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Rebekah Ratcliff
Southern Oregon University
ANTH 336 Food, Hunger, and Human Rights
Fall, 2016

While food is necessary for life, eating is about much more than the nutrients we

consume. Food has become an art, it is expression, it is power, and it is full of meaning.

Through food we are able to communicate, and we are able to more easily share complex

social or cultural aspects of life. Food shows us how we are human, with food we

construct connections, build relationships, and create power, significance, culture, and

life. Differences such as class, gender, ethnicity, and residency begin to tell the story of

the nuances of food inequalities found at individual, communal, and national levels. Food

practices and traditions in turn highlight the ideological, cultural, political, class, ethnic,

and gender power differences among people, how these power structures change, and

how these structures may need to change to sustain the future growth of the human

population. The meanings that we place on food have widespread effects worldwide.

Understanding food in our communities provides a framework by which we may

understand their social, environmental, physiological, relational, religious, and political

circumstances. Rituals, feasts, traditions, sacrifices, weddings and even daily meals

provide a connection between peoples lives and their food. Through their food people

understand their social connections, resource exchanges, marriage possibilities, property

rights, individual agency and mobility, the establishment of community, and a

transcendent connectedness beyond the individual. Food becomes a part of everything we

do. There is a connection between class and food rights, gender expectations as

symbolized and understood through food, ethnicity and nationalism demonstrated

explicitly (or banned explicitly) through the expression of food, as well as

religious and social movements or protests fueled by a lack of food. For many

reasons beyond the human physiology, food is important. Not only is food
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important, but also food is power; and those with power often seek to enhance

their power by taking control of food. During her time spent in Uzbekistan, Nancy

Rosenberger realized that food could be a source of conflict as well as

togetherness (2012, 15). The foods people prefer, have access to, and eat reveal

much more than the quality of their taste buds. Foods reveal the class constructs,

ethnic nationalism, gender divides, and religious tolerance. As aforementioned,

food does not only divide, but also plays a role in uniting people. Food gives a

rapid insight into culture explicitly offering a demonstration of in and out

group dynamics working to other specified groups.

You can learn a lot about a person by paying close attention to the things that they eat and

the things that they dont eat. While some may argue food has lessened significance due

to its wide availability in the global marketplace, individuals remain in control of their

food choice and continue to create more and more complex and interesting eating habits.

Beyond understanding where a person comes from, their culture, their individual and

family history, understanding what a person eats helps to understand what a person

believes in. In every sense of the word, food is a relationship. Eating habits give

individuals a sense of belonging, connectedness, and tradition while also a sense of

adventure, growth and personalization. Food doesnt only tell us a story through what a

person actually eats. Understanding what foods a person wants to eat but cant, what

foods a person refuses to eat and why, what foods a person is forced to eat, and what

foods a person believes are acceptable begins to highlight the complexity of human

expression through food. For some, eating meat is unacceptable as a belief, as a form of

activism, or as a preference. Still for others, eating meat is a sense of pride. Many of

these people live in very similar circumstances but challenge their food habits in response
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to a variety of stimuli. People interact with food in different ways. Whether they grow it

or diet, whether they sell it or buy it our relationships with food often express our greater

values and identity. This identity is always changing and finding new questions to answer

or responses to have, and as the market continues to globalize this expression will only

become more interesting.

