On February 6, 2019 some 200 students, faculty, activists, and community members crowded into Tishman Auditorium at The New School in New York City to hear Vandana Shiva, Mark Bittman, and author Timothy A. Wise discuss the battle for the future of food. Wise, director of the Land and Food Rights Program at Small Planet Institute, was in New York for the release of his new book, Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food.
In Eating Tomorrow, Wise explores humanity’s continuous challenge to ensure that everyone can eat today, as well as the complications posed by climate change, which only make more daunting the challenge of eating tomorrow. The book, which has won early rave reviews, was released by The New Press the previous day.
“The way we are producing our food, on chemical-intensive, industrial-scale farms, is quite literally devouring the natural resources – soil, water, seeds, climate – on which future food production depends,” explained Wise as he faced the audience in New York. “I wrote this book because, with 30 years in this field, I wanted to understand why policymakers were ignoring the low-cost solutions all around them, demonstrated by their own small-scale farmers.”
This book launch event, co-sponsored by the Food Studies Program at The New School, The New Press, and the Small Planet Institute, featured a public talk, reading, and on-stage conversation, followed by a book signing.
Joining Wise on stage were Indian activist and author Vandana Shiva and food writer
Mark Bittman. Shiva is a Delhi-based scholar, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, and author of more than twenty books, including Who Really Feeds the World? Bittman is a former columnist for the New York Times, as well as the author of 20 acclaimed books, including the How to Cook Everything series.
After an introduction by Bea Banu of New School’s Food Studies Program, Bittman opened the conversation, introducing Wise by pointing out the senselessness of a food system in which big industrial farms consume a vast majority of land and water resources to produce a minority of the food in the world.
Wise took it from there, pointing out that “we” in the industrialized countries, don’t feed the world. “Some 70% of the food consumed in developing countries, where hunger levels are high, is grown by farmers in those countries, most of it on small farms.”
“If we want to ensure that everyone enjoys the right to food, that everyone can eat tomorrow, we need to place family farmers at the center, helping them feed their families, their communities, and their countries while they nourish the planet,” explained Wise.
Elaborating on the influence of agribusiness, Wise regaled the crowd with stories from Eating Tomorrow: land-grabbing by foreign investors in Mozambique; unproductive government subsidies for commercial seeds and chemical fertilizers in Malawi; the danger of cross-pollination between Monsanto’s genetically-modified corn seeds and native corn varieties in Mexico; and the monoculture-rich, factory farm-dotted landscape of Iowa.
Everywhere he went, Wise said, governments ignored the low-cost, soil-replenishing innovations of their family farmers in favor of policies that enriched large-scale agribusiness corporations. “In the battle for the future of food, these firms are the main obstacles to change. Recapturing our democracies from corporate influence will be crucial to winning that battle.”
Despite this bleak picture of global agribusiness, Wise said, “I conclude my book with optimism and my optimism is genuine. Because, despite the enormity of these challenges, farmers and their allies are showing us the way forward. I saw it all over the world.”
Vandana Shiva led the on-stage conversation that followed, drawing on her long history fighting GMOs and corporate agriculture in India and promoting sustainable alternatives. She reminded that crowd that the Indian state of Sikkim is the first in the world to declare itself 100% organic.
Following the event, audience members filed towards Wise, Shiva, and Bittman, eager to get their books signed. If the audience response provides any indication, this event suggests strong public interest in the analysis and solutions in Eating Tomorrow.
After all, as Wise concludes his book, in the battle for the future of food: "All are striving for the same thing: the right of everyone to eat safe and healthy food today while ensuring that we steward our natural wealth so we can all eat tomorrow.”
*To order Eating Tomorrow, visit https://www.smallplanet.org/eating-tomorrow
*To stay up-to-date with Eating Tomorrow and related speaking events, follow @TimothyAWise on Instagram and Twitter
* Sign up here for updates on upcoming events for Wise’s Eating Tomorrow.