Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System

Book of the Month

“Unless you are a corporate food executive, the food system isn't working for you. If you are one of the world's rural poor dependent on agriculture for your livelihood - and roughly half the global population of 6 billion fall into this category - you are likely to be one of the starved. If you are an urban consumer, whether an affluent metropolitan or slum-dwelling industrial laborer, you are likely to be one of the stuffed, suffering from obesity or other diet-related ills”
- Raj Patel

How is it possible that the world contains over 800 million starving people. . . and over one billion obese people? How is it that the overweight outnumber the underfed?

The answer is that the food system suffers from a waistline problem.

In Starved and Stuffed, Raj Patel takes us on a journey around the world and through its recent agricultural history. Throughout the book, Patel reveals the “how” and “why” of starvation and obesity which leads to a conclusion that is stunningly simple—it just so happens that the food system suffers from a “waistline” problem. The World’s waistline is not like the robust and growing one of the Developed World, but is akin to the cinched, famine-stricken waistline of the Developing World.

This waistline constriction is found at the connection point between farmers and consumers. The food market is occupied by multi-national food conglomerates (e.g. Cargill, Monsanto, etc.). These companies hold positions of tremendous influence and control over every facet of the modern food system, from Argentine farmers in their fields to American families trawling the aisles of their local supermarket. Consumers have little say in the role that these conglomerates play. For the most part, the role of conglomerates usually goes unnoticed by the consumer.

Patel uses figures, diagrams and other visual aids to help us grasp just how slim the connection between farmer and consumer has become; the world’s millions of farmers and billions of consumers have just a few thousand, or fewer, points of connection, and almost no viable ways to bypass this corporate bottleneck. He also lays out the astonishing repercussions of this bottleneck: cheap soy and corn as the base for highly processed foods; suicidal farmers from the Midwest to India; degradation of land and despicable treatment of animals and workers; and starvation for hundreds of millions of people, and degenerative diseases for even more.

One of the most moving stories in the book comes from South Africa. Local women lament the invasion of a grocery store chain by pointing out their accompanying loss of excellent health and fair incomes for themselves and their children and community. At the same time, they express how much they enjoy no longer having to hand-grind their own corn. It is quite the catch-22.

While Patel’s book is often grim, there are glimmers of hope appearing around the globe from the Landless Rural Workers Movement in Brazil to the USA’s growing farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

Why We Love It:

As a result of COVID-19, we have seen a dramatic increase unemployment in the USA. This has contributed greatly to a dramatic rise in families facing food insecurity.

Stuffed and Starved touched our hearts and greatly increased our knowledge on: the problems with food security; how food production has become agribusiness; the problems with nutrition; care for soil; sustainability; working conditions for farmworkers; and the devastating consequences for small scale farmers from climate change and large-scale agribusiness.

We channeled our new knowledge it into our new 6-Month Shoulder to Shoulder for Change Program and inspired us to fight for food security for communities around us.

We recommend this book to anyone looking to understand the global food system or simply to be a more conscious consumer.

Rating 3.5/5

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