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It is surely one of the most damning indictments of global capitalism that one sixth of the world’s population is chronically malnourished. Yet merely to use this statistic as propaganda against the current system is not only to ignore a pressing problem but to do a disservice to the myriad struggles over our food system taking place around the world.
The globalisation of agriculture over the past 30 years has placed ever more of our food system into the hands of multinational corporations. But it has also called into being an increasingly co-ordinated movement of small producers trying to reclaim democratic control of that system.
Most obviously organised through La Via Campesina (‘the peasant way’), this millions-strong movement has managed not only to campaign at the international level against the likes of the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Agriculture, but to formulate a radical alternative in the form of ‘food sovereignty’.
Defined as the ‘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’, food sovereignty is a political demand for land reform, the rolling back of corporate control and the protection of natural resources. It is also a vision of ‘agroecological’ production, using modern sustainable techniques to work with nature, and of prioritising local markets over exports.
The 20th-century left tended to see the solutions to feeding the world as large scale and equated democratic control with the state. The realities of the 21st century demand a different approach, albeit one that doesn’t rule out state intervention. In Venezuela, the Chavéz government has embraced food sovereignty and mobilised its resources towards empowering small producers. By extending low-interest credit and buying produce for distribution through its network of subsidised supermarkets, while encouraging co-operatively run farms and food-processing factories, it has sought to secure the livelihoods of producers and affordable access to food for consumers at the same time.
Climate change demands that we localise our food systems in the global North too, but progressives can tie themselves up in knots when trying to marry this with the South’s current dependence on food exports. Food sovereignty could go some way towards squaring this circle, bolstering local and regional trade and ending the South’s subordinate role in the global food economy.
Yet reclaiming the food system is not just an imperative for the global South. Supermarket dominance continues to squash local communities, and the price squeeze they impose on producers makes sustainable farming unviable. Queen’s Market in east London is recognised as a multicultural community hub. It has fought off an Asda but is still under threat from property developers. Defending existing local alternatives such as this is among our first tasks.
Building new sustainable and ethical alternatives is also vital. Initiatives such as Growing Communities (page 13 in our October/November issue) are trying to make organic, locally sourced food an everyday reality in one of London’s poorest boroughs. The model of consumer co-operatives that has taken off in some US cities could start to provide a means by which ethical sourcing and affordability can co-exist. And the popularity of allotments, once a staple of working class life, is a sign that people are starting to reconnect with what they eat in a more meaningful way.
These initiatives and others can start to return a level of autonomy and democracy to our food system, but we should be careful not just to content ourselves with an ethical subculture serving only the concerned citizen with money and time. As Kath Dalmeny argues (page 10 in our October/November issue), we can and should demand government support for these initiatives to make them mainstream.
However, another of the themes of this issue of Red Pepper points the way to an interesting and complementary possibility: worker involvement in a green transition. It is more than 30 years since the workers at Lucas Aerospace presented their alternative plan for the company, but as Hilary Wainwright points out (page 24 in our October/November), while some of the political conditions are now very different, the example of Lucas can perhaps inspire some creative red-green thinking today.
Whether it is in the global food system via food sovereignty, or in industrial production, by insisting on putting the people involved at the centre of the solutions, we can ensure that producers’ creativity and intelligence are used to build a sustainable world. Effectively this means building forms of economic democracy.
By building into the Green New Deal, with its reliance on traditional forms of state intervention, new demands for economic democracy, we can provide a real challenge to the hold of corporate power and chart a path beyond, towards a post-capitalist future.
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Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
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A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
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Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
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Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
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New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
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Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
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The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
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Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
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Beware the automated landlord
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Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
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Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
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Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
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Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
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The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
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Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
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A musical fightback against school arts cuts
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Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
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Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali