Posts Tagged ‘Food’

Columbo’s In Eagle Rock

Monday, February 17th, 2014

February 17th, 2014
Columbo’s Restaurant in Eagle Rock
By Gary Crethers

I took my girlfriend out for a belated Valentines dinner to a restaurant she picked because it had crab cakes, her favorite appetizer and because it has live Jazz music. The prices seemed reasonable and most of the reviews on Yelp seemed positive, especially the ones saying it was old school Italian, dark and Godfatheresque, with red Naugahyde booths.
We got a 9 pm reservation, just before the music was set to start, and arrived at 8:40 after a not too harrowing drive up the I-110 from Torrance. We got through downtown, onto the I-5, and the Glendale Freeway without much trouble. With “Jamzilla” constantly being talked about on the news radio station, I was expecting a freeway holocaust. Instead we were there in less than 45 minutes, nothing for an LA drive.

Parking sucked, there was no space when we arrived, but I trusted in the magic of that blue disabled tag to find us a place in reasonable walking distance, and I did, next to a vegetarian Thai place a short block away. We walked in through the bar, narrow NYC style, neighborhood bar, standing room only. We shoved our way back to the restaurant where when we told them we had a reservation at 9, they told us we had 5 parties ahead of us. Over booking, or simply previous guests not leaving was not clarified. We sat in a well lit room, next to the door of the real entrance, not the bar entrance we used, on the side of the building. People were not leaving their tables. The hostess asked us if we wanted to sit outside, my girlfriend said no, she wanted to see the band. They offered us a space in the banquet room. Again that did not have access to the band, so we nixed that option. Finally they dragged a tiny table in from outside and offered us that. We reluctantly accepted after sitting around for over half an hour playing with cell phones. I tried to parse out exactly what a friend’s email about Heidegger meant. It was a long dry tale…. And if this were through the looking glass it would have been a rewarding experience.

Seated, at our cold and tiny table, at the back of the room, with the wind striking us full on every time the door was opened, needless to say I was not a happy camper. My girlfriend was doing her best to put a positive spin on it. I asked about a booth, the red Naugahyde kind. It was closer to the mini stage where the band was setting up and more significantly it was out of the doorway breeze. When I asked about it, since we were next on the list, some guy, manager I guess, said it was going to someone who had been waiting for an hour. Well that was what we had been waiting and I was told by the hostess that we were next in line. I was going from being mildly irritated, to pissed-off and about to go to my ready-to-make-a-scene, the-revolution-is-now stage of escalation. If I went there, it would not be a pretty sight. My girlfriend began to grimace and give me the look. A St. Valentine’s Day massacre was not what she was looking forward to. We ordered our crab cakes and drinks. I got a Bombay Sapphire. She got some peach female wine thing. I told the waiter we wanted to move. I went back to the hostess and asked her about the next booth being cleared, since the maître d’ or whatever he was had seated the other couple in ‘our’ booth. My booth, the one I coveted, claimed, was due!

The band “Erica Lake and The Angry Dolphins” began to play an old blues tune, did a moderately decent version of “do right woman do right man,” an old Aretha Franklin standard, but the singers voice was distorted at the end of the room and the sound hadn’t been adjusted by a drink from mediocre to tolerable at that point. The drinks came rapidly, the crab cakes not so much. But the cakes were decent, not too wet and not too hard, sort of just right, served in a bed of arugula with balsamic vinegar and oil. My gin and tonic was beginning to work, but then we had a long wait for the waiter to take our main course order. I spied the maître d’ and told him I was not happy with being passed over. This was not the lord taking our first born child. This was a crowded Italian place with crappy service. The waiter finally took our order. I pointedly asked hostess to give us the next booth, her boss hostess or perhaps the manager, came out and apologized, and made the excuse that because it was Valentines a lot of people were lingering.

