Food Activist Raj Patel on Ideas to End Hunger

Oct 5, 2011

BOISE, ID. – Writer and economist Raj Patel believes there’s a battle over who gets to eat and who doesn’t.  He writes about this in one of his books, Stuffed and Starved. Patel will share his ideas on how to feed the world at a lecture tomorrow in Boise.  His work has been shaped by something that happened early in his life.


Raj Patel grew up in Britain, the son of South Asian parents from Kenya and Fiji.  His family took a trip to India when he was six.

Raj Patel: “We were in Bombay and we’re stuck at a traffic light in a monsoon in a taxi.  And so the rain was hammering down on the roof of this cab.  And there was a sort of knocking at the window and there was a little girl who couldn’t have been more than twelve years old and she had an infant in her arms and the infant was crying and crying, and she was begging for money.”

Patel says he tries to answer questions about fairness, justice, and poverty because of this experience.  He’ll talk more about these questions and possible solutions at Boise State University.

Raj Patel: “What I’ll be doing is really a big sort of historical overview of big schemes to feed the world and the little schemes that actually seem like they’re going to be a lot more promising.”

Patel says the big agricultural producers consume too much fossil fuels and fresh water.  Instead, he supports farms that use more sustainable methods like using insects to control pests and rotating crops to fertilize the soil.  Patel says this isn’t just about eating local foods.

Raj Patel: “We need to be thinking about public policy. We need to be thinking about not only supporting our farmers to farm sustainably in the ways that they want, but also to end poverty in this country so that everyone gets to eat the way they want to.”

Patel says one way to do this is through local food policy councils.  About one hundred of these organizations exist in the U.S. although they’re none in Idaho.  Patel says these councils bring together local stakeholders from businesses to advocates for the homeless and hungry.  They meet to decide who gets what.

Raj Patel: “The struggle ahead is to share the idea so that every citizen can agree that perhaps the best way of fighting obesity and ending hunger in the country is not to hand the keys to our food system over to the most powerful but actually to democratize it a great deal more.”

Patel believes starvation and obesity could be overcome if that happens.  He’ll speak tomorrow night at Boise State University’s Student Union.

Copyright 2011 Boise State Public Radio.