A Narrowly Focused Thought

Focused thoughtFood for a narrowly focused thought
Human Rights Reader 418
By Claudio Schuftan


The current malnutrition problem around the world is not its double burden, but its multiple burdens.

By narrowly focusing on the greater appeal of reducing hunger what do we risk?

For the hungry, there is no such thing as just a hard and dry loaf of bread. (Maria Duenias)

By narrowly focusing on hunger, we risk solely or chiefly focusing on increasing dietary energy supply/consumption. But, beware, this will not adequately address the more complex challenges that fulfilling the right to nutrition brings about. To live up to these challenges cannot be made to mean following a number of silver-bullet interventions to achieve them. Why? Because any list of selected interventions risks being reduced to a simplistic shopping list from which one can choose according to ad-hoc preferences. So, how can it be assured that the human rights (HR) principles and standards are woven into the right to nutrition? For this, we need to start a true transformative process in order to de-block some of the block-ins that obstruct change in our system and that have been allowed to grow over the past 50 years.(i) Take the high level UN panels set up to deal with the topic: they have separated the political issues from the technical ones in an effort to build a purported ‘common and shared understanding’ –but where is this leading us to?.(ii) (Biraj Partnaik)

(i): “Perhaps the most significant lock-in is political in nature”. (Olivier de Schutter)
(ii): You know the “give me a fish and you feed me for a day” proverb, no? Well, what the Chinese wisdom failed to add is that teaching the hungry to fish does not help them to feed themselves long-term, because the pond, lake, or river is privately owned and they are not allowed to fish there…

2. Nutritionists following the orthodoxy of the ruling paradigm have not been innocent in this lock-in either: ‘Laborious, duplicative, weak, grossly insufficient, poorly targeted, fragmented, dysfunctional’. These are all judgments we hear about the ‘global architecture’ designed to address under-nutrition the world over. Some architecture! (Ricardo Uauy) From this point of view, is then conventional nutrition sick as a science, as well as in practice, suffering from irrelevance and incompetence and also from ignorance, obscurity, obsolescence, complacency and venality? Likely.

From passive food consumers to active food citizens

3. While we recognize the hugely valuable contribution that technology and innovation can make to nutritional outcomes, a growing number of us feels there is a need to redress the balance, so that traditional farming and food production practices which have evolved over millennia and greatly contribute to food security and nutrition are given equal or greater attention and are afforded the recognition and protection they deserve. (Jennifer Dias)

4. Things are changing. Will cities and urban movements soon become the main leaders in a transition towards a more sustainable and fairer food system?(iii) Likely. For this, different food dimensions (other that its price in the market) must be properly valued, food chains must be shortened and scrutinized for excess profiteering, consumers are to become partial producers and the convivial-communal side of food production and consumption is to replace the individualistic ethos promoted by the industrial food system. The trend is moving from passive food consumers to active food citizens that develop food democracies where food must be valued as a vital resource –as a human right— as a cultural determinant and as a common good. (Jose Luis Vivero)

(iii): But beware, as a Flemish author said, one thousand urban agricultural initiatives do not make for a new agricultural system.

The identification and development of sustainable nutrition strategies must thus start from the understanding of local constraints and opportunities

5. Indeed, it is key to start from the individuals suffering from malnutrition and, therefore, the households and communities they live-in. Analyzing the causes of malnutrition they face requires them understanding the food systems they interact-with and their decision-making power in them. Experience shows that malnutrition results from imposed food systems that negatively impinge on people’s livelihoods. Until now, the nutrition world (including some of the top experts) has emphasized biomedical approaches to complement nutrient deficiencies rather than looking at local specific causes –the latter always related to the determinants of the violation of the right to food. (Florence Egal)

6. We all need to be aware of the fact that, in the long run, different food systems are not able to co-exist as industrial food system are rapidly outcompeting and choking more sustainable food systems. This is a trend one can observe on a daily basis in many countries –an issue of food citizenship urgently in need of being taken up… (Simone Lovera)

…and then there is industry…

7. How long are we going to accept full corporate rule on what is available for us ‘to choose from’ to eat? I guess no longer! We must more actively work towards some degree of regulation of the market. Industry is ‘educating’ the general population on how to eat fast foods and junk (ultra-processed) foods while nutritionists go on blaming the individuals for their ‘wrong choices and behavior’, i.e., the blame is placed on the individual for making ‘unhealthy choices’ –a clever plot. (Flavio Valente)