It has often been suggested that you are what you eat, and, arguably, in the case for

Indian, Uzbek and United States citizens the social, political, and cultural implications of

this notion could be seen as true. Although discussing social, gender, and other forms of

inequality can often be off-putting or discouraging, food provides an easy and effective

introduction giving insights and connections between food and power making topics of

inequality more accessible, less abstract, and more generalizable. Still, while some are

free to construct their identity and express it through food, other groups have been so

disempowered that food is constructed as a necessity. Perhaps food may not be

constructed out of physiological, economic, and nutritional necessity, as in the case of

lower class individuals; for some, food identities and dualities are constructed out of

social or cultural necessity in order to secure a husband, maintain religious tradition, or

even negotiate power. Food can be oppressive or can provide agency. The exchange of

food can mean many things, but those things are not always positive. This individual

construction of foods, over time has worked to influence and construct larger cultural and

historical traditional foods and cuisine around the world. While much of the modern food

exchange and global market is dictated by historical events, change in the environment,

new technologies, and dominant cultures, not all of our food exchange has been

specialized and individuals find new and innovative ways to express their perspectives

through food. Many things influence each individuals cuisine. People crave pies their

grandmother used to make, we think of special dinners had with family, traditional foods
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made for celebrations, things weve tried in different and new places, and so on. Creating

an individual cuisine, on a very small scale, works to create an individual. Even in a

globalized and alienated world, food remains incredibly personal.

Food as nutrients is a right, food as exchange is community, and food as tradition is

culture. Food is eaten, grown, shared, celebrated, and communicated; but food is also

manipulated, withheld, and made inaccessible. While food remains a right, food is also

clearly power. From Oregon to India and around the world, disempowered peoples often

struggle to survive in positions of food scarcity and insecurity with a lack of food

sovereignty. Technological transformations, Green Revolutions, globalization, and

industrialization have all had significant impacts on the ways we move, procure,

exchange, and consume our food. While some may argue that we have reached beyond

our carrying capacity to feed exponentially growing global populations, for many others

the issues of food insecurity and the lack of food sovereignty are problems of resource

distribution. Before the agricultural revolution to times when humans were primarily

foraging communities the distribution of the food was simple, resources were procured

and shared among kin. Even through to the introduction of horticulture, food never came

from outside the community. There was a closeness that we do not have today. In todays

globalized market food on a dinner plate can come from over twenty different people,

twenty different farms, and ten different continents. Our sustenance has largely been

removed, and with its removal many have lost individual agency and power to provide

their own food. As actors in the global marketplace food producers and consumers are

highly dependent on outside trade and negotiations. Because this has become a

worldwide endeavor, sending oranges from California and spices from Asia to your

kitchen cabinet, human economic, social, and political policies and decisions have begun

to affect a greater and greater range of people. While those successful at integrating new
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technologies and adaptations of the agriculture industry thrive, small farmers,

horticulturists, and those that previously relied on their own ability to provide food are

effectively being squashed. The divide, inequality, and stratification between the hungry

and the full seems to only be widening. Although there are technologies and

organizations working to secure food rights and end hunger, there is only becoming more

complex. In order to truly address hunger, we cannot only address the technologies, the

environmental state, or the demography (though these things are indubitably affected);

solutions must work to reestablish individual agency and the empowerment of the

farming poor to feed themselves and those around them from urban slums to rural

families lacking land. By doing this, we do more than alleviate hunger: we fight for

rights, increase autonomy, and contribute to the enhancement of the quality of life for all

living organisms. Food may be power, but I would argue that the act of taking back the

agriculture industry could be much a more powerful step toward sustainability.

For thousands of years human communities relied on hunting and gathering as a means to

nourishment. Unlike today, food was more than a commodity or something purchased in

a market. Food was something to find, something to pick up, and something to follow, to

grow, to learn about, to understand, to take care of, and to respect. While for many the

thought of trying to live off the land sounds quite daunting, for people in our area,

resources were plenty and hunger was rare. Native American tribes of the Pacific Coastal

Northwest have been described as affluent societies with endless resource banks. The

people, however, maintained a quite different relationship with food than we have today.

