Food rebellion update

The Environmental Working Group and ActionAid have put together a ‘hotspot’ map of the emerging global food crisis. In the teeth of the Cold War, policymakers exercised themselves over whether common hunger would lead to uncommon violence against the state. It’s a question the OECD tried to answer in 2003. It’s clear that while large parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia are lit by hunger, far fewer places have street protests that make the news. In part, that’s because Indian and Chinese protests just don’t make the news in Europe and North America. But since the Indian and Chinese governments show little sign of being brought down by such protests, policy makers worry about other places. At the OECD, they hazarded that it wasn’t hunger per se that brought people to the streets, but hunger and inequality. But even here, the jury’s out. Some analysts find a correlation between inequality and protest, others don’t. In the end, the OECD reports an expert at its consultative seminar saying “We intervene at a certain point of history without being properly informed of the complexity of the issues. We need more in-depth needs assessments and political analyses.”

So, politics matters. In particular, the political valence given both to hunger and inequality is the difference between privately surviving poverty, and publicly protesting it. Watch this space in the next couple of weeks for an account of how a US group sought to give precisely this valence to hunger and inequality in the 1960s, and was destroyed for its trouble.