Eat Local

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 20 Jul 2015

Prof. Vandana Shiva – The Asian Age

Prof. Vandana Shiva

Prof. Vandana Shiva

14 Jul 2015 – Rebuilding the broken food system, its ecological cycles and the broken links between the city and the countryside means creating food-smart citizens who know what they are eating.

We have an epidemic in India of food and lifestyle related diseases such as diabetes, cancer, hypertension, infertility and heart attacks with the number of diagnosed cases of cancer jumping from 8.2 lakh in 2004 to seven lakh cancer related in 2012. In 2010 alone, India spent $32 billion on diabetes care. Increasing number of scientists blame high levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) for the exponential rise in diabetes across the country.

We are what we eat and when we eat food full of toxic chemicals, we pay the price with our health. Many pesticides, including DDT, are oestrogenic, meaning they mimic the female hormone, oestrogen, and oppose the action of the male hormone, causing male infertility. Studies show that 51 per cent of all food commodities are contaminated with pesticides.

Cancer has seen an increase of 30 per cent in the last five years. At a treatment cost of `10 lakh per cancer victim, this multiplies to $300 billion, or Rs 18 lakh crore. Around 60 per cent of all herbicides are known to derange thyroid function. In extensive studies reported in Poisons In Our Food by Navdanya, elevated levels of pesticides like PCB, DDE and DDT have been found in the blood of women suffering from breast cancer.

The cancer epidemic has spread wherever there is intensive use of chemicals in agriculture and dumping of toxic material by industries. A recent field survey by Navdanya revealed that in a single village, Gangnauli (Baghpat district), there are about 100 patients suffering from various types of cancer. And the cancer train that runs between Bathinda and Bikaner bears testimony to the dual tragedy farmers face in Punjab — first, of getting trapped in debt and being driven to suicide because of the costs of the toxic chemicals, and second, becoming victims of cancer caused by the same chemicals that got them into debt. This is the legacy of the Green Revolution — agriculture that cannot exist without these chemicals.

India needs a “Food Revolution” — a revolution where we connect farmers and city-dwellers not merely through technology, but in reality.

While you spend Rs 10 for a 50-gram packet of Lays, PepsiCo pays the potato farmers in West Bengal only Rs 0.5-1 per kg of potato — 0.02 per cent of your Rs 10 spent.

Out of Rs 28-30 charged for a kilo of potatoes in Delhi, the farmer in Uttar Pradesh gets Rs 0.63-Rs 2 per kg. The farmer who grows potatoes gets only 10 per cent of the cost we pay for a kg of potato.

While you pay Rs 55 for white sugar, your sugarcane farmers have received no payments from the mills for the last three years.

While you pay Rs 50 for a kg of branded aata, your farmer only gets Rs 14 and has spent a large share of that on buying chemicals, earning only Rs 1,645 per month per acre or Rs 51.15 per day.

The daily legal wage for skilled worker is Rs 423. An unskilled worker’s minimum wage is Rs 348.

A farmer growing a wheat monoculture earns Rs 3,100 per bigha of land. Farmers in what was till recently the prosperous belt of the Ganga basin are earning less than Rs 50 per day. If wheat farmers shifted from monocultures to growing diversity, their net income would be 200-300 per cent more.

Food-related disease epidemics are another dimension of this crisis. Nutrition reports for India show nearly 39 per cent of India’s children are wasted and stunted. The poor are malnourished because they have no access to nutritious food. Even amongst Indians who are better off, child malnutrition is high. The malnutrition of the middle classes is rooted in nutritionally deficient diet, increasingly based on processed and junk foods.

The Green Revolution, forced on India by the US, removed all considerations for health and nutrition, and focused only on increasing the use of agrichemicals and the production of commodities. This resulted in increased production of nutritionally empty commodities, full of pesticides and toxics, and reducing the availability of nutritionally rich foods.

Organic food is free of toxic chemicals that destroy soil health as well as our health. When you eat organic food, you take care of your own health and the health of the planet. Healthy soil is the most effective way of removing carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere and undoing the climate damage caused by petrochemicals used in chemical agriculture.

Food transported to long distances requires processing, lots of chemical treatment, refrigeration and packaging that contributes to pollution, diseases and climate change. All of this packaging ends up as mountains of garbage near or in our cities. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from “food miles” and methane from garbage dumps are contributing to climate change and destabilising the planet.

Eating local and creating a sustainable and healthy foodshed for your city means reducing food miles and toxics in the food chain. Eating local means we are connecting directly with our farmers and helping them shift to agriculture that allows them to grow biodiverse, safe, healthy food that we can have access to.

Rebuilding the broken food system, its ecological cycles and the broken links between the city and the countryside means creating food-smart citizens who know what they are eating and where their food comes from.

Farmers have been committing suicide because they are spending too much on chemicals and seeds and do not receive a fair price for what they produce through their hard work.

Ensuring that a fair share of what you spend reaches your annadata, you can help end farmers’ suicides. You can rejuvenate your health while rejuvenating the agricultural economy and the earth.

Join the food-smart city movement. Become a food-smart citizen.

Food-smart cities are healthy, green and fair!

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TRANSCEND Member Prof. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecofeminist, philosopher, activist, and author of more than 20 books and 500 papers. She is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and has campaigned for biodiversity, conservation and farmers’ rights, winning the Right Livelihood Award [Alternative Nobel Prize] in 1993. She is executive director of the Navdanya Trust.

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