Food matters for personal, public, and planetary well-being
“Our defeat was always implicit in the history of others; our wealth has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others, the empires and their native overseers...On the colonial and neocolonial alchemy, gold changes to scrap metal and food into poison...We have become painfully aware of the mortality of wealth which nature bestows and imperialism appropriates."
Open Veins of Latin America
On this page you will find:
Snapshot of Free Trade:
In a system of Free Trade, agricultural goods and services flow freely among countries unaffected by government-imposed restrictions like tariffs, taxes and quotas, which generally increase the costs of goods and services to both consumers and producers. Free trade and its economic, social, political, and environmental impacts is one of the most hotly debated contemporary issues with strong feelings on all sides of the debate.
Some arguments in favor of free trade assert that free trade will make society more prosperous according to standard economic measures,though18th and 19th century advocates of free trade rarely relied on economic arguments alone; rather, they argued that international society is qualitatively improved by increased commerce. For example, free trade has been said to decrease war, reduce poverty, enrich culture, enhance security, and increase economic efficiency. Free trade is also understood as a sovereign right of free nations.
While proponents of free trade generally acknowledge that it creates winners and losers among cultures and nations, they contend free trade is a large and unambiguous net gain for world society and advocate for countries to eliminate remaining tariffs and other barriers to trade. They also support employers outsourcing work to foreign countries.
Opponents to free trade argue the research supporting it is flawed, founded on dubious assumptions about the nature of prosperity, and too narrowly focused on certain issues while ignoring others. As summarized by Dr. Peter Soderbaum of Malardalen University, Sweden, “This neoclassical trade theory focuses on one dimension, i.e., the price at which a commodity can be delivered, and is extremely narrow in cutting off a large number of other considerations about impacts on employment in different parts of the world, about environmental impacts and on culture.” (Post-Autistic Economics Review, Sept 2007).
Snapshot of Fair Trade:
In a system of Fair Trade, agricultural goods and services flow among countries based not only on classic economic considerations, but also social, environmental, labor, and sustainability requirements. A market-based solution, Fair Trade relies on consumer readiness to pay slightly more for products that empowers, rather than exploits, vulnerable populations. Most Fair Trade standards also require progress requirements that ensure ongoing improvement in the conditions of workers, communities, and the environment. The goal of Fair Trade is to empower consumers (through transparency of source conditions) and producers (through movement from vulnerability to greater self-sufficiency and security).
Free Trade proponents criticize Fair Trade for creating price floors (minimum prices) based on standards other than pure supply-and-demand considerations. This “artificial” pricing encourages more producers to enter the market, which drives down the price of non-Fair Trade goods. Free Trade advocates hold that at least in economic terms, letting supply and demand and other classic economic indicators set pricing would create greater efficiency overall.
Fair Traders offer two primary responses. First, we should be at least as concerned with sustainability, environmental considerations, and fairness as we are with efficiency measured in dollars and cents. Second, the conditions in which Free Trade might lead to the best outcomes are not present in much of the Global South with whom the North trades. Alex Nicholls, social entrepreneurship professor at Oxford University, points out that “key conditions on which classical and neo-liberal trade theories are based are notably absent in rural agricultural societies in many developing countries.”( Nicholls, A. & Opal, C. (2004). “Fair Trade: Market-Driven Ethical Consumption." London: Sage Publications. p 17-19) These include classic economic assumptions such as perfect market information, access to credits and markets, and the ability to change equipment and techniques in response to changing market conditions, all of which “are fallacious in the context of agricultural producers and workers in developing countries.”
While Free Trade agreements tend to dramatically increase foreign investment in agricultural and manufacturing sectors of developing countries, they also tend to decrease the total number of jobs in these countries and compound already desperate economic circumstances. International treaties like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) allow for the free flow of capital investment and products across international borders according to pure market considerations, but do not allow for the free flow of people and their labor across borders according to pure market considerations. Consequently, cheap labor in poorer countries is exploited by the multinational corporations of wealthy countries (e.g., some of the poorest people in the world work on the farms and in factories of U.S. corporations, for far lower wages than these same corporation would have to pay in the United States). For example, under NAFTA, investment in Mexico’s agricultural sector primarily went to relatively capital intensive industrial farms; in NAFTA’s first ten years, Mexico lost 1.3 million agricultural jobs.
Neo-colonialism exists when a nation or state appears sovereign and independent, but has its economy, politics, and/or culture largely directed from outside, often by a former colonial or imperial power. The continuing impact of European and U.S. neo-colonialism is often overlooked in analyses of world hunger and environmental degradation. The dynamics of colonialism and neo-colonialism illuminate why poverty and hunger disproportionately impact People of Color in the U.S. and throughout the world. Modern trade, immigration, and foreign aid policies in Europe and the U.S. continue to exacerbate the historic ravages of colonialism for indigenous and subjugated peoples worldwide.
Colonialism is obscured by the way history is typically taught in the United States, so that the “average” American might think the colonial period ended in 1776. Additionally, the term “post-colonial” has entered common usage to describe current global politics and seems to suggest colonialism is no longer with us. Unfortunately this is untrue. The world continues to be negatively impacted by the colonial era when Europe (and the United States) established white regimes in Africa, Asia, Australia, Oceania, and the Americas.
