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While Republicans Play Politics Over Food Stamps, New Film Focuses on Hunger in America

Amy Goodman and Raj Patel discuss the 49 million people who are struggling to get enough to eat in America, and why GOP candidates' posturing isn't helping.

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Now, there’s been a sort of historic compromise in the United States, where, in exchange for low wages, working Americans have the guarantee of cheap food and cheap gas. But cheap food is killing us, and cheap gas is killing our planet. And what we’re seeing, I think, is the results of this historic compromise, in terms of, you know, money sent—money used to fund the industries and the corporations that promote heavily processed, empty calories. And we’re seeing the real costs of those—of that processed food really coming now to—coming back to bite us.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk more about the large multinational agribusiness companies.

RAJ PATEL: Well, we live in a food system that is dominated by a handful of corporations. If you look internationally, if—in any major commodity, five or six corporations dominate more than half the market. And those corporations are very good at eking out subsidies from governments, transforming the terms of international trade in order to be able to tilt things their way. And the people who suffer the most as a result of that are, tragically, the people who are growing food, who are farmers and farm workers. In the United States, of course, we—you know, the poorest paid people in this country are farm workers. And that’s—I mean, that’s the sort of dirty secret of the food system, is that there is poverty produced by the way that we generate our food. And that’s obviously a global problem when there are around a billion people who are not just food insecure, but actually going hungry every day, who are malnourished—or undernourished, rather. And at the same time, we have a world where now there are one-and-a-half billion people who are overweight.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of farm subsidies and how they support agribusiness?

RAJ PATEL: Well, if one looks at the farm bill—and, I mean, it’s, again, an historic compromise between urban and rural politicians in the United States. The largest slice of the farm bill is actually dedicated towards food assistance programs. But within the commodity programs, you know, the sort of 40 percent of the farm bill, more or less, that is dedicated to crop support, a large slice of that does go to the richest sort of 10 percent of farmers. Now, this isn’t to say that we don’t need farm subsidy. I mean, small farmers and sustainable family farms in the United States absolutely need investment and need support. But the way that the farm bill and the way that our United States Department of Agriculture works at the moment is really a handmaiden to these large agricultural concerns and mega farms, rather than the sustainable family farms that are going to produce the healthy fruits and vegetables that we so desperately need in our—to feed the 50 million Americans who are food insecure.

AMY GOODMAN: Raj, as we wrap up, talk about the significance of the Occupy movement and how this fits in to the whole story of food and hunger in this country.

RAJ PATEL: Well, there’s a fantastic—I mean, the food movement itself is centuries old. One of the most interesting incarnations of it comes from an international peasant movement called La Vía Campesina. And they came up in the early 1990s with this idea of food sovereignty. Now, food sovereignty is the idea that communities need to be able to decide their own—take control of their own food and agriculture policy. Now, if I say to you, "Communities need to take care of their own food and agriculture policy," you can say, "Well, Raj, what does that mean?" And the response is, "Well, it depends on the community." You need to have democratic debate about how—what exactly it is you want. In one community, in an inner-city community, that debate is going to look very different from rural America. But communities need to be at the table to have that democratic debate.

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