | Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Global studies professors Sonalini Sapra and Laura Elder challenged students to question where their food comes from and consider the global impact of what they eat in their presentation “Sowing the Seeds of Global Food Justice in the 21st Century” on Monday.


The lecture kicked off Saint Mary’s Food Week, presented by Student Government Association. 


Sapra said she encountered two research groups, Navdanya and the Deccan Development Society, while she was working on her dissertation in India. Both groups were dedicated to eliminating genetically-modified organisms from food and making organic food products more accessible. 


Physicist and environmental activist Vandana Shiva founded Navdanya in 1982, Sapra said. 


“Vandana Shiva created this group because she felt that India was being taken over by monocultural crop production,” Sapra said. “She believed in a biodiverse farming system. Navdanya imparts training to local famers about what it means to practice biodiversity.”


Sapra said she had the opportunity to meet Shiva while planting and composting with Navdanya in Dehradun, a city in northern India.


“She brought in some organic kidney beans. … It was the first time I ever sampled anything that was organic, and it was the most delicious thing I have ever experienced,” Sapra said. “I was like, ‘Where has [this] thing been my whole life?'” 


The Deccan Development Society works with Indian women of the lowest caste, giving them land and teaching them organic-cultivation techniques, Sapra said. 


“What I was looking for were some of the strategies they were using to fight against genetically-modified seeds and products from entering their community,” Sapra said. “The seeds they sell are all packaged in cow dung or other substances in a way that prevents pests from getting in, while keeping the entire process organic.” 


Sapra said while Navdanya and the Deccan Development Society encourage the removal of genetically-modified organisms, or GMOs, from products, many people in India argue GMOs are necessary. 


“The argument for genetically-modified seeds is that they use less pesticides,” she said. “But actually, if we look historically, those seeds used 400 million pounds of pesticides in the production of genetic engineering. If genetically-engineered foods were the solution to more sustainable agriculture, I’d be all for it. However, there is nothing that leads us to believe that.” 


Elder said speculation in the food-commodities market has global consequences. The food-investment activities and speculation of major financial corporations such as Barclays and Chase illustrate these consequences, she said. 


“The trick is with speculation, you’re placing a bet on what is going to happen in the future,” Elder said. “One consequence of that [is] we have seen profound changes in global food prices over the years. Food is one of those things that the price changes a lot, because we can’t get by without it. But now the idea is that it is speculation that has changed the prices.” 


Because of recent global-trade liberalization, many markets are globalized and international, Elder said. However, a small number of corporations control the market.


“Archer Daniels, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus control almost 75 percent of trading grains [worldwide],” Elder said.  “These corporations have more control and knowledge than anyone else. Because of this, they are able to manipulate things. We can’t actually see what is going on because they are not required to report any of what they are doing.”



Elder said this jeopardizes the assurance of a sustainable future. 


“Financialization is taking over what is happening in the productive realm,” she said.  The trick here is that commodities traders have always been exempted because they are trading commodities.”


Elder said increasing transparency through stricter regulation and rules could prevent the negative consequences of speculation.


Both Sapra and Elder encouraged students to question where their food comes from and demand more sustainable options. 


“People know nothing about where their food comes from,” Sapra said.  I think the dining hall is really trying to do better and supply more sustainable food options. If students demand a change, that is where they are more willing to change.”

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