I wasn’t having it, my girlfriend was beginning to get her things together for the exit stage left routine, but then a booth opened and the waiter, and head hostess whisked us off to the magical red Naugahyde promised-land. The meals arrived just as we made ourselves comfortable in our red plastic love nest. I got the Seafood Valentino special, scallops, jumbo shrimp and lobster in linguine and some kind of pink sauce. My girlfriend ordered Four Cheese Ravioli. The meal came with a soup or salad. I ordered a salad. It was nothing special, chopped iceberg lettuce, some tomato and creamy Italian dressing. I was trying to figure out what kind of wine to have with my pink concoction and settled on a Pinot Grenache that the waiter recommended. It was light and fruity, almost a brute in its effervescence. By now my gin and tonic had hit me and as I don’t drink much anymore, I was feeling good, the music got better, and I was satisfied that my playing the squeaky wheel paid off with a better seat.

I gave most of the lobster to my girlfriend, it was not particularly special. My shrimp and scallops were great. The sauce was bland. The baby carrots were uninspired but crisp. My girlfriend had desert some kind of brownie and vanilla ice cream made out like a slice of pie. It was tasty in a gooey intense chocolaty way. The band got better as the drinks took hold, and they did a very decent version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” They were not a jazz band, but a rock and blues cover band, although they did one of their own. We stayed for both sets. And it was pleasantly entertaining. The guitarists were decent and the singer was ok as long as she didn’t overreach, she didn’t have enough range to do a really good belting blues tune.

On the walls were a series of paintings of vaguely Italian scenes, with one decent portrait of a courtesan with a big hat and another of what looked like the artist’s girlfriend. The crowd was mostly in their forties and fifties, largish, Italianish, some with teenagers, a few thirty some-things and lots of Trader Joe’s looking flowered shirts wearing Sinatra hats. This was not an especially hip crowd, but a comfortable bunch of semi drunks and their foreign exchange adopted teens. The bar, as full as it was, did not seem to be in conflict with the general ambiance. In other words the whole place was noisy. People got up and danced between the tables later in the evening and best of all we got 50% off for our inconvenience. The entire meal was less than fifty bucks. I added a tip that would have covered the full hundred bucks it would have cost and we left reasonably happy. Happy enough to have decent sex when we got home and that is saying something. So I give the place a B, at least they tried.

Financial Blues, Eldery Job Prospects, Food Costs, National Budget, School Versus Work

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Tuition increases

Cost of Education increases relative to other factors

Impending financial pressure has caused me to reconsider my commitment to school. At my age a degree will serve little purpose other than for my own personal gratification unless I am able to create a second career, that was the intent with the technical writing. But with the end of disability payments coming up and no prospects other than federal grants, I think that I shall have to seriously pursue employment even if it means lowering my job expectations. Welcome to the brave new world of lowered financial remuneration for older professionals not in hotly desired skill areas. So far I have been holding out for a decent paying position to no avail. Time to swallow my pride and get used to being a member of the lower classes. Goodbye middle class lifestyle.

Walmart Greeter

Wal*mart Greeter

This may not exactly be my future, but based on my job hunting over the last couple of years, granted they were not hotly pursued because I was more committed to school and recovery from my surgeries, but now will the financial cliff rapidly being approached, I seem to have little choice.

Elderly workers

Elderly Workforce from Logistics Viewpoints site

The problem of the slow recovery of the job market is something that has not been grappled with directly by the administration. Many of us wanted a more aggressive job creation program. But it seems that the administration wanted or was forced by Congress, to allow Americans to linger in unemployment possibly to encourage a return to school for a retooling of job skills or possibly simply as an admission that the US economy simply does not need as large a work force since so many paying jobs have been outsourced and been replaced with McJobs and a smaller number of very highly paid jobs in technology and finance. Republicans argue that regulation holds back job growth, but this seems more systemic than a matter of current policies. But over time certainly we are not quite at depression level rates, although when the figures below were compiled it certainly looked that way.

Unemployment rates
Unemployment rate since 1900

More current statistics only accounting for those officially seeking employment don’t seem so dire, although they do indicate a very slow return to the old normal of a 4% rate, which may no longer be even contemplated.

