Gnawing questions

There are few more convincing illustrations of the mean-spirited and brutalizing ethos of neoliberalism than bans on feeding the homeless, such as those introduced recently in US cities.

Here in Canada, Industry Minister James Moore made it clear last month that he feels no responsibility to feed hungry children. In such an era, it is not hard to understand the popularity of a story like The Hunger Games, a tale of post-apocalyptic North America in which starving teenagers are summoned to fight to the death, gladiator-style, for the amusement of the gorged elite and the prize of sustenance for their families.

The title of our focus, “What’s To Eat?” is an invitation to consider a number of questions about one of the most basic of all needs. We lead off our exploration with Mark Bergfeld’s lively tour of several socially and environmentally healthy initiatives in the area of food production and distribution that have sprung up here and there throughout the global north in response to austerity policies that are directly responsible for growing hunger and malnutrition. In Canada, the number of persons living in food insecure households increased by 450,000 over the period from 2008 to 2011.

Even where there is enough to eat, questions arise in our fast food nation about the quality and nutritional value of what is consumed. Poverty and austerity prompt people to eat on the cheap, which often means forgoing fresh fruits and vegetables. Toronto’s FoodShare, Canada’s largest community food security organization, has been helping communities gain access to healthy produce, much of it locally grown. Executive Director Debbie Field talks about the evolution of the Good Food Markets and makes a case for the virtue of subsidized food programs.

The question “What’s To Eat?” takes on special meaning paired with Jo-Anne McArthur’s piercing photo of pigs bound for slaughter on the magazine’s cover. At a time when science has demonstrated the flimsiness of arguments for human exceptionalism, McArthur’s photo essay bids us to think not only about what gets eaten and by whom, but also who gets eaten. It is a plea for the moral considerability of the billions of sentient beings, reduced to the status of production units, condemned to tormented lives and deaths each year for the sake of human consumption. The glimpses into the world of factory farming offered to us in images and words by the Canadian photographer behind the book We Animals are not easy to come by in an industry bent on concealing its merciless practices, as evidenced by the spate of “ag-gag” laws in the United States.

Industrial agriculture is the single biggest cause of global warming and of the annihilation of biodiversity (through habitat destruction). Any ecologically tenable vision of the future depends on rethinking how we produce the food we eat. Permaculture is one response. In his overview of the subject, Evan Bowness links permaculture to the Transition Town movement, which has been described by one advocate as a “detox program” for the global north, an attempt to prefigure what the world would look like if we left the oil in the ground.

While the Transition movement has been sharply criticized by some on the Left, it retains an appeal for many seeking to build alternatives.

Also connecting to the theme of our focus is Judy Deutsch’s “Emperor’s New Clothes” column in this issue of the magazine which highlights the interconnectedness of assaults on the environment, attacks on social justice and the degradation of the food system.

Plenty to chew on, then, in the pages ahead. Bon appétit!

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