Democracy Now – Vandana Shiva – Dec 1, 2019 – Video 3:47
Twenty years ago, tens of thousands of activists gathered in Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization and stop executives from signing a global trade deal that many felt was harmful to environmental and workers’ rights. Indian scholar and environmental activist Vandana Shiva reflects on the WTO’s threats to food sovereignty — stripping farmers of their autonomy through corporate seed patents. The WTO “has given control to the poison cartel over our seed and food.” She also says the WTO has contributed to today’s global wealth inequality, consolidating the power of billionaires. “Bill Gates … got rules written so he would not have to pay taxes in transport or transfer. Jeff Bezos shipping goods around and pay no taxes anywhere — these trillionaires are children of the WTO rules,” Shiva says, arguing that the uprisings against neoliberal austerity all over the world today are a part of the legacy of the WTO protests. “The brutality and limitless greed of the handful of corporations and billionaires is now really reaching ecocidal and genocidal limits.”
Host Chris Hedges talks to Marion Nestle, New York University professor of nutrition, on how food companies distort the science and research into what we eat. In her book ‘Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew The Science Of What We Eat,’ Nestle explains that the food industry follows the formula pioneered by the tobacco industry – cast doubt on the science, fund research to provide desired results, offer gifts and consulting arrangements to buy silence or loyalty, use front groups, promote self-regulation and personal responsibility, and use the courts to challenge critics and dismantle regulations.
There’s a lot of talk these days about GMOs and trying to eat more natural foods, but the concept of manipulating crops has been around since ancient times. Of course, the type of genetic modification practiced to transform wild organisms into domesticated crops is quite different than the genetic engineering of today. But still, you’d be surprised by how different many of the common fruits and vegetables we take for granted today are the product of selective genetics.
Early farmers weren’t modifying their crops to resist pesticides, but rather selectively growing them to highlight their most desirable attributes. That often meant bigger and juicier produce, some of which is impossible to find in the wild. So while today a ripe, plump peach is the norm, the reality is that they were once salty and small, with very little flesh. Tomatoes and cucumbers are two other common produce items that have seen exponential growth in size and variety over time.
Common fruits and veggies have undergone a makeover over the centuries. Check out some interesting examples of just how different undomesticated produce can look.
The modern peach has origins in China dating back to the neolithic period, with evidence pointing to their domestication around 6000 BCE. Australian chemistry teacher James Kennedy created an eye-opening infographic highlighting some of the differences between the original, natural peach and the one we find today. Not only were peaches much smaller, but their skin was waxy and the pit took up most of the space within the fruit. Over time, the best peaches were selected to create the soft, fleshy skin and succulent flesh we now associate with the refreshing fruit.
Yet another crop that’s undergone an amazing transformation is corn. First domesticated by the indigenous people of Mexico about 10,000 years ago, wild corn bears little resemblance to what we now see in the produce aisle. Corn’s origins have been linked to a grassy flowering plant called teosinte. Only one cob sprouted per teosinte plant, growing around one inch long. Unlike the hundreds of kernels found today on a cob, a teosinte has only 5 to 10 individually encased kernels on its cob. The taste was also much more starchy, like a potato. Over time, farmers worked the plant to become much longer, easier to peel, and with more plentiful and sweeter kernels. This infographic helps explain corn’s evolution into today’s popular food item.
Packed with nutrients and covered with a peel-able flesh, the conveniently shaped banana may seem like the perfect fruit. But the reality is that the banana as we now know it is the product of hard work. Cultivation began sometime between 5000 BCE and 8000 BCE thanks to farmers in Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea. One wild ancestor, the Musa acuminata, has slender fruit, which are berries, and contain between 15 to 62 seeds. Another Musa balbisiana has a more substantial looking fruit that is filled with hard, inedible seeds. It’s thought that these two plants were bred to produce a hearty fruit that, over time, contained just the edible pulp, eliminating the seeds.
A wide variety of different cultivators are used to produce eggplant to local tastes. The purple eggplant, with its long and ovoid shape, is most common to Europe and North America. Across Asia and India, a huge variety of sizes and colors—including white, yellow, and green—are readily available. As part of the nightshade family, it’s believed to have its origins in the Solanum incanum. Also known as bitter apple or thorn apple, this plant still grows in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.
Most are familiar with the 20th-century advent of the seedless watermelon, but this is just the latest development in a long line of changes to the fruit. 17th-century still life paintings demonstrate just how different ripe watermelons looked, with a segmented interior that contained much less flesh. It even appears much paler in comparison to what we see today. The classic watermelon red that’s synonymous with the fruit is due to the presence of lycopene. Natural watermelons were selectively bred to increase the amount of lycopene in the fruit’s placenta—the part we eat. Check out this infographic to see even more differences between the watermelons of yesterday and today.
“Pineapple, watermelons and other fruits” by Albert Eckhout, 17th century. (Brazilian fruits) (Photo: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
If you’ve ever seen Queen Anne’s Lace growing wild on the side of the road, you may not have realized that this flowering plant is the forerunner of the domesticated carrot. Daucus carota is the scientific name of this plant, and while its root is edible when young, it soon becomes too woody to be consumed. Its leaves may also cause a skin inflammation known as phytophotodermatitis.
The modern carrot is a subspecies of Daucus carota that most likely originated in Persia. Over time it was selectively bred to reduce woodiness and bitterness. Interestingly, they were first used more for their leaves than the root. By the 11th century, they were already being described as red or yellow and their popularity had spread around the globe.
