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A human right to eat: regaining control of our food

October 16, 2013

Surely no one disagrees that people have a human right to live in peace without their leaders persecuting them or blowing them up with sophisticated weapons. We’ve seen leader after leader go one step too far, and suffer the consequences. The world agrees that they should no longer wield such power when they abuse the basic human rights of the people in their country.

Another fundamental human right is to have enough food to eat. Astonishingly, we seem happy to entrust power over the production and distribution of our food to unelected bodies who wield far more influence than many governments. Theses companies are driven by delivering shareholder value which is at odds with the very principles of providing the world’s population with enough, nutritious, affordable food.

The potential for abuse of power

Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on the right to food stated in a report in 2003:

[T]he growing power of transnational corporations and their extension of power through privatization, deregulation and the rolling back of the State also mean that it is now time to develop binding legal norms that hold corporations to human rights standards and circumscribe potential abuses of their position of power.
(source: Wikipedia)
In the years since this report, chemical companies such as Monsanto and BASF have had a massive influence on the way we actually grow our food, Nestle, Unilever, Kraft and Pepsico have become more dominant across a wide range of food sectors, major retailers have an even stronger hold on where we buy our food and multi-national brands dominate our restaurant choices.
Control over food means influencing the health and nutrition of whole populations and a direct bearing on whether people have enough to eat.

The right to food

The ‘Right to Food and Nutrition’ report published in September 2013 quotes:

“Food and power are related. It is almost impossible to find one person among the powerful in society and politics worldwide who does not have enough to eat,” said Huguette Akplogan-Dossa, regional co-ordinator of the African Network on the Right to Food (ANoRF). “The tendency is for exclusion from economic and political decision-making to go hand in hand with incidences of hunger and malnutrition.”

The report expresses particular concern about the increasing influence and control of agribusinesses and financial companies over food and nutrition. See article here.

Farmers Market Dubai (3)

So what can we do?

It’s imperative we lobby governments and fight against the insidious growth of GM crops, the domination of our towns by supermarkets and the industrialisation of our farms.

Where we (and while we still) have a choice, buying direct from farmers, choosing non GM produce, supporting small producers with good track records and food provenance, and cooking from scratch so we can control what goes into our own food, if enough people vote with their purses we can make a difference.

We must not let power over such a fundamental human right fall into the hands of people whose motivation is diametrically opposed to our well being.

If you have any doubt about the direct impact of our demand for cheap food available all year round on human rights, read this article about the farmed prawn industry.

The first line of E. E. Cummings poem, “As freedom is a breakfast food…”  is particularly apposite now as when it was written during the Great Depression. (Thanks to The London Epicurean for alerting me to this.)

Concerted citizen action to uphold human rights

Eleanor RooseveltIt might seem overwhelming but to quote Eleanor Roosevelt on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

While companies like McDonalds can use bucolic scenes of fictitious farms in their television advertising, Compassion in World Farming are not allowed to portray the reality of the lives of animals.

This post is part of Blog Action Day 2013 and the theme is Human Rights. Amnesty International is one of many partners.

I would love to hear your view on this in the comments section.

  1. therealgeordiearmani permalink
    October 16, 2013 10:07 am

    Great article and thought provoking 🙂

    • October 16, 2013 11:33 am

      Thanks so much – I hope action-provoking too 🙂

  2. Dima Sharif permalink
    October 16, 2013 10:16 am

    Food is definitely one of the basic human rights. Controlling food controls people and that is the easence of agripolitics that enables companies such as Monsanto to continue to exist despite their evident risks and people’s continuous fights against their activities. Changing the current malpractices of the food industry will change the overall conditions and quality of life. If we were to understand these facts and demand what is rightfully ours (healthy, natural, good food) hopefully then we wont have to worry about such basic necessities and move on to real development and a real move forward in human conditions.
    Totally with you on this one!!!

    • October 16, 2013 11:33 am

      I knew you’d understand Dima – loving your series on organic meat right now.

  3. October 16, 2013 10:22 am

    Well said and well put together Sally! Thanks for raising your voice for all of us. Happy Blog Action Day and great success to all involved. Respect!

    • October 16, 2013 11:33 am

      Thanks Karin – good to hear that I’m not alone on my soap box

  4. crasterkipper permalink
    October 16, 2013 11:26 am

    I’ll be giving prawns a miss from now on and definitely thinking again about my food choices. Thanks for the valuable info and links.

    • October 16, 2013 11:32 am

      Wild prawns are OK – look for those caught sustainably and in season.

  5. October 16, 2013 11:34 am

    Very true, thanks for putting it out there

    • October 18, 2013 1:53 pm

      Food is such an important part of one’s overall health. The skewed view we have of diet is also directly influenced by profit-making organisations.

  6. October 16, 2013 11:42 am

    Well said. It’s a sad fact, but corporations have run the planet for a long time. As long as profit is the sole motive, we’re fucked.

