Saturday, November 17, 2007

The convert......

Being part of the corporate world, and working for an MNC, to boot, I endorse and help promote capitalism. I naturally want to believe that whatever I am doing is right. I seek out opinions and writings that support my views and feed my confirmation bias.

Apart from reading up articles and books authored by champions of capitalism I tend to subscribe to the blogs of cheerleaders and badge-wearers of the Milton Friedman school, and consequently am filled to the brim with ‘free-markets principles” and right-wing ideology of the lassiez-faire variety, whatever that stands for..

Books by Noam Chomsky that I happened to read did sow some doubts in my mind and bring a sense of balance. A book by Naomi Klein titled, “The Shock Doctrine” raised more uncomfortable questions about the methods propounded by the “Chicago Boys” and the “Berkeley Mafia”.

A recent article by Gurcharan Das in the Times of India ( linked by Atanu Dey) caught my attention when I was still under the trance of Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine”. In that piece, Das had sung paeans of praise about Monsanto’s transgenic cotton and had suggested that the Indian Govt without dragging its feet must immediately deploy such seeds in the cultivation of all crops such as rice, soya, corn, etc. I saw red and found myself describing Das as evil.

I am currently under the spell of Raj Patel, author of a book called, “ Stuffed and Starved”. He also has a blog by the same name.

Just to pick out two samples that he links to. In one, he refers to an article in Good Medicine magazine that explains why a salad is more expensive than a Big Mac, in the USA. The Farm Bill, a massive piece of federal legislation making its way through Congress, governs what children are fed in schools and what food assistance programs can distribute to recipients. The bill provides billions of dollars in subsidies, much of which goes to huge agribusinesses producing feed crops, such as corn and soy, which are then fed to animals. By funding these crops, the government supports the production of meat and dairy products—the same products that contribute to our growing rates of obesity and chronic disease. Fruit and vegetable farmers, on the other hand, receive less than 1 percent of government subsidies. “It's all grist for Cassandras like me, who ask where we're going, and why we are in this handbasket”, says Raj Patel.

In another post, he links to an article that explains the ‘nutrition transition’. The 'nutrition transition' describes the shift from one diet to another, specifically from the diets historically found in lower income countries to the diet found in predominantly urban and industrial societies. The shift away from nutritious food to less nutritious food didn't happen in a vacuum: it was a product of colonialism.

If you accept this, he adds, and it's hard not to, then one is forced to identify the forces through which colonialism worked - everything from enforcement of a specific national economic policy to 'education' to ecological destruction to advertising. This suite of tools didn't change dramatically after the end of colonialism. With few exceptions, particularly few in Africa, national economic policy in the Global South continued to be set by foreign powers who, begrudgingly, shared some of the spoils with local elites. Advertising, that singular badge of freedom, became more widespread. The tastes of the city became a beacon for national aspirations and dreams. In short, colonialism blended into neocolonialism, and history kicked the nutrition transition along.

Now I know why hand-pounded rice which used to be the ‘poor-man’s’ diet in South India, a few decades back, is now sold as a branded, organically-grown, premium product for the dieting elite in cities.

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