Through ideological beliefs, spiritual ritual, and management practices Native American

communities fostered reciprocal relationships with the roots they used for baskets, the

deer they hunted for meat, and the salmon fished from the river. The people took what

they needed and shared with those who had not. These ideas have been lost in a capitalist,
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colonial, imperial, and globalized society. Food has evolved from a domestic scale based

in kinship relations, relational help obligations, and subsistence with an irreducible

minimum, to a political scale with tribute, extraction, taxes, markets, and the effects of

market stratification (Peasant Dilemma), and now a commercial scale with social classes,

hired labor, needs for money, global markets, all driven by profitability. Just as

modernization has alienated us from our work, it has alienated and in some respects

completely removed us from our food. More hands process, ship, package, and exchange

our food over further distances than we have ever experienced before ultimately creating

a more complex exchange of a more simple (less diverse) diet. Luckily in our market

economy you can find all kinds of foods through specialization of vendors in the market,

this specialization has led also to a great dependency and this dependency is not stable.

The evolution of our food systems has allowed for populations to grow and to do so in

healthy ways, but there is no answer to how long this system can be sustained. With so

many unable to secure or be sovereign over what they eat, it may be reasonable to say we

are experiencing this systems collapse.

We know that food has been defined as a right, but understanding that right is not simple.

In an effort to effectively define to what extent humans are entitled to food and at what

quality. The concepts of Food Security and Food Sovereignty have been created to help

understand the ways in which food as a right is much more than not starving. Food

security the state of being with reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable,

nutritious, and culturally appropriate food. To encourage food security we must improve

the underlying problems providing an availability of food sources, access to those

sources, a sufficient consumption of food, and an appropriate utilization of food in a

sanitary and nutritious manner. The idea is that food should not only be accessible, but

that food should be the proper quality and that the individual should be sovereign in
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claiming what appropriate foods are for them. Food sovereignty and security are

multifaceted and complex social issues. As we address them individually, locally, and

globally it is important to ask who is eating what and do our best to find out all the

reasons why. People eat various foods because they are cheap, they are nationally

recognized, they are all that is available, they are traditional, and they are historically and

culturally appropriate. Changes in the market, in political relations, global exchange, and

the environment all affect the foods that people eat or are able to find. Food security and

sovereignty are no longer achieved through one individuals actions, but through a

variety of interactions between producers, processors, distributors, and consumers. The

complexity of our food system has allowed us to stabilize food insecurity in some ways,

but in others this great dependence has had detrimental effects. If one thing is certain,

food security is more relational now than ever. When dependence on global markets and

exchange weakens food security, individual relationships and social networks effectively

strengthen community. A return to these reciprocal and community relationships

strengthens food security and sovereignty bringing a longer-term likelihood of ample

nutritious food even when many of the conditions of food security like policy,

technology, and industry are out of the individuals hands.



The Malthusian dilemma discusses the reality of finite resources in our environment and

challenges the question of the sustainability of the human population. Malthus argued that the

resources of our planet can only provide for so many humans, this carrying capacity would

inevitably affect the population once it is stressed therefore mitigating overpopulation again

balancing itself. Though Malthus was criticized for his sentiments toward the hurt and hopeless,

and for not fully considering ways in which humans may manipulate the earths carrying capacity
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through technology, etc.; his dilemma remains in question today. While the population balances

itself out, in order for this to happen it often brings great harm to large portions of the population,

and it has been asked if the earth becomes excessively overpopulated if the human population

will deplete its resources to such an extent that the population will crash entirely. These are all

serious considerations to be made when considering the role of famine, our food and resources,

and sustainability.

Food, in essence, is the access to life. For this reason, food is powerful and can be moved

or manipulated in order to further control populations of people. Addressing the oppression and

disempowerment of humans by the means of food, the Food and Agriculture Organization

expressed the concept of food rights as the right to adequate food is realized when every man,

woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all

times to adequate food or means for its procurement. This statement recognizes that as humans

we inherently and indivisibly carry entitlements to access to adequate and appropriate foods.

