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by intern Emily Vaughn

“Raj, does everything for you always come back to food?”

At a lecture at the New York Society for Ethical Culture last week, moderator Amy Goodman—host of the independent news program Democracy Now!—interjected this good-natured dig because Raj Patel had used food-centric case studies to answer questions about the World Bank, Haiti, carbon trading, and free market capitalism, and was starting up a new one (details later in the post).  Patel’s affirmative response made the audience chuckle, and although Patel was smiling as he said it, those familiar with Stuffed and Starved—his landmark study of the economic and political implications of global food production and trade—know that he was mostly serious. 

The connections between food and issues like social justice, international politics, and environmentalism are familiar to most anyone reading the Slow Food USA blog, as is the advice that Patel gave during the Q&A to boycott corporate industrial food and consume smarter.  But hearing his words in an auditorium of like-minded people was inspiring, and when he urged us all to learn more about the Child Nutrition Act, La Via Campesina, and the Farm Bill, and above all, to take action, it renewed my belief that there are enough people who care about these issues to make progress. 

Naomi Klein—author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine —was Patel’s co-panelist for the evening.  Among her insights was that President Obama’s best and worst qualities are the same: he’s susceptible to pressure. Patel and Klein both suggested that the supporters who were vocal and active enough to get Obama elected have backed off, leaving him free to cater to the demands of big business without citizen repercussions. Klein mentioned several times how difficult it can be for activists to stay motivated, and said that if we’re going to come away from the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s inauguration free of cynicism, we need to focus on rebuilding the infrastructure of independent social movements.