Brassica oleracea. (Photo: Kulac [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons)Did you know that a whole host of green veggies found on your dinner plate can’t actually be found in the wild? Broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, and cauliflower are just some of the delicious vegetables that can be traced back to one plant—Brassica oleracea. Known as wild cabbage or wild mustard, this cultivator is native to coastal southern and western Europe. It was used as a cultivator because of its nutrient-rich leaves and hardy constitution. By focusing on different parts of the plant, many common vegetables were produced over time.
LAST MONTH, INTERNATIONAL STAKEHOLDERS FROM THE SUSTAINABILITY SECTOR GATHERED IN AMSTERDAM FOR THE ELEVENTH EUROPEAN SUSTAINABLE FOODS SUMMIT. ORGANISER, ECOVIA INTELLIGENCE, HAS JUST COMPILED THIS SUMMARY OF KEY TRENDS AND INSIGHTS FROM THE 2019 EVENT.
Rising market share of sustainable foods. Adoption rates of ethical labelling schemes continue to rise, with over a quarter of all coffee and cocoa now produced according to third party sustainability schemes. Amarjit Sahota, founder of Ecovia Intelligence, showed that organic is the dominant ethical label, with sales surpassing USD 100 billion in 2018. A concern is the proliferating number of ethical labelling schemes could dampen consumer demand.
Economic risks of climate change. Tobias Bandel from Soil & More explained how climate change is affecting soil fertility and crop yields. He called for farmers to reduce economic risks by building farm-system resilience via crop rotation and diversity, green manure and crops, and biomass recycling.
Re-directing food waste. Food waste is a major sustainability issue, with an estimated one third of all food produced going to waste. Al Overton from Planet Organic showed how the retail chain has attained zero waste (edible food) status. It donates surplus food to the Olio Food Waste Heroes programme. In 2018, Planet Organic donated 11 tonnes of food from its London-based seven stores, helping to provide 55,000 meals to people in need.
Adding social value in supply chains. Sustainability schemes like Fairtrade and UTZ Certified have improved farmer conditions, but have done little to improve poverty levels, according to Julia Gause from FairAfric. The company is ‘de-colonising’ supply chains for chocolate by producing in Ghana. The company says making organic chocolate in the West African country generates five times higher income for producers than sourcing cocoa alone.
Getting a flavour for plant-based foods. The global market for plant-based foods is projected to reach USD 5.2 billion in 2020. Givaudan research shows that 52% of consumers stay in the plant-based category because of taste. The flavourings firm calls for companies to take a targeted approach when developing products for the diverse consumer groups that now consume plant-based food.
Power of plant proteins. Heather Mills, public figure and founder of V-Bites, believes the food industry is at the cusp of a plant-based revolution. In her closing keynote, she said such foods provided many solutions to sustainability problems facing the food industry. Her company is ramping up production in order to meet surging demand.
New technologies changing the face of retail. Toby Pickard from IGD outlined the implications of digital trends on the grocery industry. Giving examples, he showed how retailers are having to adapt their physical stores and provide new delivery mechanisms. The future maybe with staff-less stores (Amazon Go), drone deliveries (JD.com), and direct-to-fridge deliveries (Walmart).
Ethical egg labelling scheme takes off. It is estimated that up to 6 billion male chicks are culled each year because they are the wrong gender. Martijn Haarman from Seleggt gave details of its new identification technique that prevents the hatching of male eggs. Eggs that remain after using the technique are labelled ‘Respeggt’ and are currently available in Rewe and Penny retailers in Germany. In June, the German Federal Administrative Court supported the new technique to prevent the death of male chicks.
Array of green packaging materials. There is growing investment into sustainable packaging materials, with some new plastic alternatives presented at the summit. Agrana is creating thermoplastic starch from plant sugars; the material is used to make compostable packaging for fruits & vegetables.
Markus Kainer, CEO of the Austrian firm VPZ, showed how it is taking cellulose from wood to make PackNatur, which is used in net packaging. Futamura is also making cellulose-based biopolymers to make compostable packaging. Its NatureFlex material is now used in a range of food and beverage products.
Going plastic-free. There was a call to go plastic-free by Frankie Gillard from A Plastic Planet. According to her organisation, over 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste has been produced since the 1950s and only 9% has been recycled. It is encouraging more retailers to follow EkoPlaza and Thornton Budgens and develop plastic-free aisles. Its new Plastic Free Trust mark is given to products and packaging that meet its criteria.
The title is Civilization Critical: Energy, Food, Nature, and the Future. The book charts the past, present, and possible futures of our global petro-industrial consumerist civilization. It looks at how we produce our food and how we fuel and provision the incredibly powerful systems of industry. The book includes chapters on energy, the Industrial Revolution, transport, farming, efficiency, and progress.
Most important, Civilization Critical provides a wholly new analysis of our problems and their potential solutions—new ideas about material and energy flows and the structure of global civilization. The book argues that a nineteenth- and twentieth-century transition to linear systems and away from the circular patterns of nature (and of allprevious civilizations) is the foundational error—the underlying problem, the root cause of climate change, resource depletion, oceans full of plastics, and a host of mega-problems now intensifying and merging, with potentially civilization-cracking results.
So? Are we doomed? No. Doom is a choice. One we’re currently making, but there are other options. The book concludes that we face a momentous decision. On the one hand, we possess a profusion of technologies and options that can deliver us from our predicament: solar panels, wind turbines, electric transport, low-emission agriculture, aggressive recycling, increased economic equality and security, and improved systems of governance. On the other hand, we remain committed to increasing consumption and economic growth such that current plans—two to three percent economic growth per year—will cause the global economy to grow eight times larger in the coming century. We possess powerful means of destruction, but also of deliverance. Civilization Critical lays bare our choice, and the very negative or very positive outcomes within our grasp.