8. It is importantly poor city dwellers, not only, peasants who suffer from malnutrition. The former are unemployed, underpaid or in the grey subsistence market, the latter do not eat what they produce, have no access to markets and/or are underpaid as day laborers. Both groups are hooked on buying ultra-processed foods.(iv)

(iv): Ultra-processed foods should be called ‘edible products’ –not foods. (Miryam Gorban)

9. At highest risk, other than urbanites, are (a) TNCs plantation workers who produce for the global market; (b) peasants under threat due to land grabbing; (c) indigenous people, some of whom are farmers (that are further being repressed when they struggle for their ancestral lands); (d) pastoralists who have special nutrition problems (little access to vegetables and shrinking of the commons); and (e) fisherfolks whose rights are not receiving the needed attention (their major problem is lake and ocean grabbing). Among other, all these groups must fight for living wages, for access to health, for their safety and for maternity and old age benefits and must fight against the pervasive consumer misinformation by Big Food and against the privatization of the commons. The same groups must go from having their voices heard to exerting de-facto influence. Moreover, keeping nutrition policies separate from food policies makes the former very technical and too often product- and/or nutrient-based. Nutrition and food policies simply must be addressed together. (F. Valente)

Farmers/fisherfolk/pastoralists (claim holders) security vs food security (C. Haeberli)

10. Between the World Economic Forum and La Via Campesina at the extremes of trying to address the food and nutrition security problem, there is a complex mix of intergovernmental organizations within and beyond the UN system, including FAO, WHO, WFP, UNICEF, the World Trade Organization and the World Bank. Among these agencies, a whole range of organizational approaches have been developed, but many of these carry along the corporate program.(v) Among the most prominent is the SUN (Scaling Up Nutrition) Initiative, a ‘multistakeholder platform’ heavily criticized for its built-in conflicts of interest through the active and unchecked corporate sector participation in it. The SUN Initiative has no accountability to any UN intergovernmental body or process. (David Legge)

(v): Take for example the new UN lingo of ‘nutrition-sensitive social protection’. Think about it. What really is it? Why was it necessary for pertinent UN agencies to come up with a new construct/new language with a fancy name? The best I can figure is that, as externally influenced, they wanted to water-down the concept of social determinants of nutrition which is well defined as modeled by the social determinants of health. This is what it is all about: What communities really want is the social determinants of malnutrition be addressed to protect them. [Note that the same is true for UN agencies coining the term ‘non-state actors’ which lumps together private with public actors disregarding who really is for the public (and not the stockholders’) interests].

Pledges to combat hunger must not get stuck in ‘could’, ‘should’, and ‘may’; the politics of ‘could’, ‘should’, and ‘may’ must end (C. Schmidt, Urban Jonnson)

11. What it is all about is strengthening peoples’ right to self-determination in the economic domain(vi) by supporting grassroots HR organizations and by reclaiming concepts such as that of ‘food sovereignty’, i.e., the notion that involves breaking up with fundamental aspects of the heterodoxy of global capitalism. (E. Arenas) Nutrition is indeed a fundamental part of food sovereignty. (RTFN Watch 2015)

(vi): The economic benefits pursued are seen as an indispensible complement, not as a substitute for the intrinsically HR-centered goal of eliminating malnutrition with its multiple burdens. (John Hoddinott)

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
schuftan (at) gmail.com

All 400+ HR Readers are available here.

– From the Holy See come to us a few iron laws I’d like to share with you:
(a) Food shortages are not something natural. Hunger is due to a selfish and wrong distribution of resources through the merchandizing of food.
(b) Nature has made the fruits of the earth a gift to humanity; commoditizing them for the few engenders exclusion.
(c) Consumerism has made us grow accustomed to excess and to the daily waste of food.
(d) We are no longer able to see the real value of food that goes far beyond mere economic parameters.
(e) We need to be reminded that food discarded is, in a certain sense stolen from the table of those rendered poor.
These iron laws perfectly align with the current work on food as a commons and as a public good. We humans have artificially created the exclusion of the hungry from plentiful food. We can revert this social construct: food shall be given the consideration of a human right, a public good and a part of the commons —and it shall be guaranteed to every human being. (Pope Francis) (http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/…/full-text-pope-francis-a…/)
– Ask yourself: (a) Which of the foods we consume we do not get from a supermarket? (b) Which healthy and non-healthy foods purchased there do we consume? c) If all supermarkets would close, what would we eat differently?


Posted by @ForActivists


//Food for a narrowly focused thought//