Often, when famine occurs, it is not only the right to food that is being ignored. When these rights

and entitlements are ignored people become dependent, disenfranchised, powerlessness,

alienated, and vulnerable. It is this vulnerability of the individual that eventually affects the

whole opening the doors for famine and other shocks people will no longer be resilient

enough to ignore. Defining and advocating for the most basic human rights and entitlements

within communities is the most basic way to empower unstable individuals to build more

secure, sustainable livelihoods with resiliency and independence.

While it may seem that we blame colonialism for nearly every failing within our society

today, our local and international food systems would be much different had they not been so

forcibly influenced by European and global imperialism. Beyond international influences on food

and consumption, colonialism has stressed demands for resources, exchange, profit, and

dominance largely ignoring traditional food systems. Colonialism and capitalism spurred even
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greater demand for increased production, export, and exchange. Just as the food system evolved

through the Neolithic Revolution, the food system again changed to meet these expanded

commercial needs, and businesses began to focus their efforts of exporting the most of one

resource as possible. This kind of intense specialization has led to the simplification of

ecosystems and a detrimental loss in biodiversity affecting the planet and therefore downgrading

production abilities. Commercialized agriculture simplifies the exports of farms. Simplifying the

diet and only having even greater health and environmental effects around the world.

For the grand majority of human settlement on the earth nourishment has been acquired

through a much more relational process than the way we see it today. Before groceries from

Amazon, before supermarkets, before markets at all food was not seen as a commodity, food was

a necessary part of the environment to be cared for, cultivated, and responsibly managed. As our

populations and food systems have grown, however, this relationship has become inexplicably

more complex. The transformation of food systems from domestic to political, and eventually the

commercial scale has had far-reaching effects in social, ideological political, and economic

interactions. The domestic scale food system humans maintained through kinship relations,

irreducible minimums, and relational help obligations for subsistence transformed as populations

grew. Political scale food systems allowed those with power to dictate over those without through

tribute, extraction, taxes, markets, and the beginnings of capitalism. These changes began to

exacerbate the Peasant Dilemma as the lowest social classes feed the worlds population. Today,

this has only continued through the strengthening of social class stratification, the reliance on

hired labor, and the need for money and work in a global market pursuit of profit. While it seems

the further and further food systems move away from domestic scale production and horticulture

the more complex and problematic issues related to hunger become. Still, with populations as

large and complex as we live in today, many ask whether we will be able to survive off a food

system other than a commercialized one. While we think of solutions for a more sustainable food

system it is important to consider the ideological, political, social, and economic implications of
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how we choose to nourish our bodies.


Throughout this research my understanding of food has been broadened, and

I have been able to think more fully about the important role that food plays in our

lives. Not only have I been able to think more fully about how individuals and

societies interact with food, but also how food reflects and gives insight to a society.

During this course and in my community research I have come to realize how

complex the present day human interaction has become. Food is both a symbol of

distress and a symbol of power. Food can be used to strengthen communities, and it

can also be used as a weapon or tool of oppression. Food systems are not only what

is grown, but encompasses the entire relationship between people and what they

eat, including how the product is exchanged, prepared, and thought of. Food

sovereignty and security are multifaceted and complex social issues. As we address them

individually, locally, and globally it is important to ask who is eating what and do our

best to find out all the reasons why. . Grown, sold, bought, eaten and shared, food unites

our bodies and souls, yet it ignites jealousies and anger (2012, 177). Food is power. I

hope that the power of food is only further utilized to grow, build, and strengthen

communities around the world. Whether we are eating it, exporting it, exchanging it,

preparing it, or even thinking about it the ways we interact with food often replicate the

ways we interact with others and with our world. This course has made me think much

more about the interactions among people and their food and between people themselves.

As I ask myself the question, Do you still enjoy eating? I can only thing of an

incredibly enthusiastic, YES! Eating connects me with other people, with other places,
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and with new ideas. Eating food is much more than a spoon full of nutrient slop, and this

class has reminded me just how meaningful every morsel on my plate or in my coffee cup

really may be for people around the world and for me.