Colonialism is defined by a particular set of socio-political-economic circumstances. First is the forceful invasion of indigenous peoples’ homeland by a colonizing group. Colonizers often use additional force to subjugate the indigenous population, in order to claim the land and its natural resources. The indigenous economy is destroyed, and the indigenous people subjugated and forced to occupy the lowest rungs of the colonizer’s economy. The indigenous population typically forms the poorest segment of the new society, and experiences the highest rates of hunger, malnutrition, homelessness, unemployment, underemployment, and incarceration. Furthermore, culture is used as a weapon: indigenous populations are forced to assimilate the cultural norms of the colonizer while indigenous cultural norms are demonized, criminalized, and legally suppressed. Driving the entire colonial project, and key to justifying the violence and inhumanity it necessitates, is a racist ideology that asserts the racial supremacy of the colonizer and dehumanizes and objectifies the indigenous population.
The defining difference between classic colonialism and neo- colonialism is ownership of the land. In cases of classic colonialism the colonizer assumes ownership and control of indigenous peoples’ land as a way of establishing or enlarging a land base for the colonizing society. Neo-colonialism differs in that the colonizer does not incorporate the invaded land mass into the colonizer’s territory; rather, the colonizer assumes control of the political, social, and economic systems of the invaded society. Typical targets of U.S. neo- colonialism are countries already altered by a history of classic colonialism but that have become independent from their original colonizers.
These dynamics of colonialism and neo-colonialism have powerfully influenced land access and food production throughout North American history. The continent experienced multiple invasions by European groups. Since the United States was established as an independent nation, colonialism has also defined the relationship between the United States and the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Alaska, and Hawai’i, millions of enslaved Africans and their descendants, and indigenous Mexicans.
The dynamics and ramifications of colonialism continue to be experienced by People of Color in the United States today. For example, modern practices of prison agricultural labor have their roots in slavery and continue to disproportionately impact People of Color, especially African American men. U.S. agricultural practices continue to disrupt the traditional food practices of indigenous peoples.
Poor regions of the world have shifted from producing crops that support their self-sufficiency to “cash crops” valued by the dominant world economy, like cotton, tobacco, sugar, tea, rice, coffee, cocoa, bananas, pineapples, corn, soy beans, and livestock. Combined with free market economics, this perpetuates dependent, inequitable relationships and a system of poverty, malnutrition and exploited labor. Because indigenous and poor populations lack access to traditional hunting, gathering, and farming lands, they no longer have access to their traditional food products and must resort to foreign diets, whose poor quality and highly processed nature and lead to nutrition related diseases.
In our modern world, food and food production are inextricably linked to land. Land—and who has control and access and who doesn’t—is inextricably linked to historic and contemporary colonialism and neo-colonialism. People throughout the world are engaged in struggles against the destructive impacts of multinational corporations, as well as colonial and neo-colonial policies. If we seek to create a more equitable and just society, we need to understand how agriculture and food distribution relate to colonialism and neo-colonialism. Most importantly, we need to join in the struggle to dismantle the root cause of colonialism — racism.
Questions for Individual/Group Reflection
Economic Justice Action Group of the First Unitarian Congregation of Portland Oregon. Is Free Trade Fair Trade? DVD. Introduced by the Rev. Bill Sinkford, this clear, vivid video interviews farmers of roses in Portland and a Hood River woman pear farmer with an 82-year-old orchard, who are losing their farms to the “global economy.” It introduces the global overseers, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and NAFTA, and explains how profit is king for multinational corporations to the detriment of U.S. workers, local communities, and the environment. Barbara Dudley and Maude Barlow are among the excellent presenters. Contact Rev. Kate Lore, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Henderson, Hazel with Simran Sethi. Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, Vermont, 2006. Long ignored and minimized by the mainstream media, visionary entrepreneurs, environmentalists, scientists, and professionals have been creating a profitable new economy that lives in harmony with the Earth and social well-being. Includes chapters on fair trade, clean food, socially responsible investing, etc.
Stiglitz, Joseph E. and Andrew Charlton. Fair Trade for All: How Trade can Promote Development (Initiative for Policy Dialogue Series C). Oxford University Press, USA September 17, 2007, 352 pages. Academic in detail and density, yet excellent for serious readers who wish to explore the depths of trade policy. As written by Publishers Weekly, “Nobel Prize-winning economist and ex-World Bank official Stiglitz is the leading mainstream critic of the free-trade, free-market “Washington Consensus” for developing countries. In this follow-up to his best-selling Globalization and its Discontents, he and Charlton, a development expert, present their vision of a liberalized global trade regime that is carefully geared to the interests of poorer countries. They...[note] the real world constraints and complications that undermine the assumption that unregulated free trade is always a boon, and analyze the bias towards developed countries in previous trade agreements. They call for the current round of trade negotiations to refocus on principles of equity and social justice... detailed policy prescriptions... readable, but rather dry and technical...isn't quite right for a general audience... those already interested in trade issues will consider it a must-read.”
LaDuke, Winona with Sarah Alexander. Food Is Medicine: Recovering Traditional Foods to Heal the People. Ponsford, MN: Honor the Earth, 2004. This short (36 page) resource provides historical background on Native American land removal, land use, and agriculture. Discusses current Native American concerns about the in- dustrialization of agriculture and the health impacts on Indian communities. Also included, Native American community efforts to recover traditional diet and food practices.
LaDuke, Winona. Winona LaDuke Reader: A Collection of Essential Writings. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, 2002. The first section of the Reader, “Native Environmentalism,” discusses the impact of environmental racism on Native American communities. Several essays specifically focus on food and food production.
Trask, Haunani-Kay. From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai’i. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999. Background on the role of U.S. agricultural interests in the takeover and illegal annexation of Hawai’i. Includes current issues around environmental racism, land use, agriculture, and ongoing oppression of Native Hawai’ians.
In support of Free Trade
Neo-Colonialsim and Trade
Neo-colonialism Articles on the Web
See more issues and resources: