The Food Dimension: Food, Jobs & Wars

by Mario Molinari


Victoria reveals how tea united east and west, triggered wars
and helped us win them.”
Victoria Wood’s Nice Cup of Tea 

My focus on food responds to a need to reach out to people. For me food raises hopes for a better today. Not only ‘food’, of course, but all the activities that go with it including water, energy and land activities.


The temptation then would be to say that thanks to food we could achieve the goal of a fair and equitable world. Backing up this claim is the pledge to make food the entry point for joyful and compassionate living.  Not only tea but also biscuits. 

Economies of War

The world is in the grip of ever tighter schedules and delivery targets. The production costs of the type of atomised operation hereby described, which include mining, energy and transportation costs, are immense. Any glitch in the assembly line – land disputes, pricing, quantities and specifications – can all too easily give rise to many a conflict and war.

Take a typical biscuit-containing chocolate bar from a British shop, manufactured in a British factory. It contains sugar, cocoa, milk, whey, wheat, yeast, salt, palm oil and calcium sulphate (a nutritional additive) which are sourced from all the world, For instance, the salt may come from China; calcium sulphate from India; palm oil from Southeast Asia; whey from New Zealand; milk and wheat from the EU; sugar from the Caribbean; and, of course, cocoa for the actual chocolate from South America.


Paraphrasing from a Quaker publication, violence is with us whenever we drink from a plastic cup or beer can. Land, deserts and seas are grabbed and exploited every day. Human and physical resources are incidental and expendable.

Land matters caused German President Horst Koehler to resign from his position in 2010 and this because of remarks he made during a visit to Afghanistan. 

'A country of our size, with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests, for example, when it comes to trade routes, for example, when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes.'

It is not even a question of history repeating itself, it is a continuum. “We cannot make war without trade, nor trade without war.” (Jan Pieterszoon Coen, Dutch colonialist, seventeenth century.)

Now more than ever, the economy as we know it is characterised by ‘growth’ meaning not just that a country is going through a period of expansion but that growth is in itself the condition of trade and commerce. What grows exactly is open to debate, but here the conclusion can be drawn that a growth economy is the same as a war economy.

Wars as a Fixture

Here we touch a raw nerve. Trade, industry, science and technology, the balance sheet, logistics, media reporting, military and civilian deployments, the combat zone… it is impossible to separate them.

Our jobs depend on the roller coaster of wars. We end up supporting them out of choice or necessity. Who do you work for? Who are you dealing with on a day to day basis? Which central bank doles out the cash? And talking of which, what are you being paid for, what do you spend your pocket money on, who benefits from your spending habits and so on?

Connect a few dots and you can easily establish that each job is linked to wars and war-like activities (mining, drilling, communications, services) at home and abroad. All dots will take you to the riches and resources of the land.

Wars are a fixture. In plain English, no wars no jobs. If we identify this as a problem to grapple with then I would suggest that what we need to do is to renew, value and make good use of the resources of the land. That’s why they are called resources.

Gauging our War Support

In the light of the above, to have a ‘proper job’ acquires a rather different and interesting meaning. We need a breakthrough and hopefully this means putting solutions first.

One small part of me says that to campaign against wars (‘when bombs are dropping’) or to give them the extra oxygen of publicity by mounting campaigns all year round misses the point altogether. Here too, in plain English, we cannot campaign against what we support every day.

Can we do better than that? It is an all-consuming fulltime job, to say the least, to campaign, object and agitate and then, in effect, pay our dues to the upkeep of wars. Also, everything is to be paid for and/or funded nowadays and campaigns don’t come cheap falling as they do into that category of consumption of resources that gives war its justification.

Money, or the quantity of money in circulation, becomes the determining factor and consumption means that what you do, plan, purchase, procure, print or parade in pursuit of your aim has a price tag, a material cost, attached to it. A small or large budget, the money you spend powers the economy, prevalently a war economy, that will in turn reward you handsomely with what you spend your money on.

Henceforth you can kiss good-bye to Peace.  This alone should set off an alarm bell not so much to have you desist from your overall aim but to make you rethink strategy.

Campaigning cannot be justified. Under campaigning we can enlist many other forms of protest, lobbying and demonstrations. Tempting as it may be to stop, end, ban and rehash everything, the only thing we can be sure of is that it won’t work. As things stand, what you do as a campaigner can only work in favour of the very system you purport to bring down.  One thing to bear in mind is that we are always part of the system we happen to describe. It cannot be otherwise.

The Peace Dividend

Here are some basic questions. Do you want a proper job? Would you like one? What are your plans for the future? Do you want to stand tall and proud? Are you resolute in your determination to expose how this system works? In your determination to seek justice?

Fine, you can do all that and the only way to do it is to run a different agenda not the one laid on you by the powers that be. What agenda do I have in mind? Consider for a moment the ever-topical economy (see also below). We could campaign for real and roll out a programme of work creation designed to replace what the warfare economy has to offer in terms of jobs and services.  It used to be called ‘peace dividend’. Suffice to say, this is what qualifies a different agenda.

Things To Remember

No country ever would go to war without brutalising its citizens first into believing that wars are necessary. It is your resolve which is at stake here. The strategy must change if the problems I am trying to describe affect us at such deep level as to neutralise us. We experience violence, conflict and war in our blood and jobs right now. It is that close. An economy of fear and despair. Wars or else… Mandatory cam­paign­ing is not the answer.  In a sense we don’t know what peace is. We need a new start.

U Start with Food’ – A University of Food Project

‘U Start with Food’ is an all-inclusive proposal to institute a virtual University of Food. Inclusiveness relates to all matters food. No aspect of living is left untouched by it! Pledges and principles underpin the proposal and these in turn lead to the formulation of a new social contract. (See Overview)

Needless to say, food starts it all. Conversely and arguably, all the rest is a false start. Food is the real socio-economical driver and prime mover thanks to which we can:

-          create communities

-          shape the economy

-          promote learning

In other words, the different agenda. Food is the synthesis and the means to achieving a learned community served by an attendant economy.

With the spotlight on the economy, the peace dividend can smooth the way towards the type of economy which we deem is best for us and for this, in all likelihood, we do not even have to reinvent the wheel. Rather every country, region and locality needs farming, construction, engineering and manufacturing. In that order.

The scale is necessarily small, with small being taken as a baseline for all forms of production that linked in a daisy-chain fashion would then go on to create the local, regional and national forms of the economy.

It is important to put the land to its intended uses. Food and farming will lead the way given their capacity to shape our living and working environments. Food leads, making it easier for the others to follow. Having established the principle of the baseline we can then oversee the other stages – the construction, the engineering, and an educational system to match.

Food is the baseline, or it may even be a bit more than that. Food is the fons et origo of all human knowledge, of our culture and traditions, of trade, ecology and science.

Is this small change? A frivolity? Compare this (because compare we must) to what we have to face up to most of the times. The shopping list reads:

-          the horrors we are capable of

-          food and water wars

-          a fearsome economy

-          fragile social structures

-          hungry cities

So is food as in food-for-good and as a socio-economical transformer still such a trivial matter?There is nothing trivial about food if in her book, A Taste of War, Lizzie Collingham rightly sets out to explore the ‘often overlooked dimension’ of food to our understanding of WW2.

(It is almost a footnote but amongst other things, says the author, the shortages of fertilizers resulting from the competing demands of both agriculture and the factory production of explosives posed the dilemma of either feeding hungry mouths or hungry conveyor belts.)

In Food Wars, Tim Lang and Michael Heasman are unequivocal about their views whilst inviting caution about possible outcomes, “There is some way to go in the Food Wars before there is Food Peace.”

There can be no doubt that we need to turn our attention to the dimension of food. All in all, food is big if you get my gist.  In particular, the food proposal as submitted provides the necessary term of reference bringing individuals and groups together. It suggests looking at food, water, plants, wellbeing, climate and rocks as ONE. One conveys the idea of belonging and, the same thing, stands for the ‘environment’ of which we are part.

There is vitality in food. My aim or the aim of the proposed Food University is to establish a core food strategy – the new agenda or strategy – channelling the goodwill of many as we anchor ourselves to the ground we stand on and to the life force represented by food. Lest we forget the ‘often overlooked dimension’ of food to our understanding of how we live and work.  Food is the driver, the pointer, the code name, the backdrop and the capstone. Get the ecosystem on a spin. Get the big locomotive going and all the rest will follow in its wake.

Food of course is also nutrition and dinner parties but someone must grow that food, harvest that water and generate that energy in the first place. Done. It must be said, you would need to stretch the sinews of your imagination to the limit to call all this (i.e. getting things done, accomplishing, leading from the front) much of a challenge. Of course, we all want a challenge but this is a doodle! That’s the point, it is our job!  

The fact is that food is a simple proposition and the baseline for human understanding.  To do and to learn capture the essence of living. Food opens up a world of possibilities. This is the beautiful world, rising just above the ordinary world, of work, affections and relationships. Looking for volunteers, interns? Is this something up your street?

With ‘U Start with Food’ we can hope to address many of our social and economic ills.  Any one for tea and biscuits?


 

REFERENCES

Cited in The Ascent of Money, Fergusson, Niall, London, Penguin Books, 2009, p. 135.

Lang, Tim and Heasman, Michael. Food Wars, Earthscan, London, Sterling (VA), 2004, p. 10.

 

About Mario Molinari 

Mario Molinari is a food writer and tutor with a background in navigation and business. He believes that our attitude towards food must change if we want to raise hopes for a better today. Food, water, energy and, indeed, all life essentials should be part of our upbringing and education. His current projects include the setting up of a community garden and the establishing of a virtual Food University.