  7. October 16, 2013 12:25 pm

    A well written and thought provoking piece. The whole process of food production is becoming industrialised, with food being seen as a commodity to be sourced at the lowest price. I like Michael Kelly’s idea that everyone should take the time to grow some of their own food – even if it’s just one pot on a windowsill, so that we all develop an appreciation of the time and care involved in producing real food. He calls it ‘food empathy’.

    • October 18, 2013 11:04 am

      I do agree – if you know how much time, effort and graft, at the mercy of the natural elements, to grow food you are less likely to throw it away. Must look up Michael Kelly.

  8. October 16, 2013 12:46 pm

    A fantastic post Sally, and you are absolutely right. Such a shame so many people don’t realise or don’t want to realise that GM crops and intensively farmed meat is so so bad for them. And we consume while others starve. A critical subject. I totally forgot about Blog action day this year, such a shame!

    • October 18, 2013 11:05 am

      It’s not just bad for us, it’s so bad for the whole planet. Would love to see what you’d write Regula 🙂

  9. andreamynard permalink
    October 16, 2013 1:19 pm

    What an excellent, thoughtful post Sally. Totally agree with you and like Sarah’s idea above that by even growing/producing a small amount of food ourselves we develop ‘food empathy’. I feel that it’s so easy for me, with space to grow and even rear food and with good local farmers around me to not rely on industrialised food production. But what a complex issue when there are so many people who find this much harder to do. Making more people think about (and hopefully do something about) the way they’re consuming food is brilliant, well done!

    • October 18, 2013 11:09 am

      While we celebrate the diversity and deliciousness of food on our blogs all year round, I think it’s important to raise the bigger issues behind it. This is a meagre attempt through one post a year but if we all did it and changed our behaviour to shopping even slightly, we could effect bigger changes. Thanks Andrea

  10. October 16, 2013 3:02 pm

    people should all be able to eat correctly/sufficiently and animals as well as nature deserve respect too.



    • October 18, 2013 1:50 pm

      Exactly Rosa. Big corporations seem to respect nothing.

  11. October 16, 2013 9:10 pm

    Such a thought-provoking post, Sally and in fact, I remember your post this time last year and being so touched by it. I;m reading Jay Rayner’s book at the moment, which offers an interesting perspective on the industry, not sure I agree with him on every point, but I certainly agree with you. Thank you for using your blog to raise awareness of this crucial issue.

    • October 18, 2013 1:48 pm

      I’ve been avoiding the Jay Rayner book since I saw his video trailer. I get the feeling that he’s trying to be controversial for effect. I should really not judge before I’ve read it.

  12. October 17, 2013 12:48 am

    An excellent post Sally! Thought provoking, pertinent and points out so many issues underplaying here. Food is a fundamental right, no doubt and it’s also one of the rights that have been abused from the time civilization took an organised form. It’s good to see that some of you bloggers are using your powers to educate people.

    Couldn’t leave a comment in the morning from the smartphone.

    • October 18, 2013 1:45 pm

      Thanks Ishita – I think we’ve become confused between the right of people to have enough nutritious food to eat and having any food, at any time whenever we want it.

  13. October 17, 2013 1:07 am

    Great article Sally – I really believe that everyone needs to pull together to support locally grown fresh food as much as possible and that all animals have a right to be reared humanely. I also find the control that the huge supermarkets have over the food we eat quite frightening. My father was a butcher at a time when the high street was thriving but saw his business diminish as customers opted for the convenience and lower prices of the supermarket. His shop is now a tanning salon. Thank you for reminding us all to be aware of the choices we are making.

    • October 18, 2013 1:44 pm

      Gosh how sad. We’ve become too far removed from the processes behind our food – at least by visiting a butcher you get a sense of where the meat comes from. I agree that animals have a right to be reared humanely.

  14. October 17, 2013 3:57 am

    A post I relished, the subject so deserving focused attention – which you gave as you can do so well. From the heart, from the soul. We’re on the same page, as you well know. Thank you for writing this inspirational post!

    • October 18, 2013 1:42 pm

      I miss my crusading partner in crime. I wonder how it feels now you are living in the country that developed so much of this factory production of food.

  15. October 17, 2013 4:36 am

    Excellent post thanks Sally. We all need to start giving more thought to our food, where it comes from and who controls it.

    • October 18, 2013 1:41 pm

      Thanks. I believe we have a responsibility, as people who write about food, to remain mindful of these issues.

  16. October 21, 2013 9:26 am

    Eye-opening post that led me to read, and nearly throw up, while reading the article on prawns from Thailand. I am so shocked, I never knew…I’m going to find out how prawns are farmed here in Dubai/Oman if I can. But I’ll never eat another prawn in a Thai or other restaurant, until I can be sure of its source…which is impossible to get at often since the servers barely ever know what went into a dish, let alone where the ingredients came from. Thanks for spreading the awareness.

    • October 21, 2013 10:25 am

      Actually Baker & Spice alerted me to this. They only use wild prawns in season because of this environmental and social abomination. Like you I could not believe that this goes on.


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