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.
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
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Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
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Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
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'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
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What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram
Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope