We live in a world capable, in principle, of providing a diverse and healthy diet for all, and yet one quarter of its people suffer from frequent hunger and ill health generated by a diet that is poor in quantity or quality or both. Another quarter of the world’s population eats too much food, food that is often heavy with calories and low on nutrients (colloquially called ‘junk food’). This quarter of the world’s population risks diabetes and all of the other chronic illnesses generated by obesity. In Mexico, for example, 14 per cent of the population have diabetes, and in India, 11 per cent of city-dwellers over 15. In the US it has been estimated that one-third of the children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes—a truly sad prospect, given that most of this is entirely preventable. Study after study in recent years has come to the conclusion that the single most important factor in human health is diet, and diet is something we can shape.
Cheap food is important to capitalism because it allows wages to be lower (and thus profits to be higher) and yet leave workers with more disposable income available to buy other commodities. For these and other reasons, early in the history of capitalism, the food system became tied to colonialism, where various forms of forced or semi-forced labour were common. After the civil war ended slavery in the US, the domestically-produced food system came to rest primarily on the family farm. But after the Second World War the increasing mechanization and chemicalisation of agriculture favoured larger farms. In the early 1970s the US Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz got Congress to pass a programme of subsidies that rewarded high yields. As a result, the larger the farm and the higher the yield, the larger became the subsidy. Nearly all the subsidies went to large farms, and for a few basic crops: tobacco, cotton, corn, wheat, and eventually soy. Moreover the large farms that could benefit the most from mechanization and chemicalisation became increasingly subservient to the gigantic corporations that supplied the inputs and bought the outputs of these factory farms.
This situation remains essentially unchanged today. In 2005 alone the US government spent over $20 billion in agricultural subsidies (46 per cent of this went for corn production, 23 per cent for cotton, 10 per cent for wheat, and 6 per cent for soybeans). The largest 10 per cent of the farms got 72 per cent of the subsidies and 60 per cent of all farms got no subsidy at all. For the most part, fruit and vegetable crops received no subsidies, and the same could be said for most small and medium sized farms. In short, the subsidy program rewards the large yields that result from very large, highly industrialized farms.
Today, while there are still many family farms in the US, the older mixed family farm that utilized manure from its animals to fertilize the land, and practised crop rotation and other techniques to control pests, has been largely wiped out. The giant capitalist farm of today is dependent on cheap oil and government subsidies. David Pimentel, professor of ecology at Cornell University and a globally recognized expert on food systems and energy, has argued that if the entire world adopted the American food system, all known sources of fossil fuel would be exhausted in seven years. At the same time, utilizing such huge amounts of petroleum-based chemicals (fertilizers and pesticides) would not only contribute enormously to global warming, but also would make our toxic environment even more toxic.
In this short essay most of my examples come from the US, because, as the most hegemonic capitalist power in the world, it has done the most to shape the global food system. But I don’t want to give the impression that there is one tightly integrated capitalist world food system. Even in the US, capitalism has not entirely subsumed the whole food system, and while there are few places in the world untouched by capitalism, its degree of hegemony may vary a great deal. Still, up to the present, capitalism has been the single strongest force shaping the global food system, and much of that shaping power has flowed outward from the US.
It is scandalous that in the academic world many professors of economics still teach the doctrine of consumer sovereignty when it is so clear that on the contrary, corporations are the far greater sovereign force.
obitoftheday asks: What do you think happens if Yahoo buys Tumblr? And why do we all agree that it seems like a bad idea?
» SFB says: I think Tumblr starts monetizing itself more effectively. For years they’ve tried to do everything but the obvious, but the problem is, they’ve turned down a lot of good ideas as a result.
(Comparison: WordPress.com has succeeded at profitability by both offering paid premium features and revenue sharing-style advertising for bloggers—both things Tumblr has chosen not to do, but could arguably do better than WordPress if it chose to do so. Nobody really complains about Wordpress’ ads. Think that might be because they created a context for it that didn’t bug users?)
But this could come at the cost of a very strong community. I know of one heavily-active user I liked reading, The Callus, who has quit Tumblr and deleted all of his posts as a result of the whiff of a rumor of this buyout happening. I don’t think you or anyone else should follow suit, but that’s what people are doing.
As for the “bad idea” chunk of your questions, the problem is this: Yahoo has a reputation for letting acquisitions flounder under its corporate structure. Even the big ones. Delicious, for example, was nearly shut down before the founders of YouTube swooped in and saved it. And Yahoo has also tried the user-generated market before, including with Geocities and Yahoo Meme (which was effectively Yahoo’s failed attempt to create a Tumblr clone). Yahoo has a long list of discontinued products. And while Laurie Voss has a good point about Flickr, there’s a better point here: Building a community with integrity is tough, and change at the top can ruin everything if done the wrong way. I can understand why people might be worried. I’m worried, too. — Ernie @ SFB
P.S.: One key line from the story we linked last night: “sources say the company only has a few months of cash runway left.” Who knows if that’s true, but this is a company that unceremoniously fired its editorial team recently—a move that could be seen in a different light considering that line, though that’s speculative. Tumblr can’t run on dreams and reblogs and investor money forever. Something has to change on the business front to ensure the likes can keep coming. That change can come from the inside, but the change can come more easily from an exit.
Read more at http://shortformblog.com/post/50774541523/tumblr-and-yahoo#S1bsfuDbgUf5hoVf.99
Photograph by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources/AP
May 14, 2013. This photo provided by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources shows a smoky wildfire in northwestern Wisconsin that has consumed 8,700 acres, destroyed nearly 50 structures and forced dozens from their homes.
From tornadoes in Texas and the demolition of Hurricane Sandy’s iconic roller coaster to President Obama’s rain check and a dancing lion, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.
In honor of Earth’s less fortunate flora and fauna, this collection of awe-inspiring photos illustrates endangered wildlife from all over the planet.
Honoring species on the brink of extinction may sound like a bummer, but Endangered Species Day isn’t meant to bring us down. Instead, the goal is to help us appreciate that we have a concept of “endangered species” at all — a notion that was on few people’s radars 100 years ago, even as humans were wiping out ancient animals like passenger pigeons, Caspian tigers, Zanzibar leopards and thylacines.
First of all, dismissing info-activism as ‘just sharing pictures’ is so early 2000s. I’m only a little bit kidding. Because in all seriousness, in the age of digital information, spreading awareness by sharing images & information actually is important. And as much as older generations (who must not be paying attention to rapidly changing cultural shifts in how information is digested or who simply don’t understand the opportunities that creates) like to foolishly repeat the dismissive notion that anything done on the internet isn’t really doing anything ‘real’, that simply isn’t the case. Virtual space is where many of the meaningful social dialogues in our society are now happening. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, if you care about the future of society, you have an obligation to participate in and affect that space.
That’s why these campaigns work so hard to get people to take quality photographs & to edit photos and maintain pages for the campaigns. The images are taken, made & posted so that we (the world/internet) will share them. It affects turn out to direct actions, it magnifies the impact, etc. Awareness is the whole point of these actions, so instead of the action only being seen by three people driving by that day (plus the workers at the construction site,) thousands will get to see what a few have done in these actions. It affects national consciousness and conversations around the world. It’s important. And every day as more people turn to the internet over TV, and turn to the internet for news over print media, it becomes more important, more relevant, more essential. Virtual spaces are not going away. They are increasingly relevant and increasingly helpful for sharing visual information, and that will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. Affecting the consciousness, being vigilant in making sure that the left is more involved than others, is important for shaping our society and the possibilities of our society going forward.
Direct action is extremely important, for obvious reasons. If you specifically want to get involved with direct actions regarding the keystone XL pipeline, the states that have the pipeline are probably your only option. If you have a free weekend and the capacity to travel, they relatively often have campaign events calling for participants to arrive for a series of coordinated actions over a weekend. Gracie & I were recently able to go to a blockade in East Texas; we were there for three days. See the above map for ideas of where you might be able to travel to get involved with some pipeline resistance. If there isn’t a campaign related to your nearest pipeline, you can organize with others to build one. You really can. No, really. You can. You can use this blog for help finding like minds if you decide to go in that direction.
But there are many other direct action campaigns in Portland, Oregon that you can get involved with. Here a few starting resources for finding environmental organizations in your area that you could potentially get involved with:
Floating Sheep has a map charting hate tweets. You can search on several flavors of hate.