With half of the planet on lockdown, many people around the world have been suddenly confronted with an issue they’re not used to thinking about in political terms: food. From empty supermarket shelves sparking fears of shortages, to farmers dumping out lagoons’ worth of milk, to endless lines forming outside of food banks and migrant workers facing threats of pay cuts, the coronavirus pandemic has put the contradictions of our global food system on full display.
And who better to help us parse those contradictions than the veteran food writer, scholar, and activist Raj Patel? On this week’s show, Kate and Daniel talk to Patel about the hunger crisis and the current pandemic; climate-friendly agriculture; labor actions ranging from the Great Cowboy Strike of 1883 to Instacart; and much more.
“Seven out of the ten worst-paying jobs in America are in the food system,” says Patel. “Those workers are now seen as essential and nonetheless are being thrown in harm’s way with little to no protection.”
Yet this is also fueling a new wave of worker militancy, he says—if not yet on the scale that followed the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.
“The high point of US strike activity happened after the 1918 pandemic,” says Patel. That is, until the New Deal: then, “every year of the New Deal, there were more and more strikes… In fact, the sign of success of the New Deal was increasing confrontation and polarization.”
Even if today’s strikes are still on a far smaller scale, Patel says, “this a moment in which [food workers] are recognizing, as their forebears have, the power that they have compared to Wall Street. And that to me is a good sign for democracy.”
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Dumped Milk, Smashed Eggs, Plowed Vegetables: Food Waste of the Pandemic (David Yaffe-Bellany and Michael Corkery, New York Times)
White House Seeks To Lower Farmworker Pay To Help Agriculture Industry (Franco Ordoñez, NPR)
A Green New Deal for Agriculture (Raj Patel and Jim Goodman, Jacobin)
The Long New Deal (Raj Patel and Jim Goodman, The Journal of Peasant Studies)
COVID-19 and the Crisis in Food Systems (iPES Food, Communiqué)