EcoResolution is an environmental justice platform, geared towards raising awareness of our current climate crisis and turning that awareness into action. On Wednesday 29th July, EcoResolution’s co-founder Cara Delevingne spoke with Vandana Shiva via Instagram Live to explore how food production, the environment and human health are all deeply interrelated, and how we can help support the transition to a more sustainable world, which prioritises the ethical treatment of our communities and ecosystems overall.
Vandana Shiva, despite her disciplinary background in physics, is recognised today as a distinguished social activist, food sovereignty advocate and author of many books; including those on the topics of agriculture, bioethics, intellectual property rights and anti-globalisation.
The interview began with Cara asking how the above factors are related, and to what extent they are in crisis. Although this question was complex, Vandana spoke both with eloquence and ease, for viewers at home to clearly follow and understand.
Vandana explained those who receive good food, are generally in a state good health, whereas those receiving of bad food tend to face negative health consequences. By ‘bad food’, Vandana is naturally referring to that which is produced through the industrial food system. A system which is grossly inefficient: using 10 units of energy to produce 1 unit of food, and which has released 300 new diseases into the world since its establishment: consider coronavirus, for example.
Invading our natural world, driving species to the brink of extinction and pushing viruses out of the forests where they harmlessly belong, Vandana argues against such a system. She proposes instead one which works with nature. Proven to produce 10 units of food per 1 unit of energy, this natural system has the potential to remedy our current food crisis and restore the disorder of our planet.
Cara then questioned the issues of industrial agriculture in regards to the methods it relies upon. In answer to this, Vandana took us back 40 years, to the Bhopal Disaster of 1984: when a pesticide plant in Punjab erupted, toxifying thousands of people. Vandana, as part of a UN Project, was then motivated to investigate the so-called ‘Green Revolution’, soon discovering it was neither green nor revolutionary.
Firstly, Vandana explained that commercialising agriculture the ‘red way of China’ is not ‘green’, but in fact, elicits extreme environmental degradation. Although only 20% of agriculture is industrialised, it is responsible for destroying 75% of the Earth’s ecosystems: contributing to species extinction, soil erosion, water scarcity and climate change.
Secondly, the pesticides used on crops should not be deemed ‘revolutionary’, as they hark back to a time of war. Made in the same factories that produced poison gases for the concentration camps; every pesticide descends from this kind of research, research designed to kill people.
But what about fertiliser, you may ask, surely fertilisers are harmless? Wrong: the method to produce synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is the same method used to make ammunition and explosives for war.
‘War by any name is not a good thing’ Vandana expressed. Yet our current agribusiness model is based on a dysfunctional, war-based system. This is not a real system and it needs to change.
The interview then shifted to discuss how such dysfunction has come to be. To which Vandana reminded us, this is not a new phenomenon but has been taking place since colonial times.
From the very first cooperation ‘The East India Company’, set up by the English in 1600 to legalise the exploitation of trade between Britain and South East Asia, businesses have been limiting liability and maximising greed. In the space of 200/300 years, the British Empire extracted 45 trillion dollars from India: India faced famine, whilst Britain became rich. ‘Why?’ Vandana mused: the empire’s logic was to extract.
Taking raw materials, people and goods, colonialists have destroyed nations and cultures in the name of profitability throughout history. Regardless of the social or ecological impact left behind. Is this ethical? No. Is a similar phenomenon occurring today? Yes.
Everything happening today has happened during colonialism. To the extent where Vandana agrees we can call corporate globalisation an extension of colonialism. The term ‘corporate globalisation’ is just a guise, a mask, a trick to distract consumers from the atrocities going on beyond what is seen.
The idea of a ‘natural food system’ was threaded throughout the interview, yet the final section of the talk explored this in greater detail. Vandana claims we have a lot learn from the practises of indigenous people.
Raising the example of Australia’s Aboriginals, the ‘first farmers’ of Australia, the so- called ‘bush people’- part of the flora and fauna in which they inhabit, natural methods of food cultivation have evidently been taking place for over 60,000 years. Respecting food as the currency of all life, the Aboriginals grew food to nourish their people, not to be greedy.
While industrial farmers grow food according to density: maximising the number of crops per acre for the greatest economic return, indigenous people grow food according to biodiversity: maximising the amount of nutrition per acre.
Vandana argues more biodiversity equates to more food and better food. A high biodiversity of plants precedes a high biodiversity of insects, supporting the food web of life. Whereas a diet rich in biodiversity is mirrored by a healthy gut microbiome within, illustrating the intrinsic link between good food and good health once again.
Vandana also encourages us to grow food at home: from participating in communal gardens, to nurturing basil on your kitchen windowsill, every action you do ‘saves a seed’ and helps save our planet.
Buying organic is another way to support a more sustainable food system looking to the future. Although it may seem expensive, in reality, government subsidies supporting the industrial food system make commercialised products in comparison look cheap.
‘Organic too costly? Organic is the only way’: Vandana states taking care of the Earth is the highest vocation. For those who may deem it primitive, it is here one must stress that only by choosing sustainable agriculture- buying organic, growing your own, attending farmer markets and supporting local businesses- can we shift out of our immanent war-driven, colonialist, extractivist economy, into an economy of love and generosity that takes care of the world. In the words of Vandana Shiva, ‘it is my dream we have a future’, and only by driving change forward can this be achieved.