Current rates

Recent Unemployment rates

Other news, well I have been following Syria closely but it seems to be to be shuffled into the political background as Congress gets ready for the great debate over funding the government. If Obama had attempted to make Syria the major focus, it seems that without major support in Congress he may just be forced to let it slide into the background or be forced into back door deals that will not be part of his agenda. The deficit will be a big issue and attempts to defund Obama care seems to be on the Tea Party identified Republicans sights.

CBO Spending & Revenue figures

Revenue versus expenditure from CBO

Where is the money going? below is the most recent budget. I certainly don’t see a major investment in education or eradicating poverty. Most of the money goes to entitlements, government debt, and the discretionary spending is largely for defense.

Current Budget

Current National Budget 2013

My buddy Jack finally left after two months on my couch. He failed to make a go of selling Mexican art to restaurants in the LA region, probably due to lack of a car and what I consider to be an inadequate business model, going door to door with samples of his art hoping the managers or owners would be in and available. This hit or miss approach led to much wasted effort and ultimately the exhaustion of the available markets within easy access of mass transit. Another problem has been the lack of available street sales locations. The flea markets are more like storefronts, and the farmers markets are largely for food. Venice Beach has been claimed and street locations like Alvarado Street, are hit or miss due to police harassment. So he is off to San Antonio where he has lived in the past hoping for better luck.

Street  vendors

Street Vendors protest harassment by authorities from Uprising Radio site

Jack’s experience was a real wake up call for me. I am the same age as he is, and although I am a skilled professional, I have been out of the job market long enough for it to be a real liability. I don’t want to end up like Jack.

Cactus Pears

Cactus Pears

I ate cactus pear with my breakfast scramble, it was tasty, lots of seeds and rather moist and sweet. It was good mixed with Roma tomato, imitation ground beef (TVP), yellow onion, Serrano peppers, garlic pieces, pre-baked potato, half an apple, lime wedge, sage, lemon grass powder, basil and chili powder. Two eggs mixed with water poured over everything like an omelet, then stirred like a scramble with mozzarella bits on top completes this dish. I put two pork link sausages and leftover grits with butter on the side and added cilantro for some fresh greens. Corn tortillas served as the bread and the dish was wet enough to not need any salsa. I added some hot sauce, sea salt and black pepper. It was quite good.

Corn prices

I am almost out of vegetables, rice and pinto beans, so I have to be creative with what I have left. Budgetary restrictions, mostly due to having to buy a complete set of new tires has left me scrounging around the kitchen for stuff I have not eaten, or used as much. Potatoes, garlic and onions are about all I have in abundance in the way of fresh foods. I am sure I will make a trip to the local market and stock up, but I don’t know about in your area, but here in Long Beach, where produce should be local and cheap, prices have been high. Corn for example has only dipped to the usual summer low of 4 or 5 ears for a dollar once or twice the summer. Most of the time it has been 2 for a dollar, very high. Squash has been high all summer, lemons are 2 for a dollar, unheard of high price, and even romaine lettuce is over a dollar a head in even the cheap markets. Rice seems to be a dollar a pound unless you want to by the big 20 lb bags and pinto beans in bulk run $.88 per lb. Why so high in this cornucopia, especially now that most produce seems to come from Mexico or even China? Somebody is making a killing. Shopping around for deals seems to be the only way to go for people on a budget such as myself.

Food Price Increases

All images from Google Images unless otherwise noted.

Heat, School, Couch Crasher, Surgery, Syria, Etc.

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Heat Wave

Heat Wave

Really, it is hot here in Long Beach. I have the fan on. That is hot for around here. Summer has finally arrived.


Real Concern or Just US Imperialism Light?

School is kicking my butt, no time for blogging. Sad but true. I would love to put up a nice argument against the invasion of Syria, and against the Keystone pipeline and many other things, but to tell the truth I have no time. I can barely find time to eat and sleep.



Food lately has tasted rather bland. I think the heat has caused me to need more salt and led me astray into the daily shake of sea salt on my food. When the heat subsides I will see if I have developed a salt addiction like most Americans. I still don’t cook with it and seek low sodium foods but in the end, no matter how I spice things up, the salt seems to be what I crave.

Rats and salt

Rats and Salt

Otherwise I make foods pretty much like always. Taco or egg on toast breakfasts, salads with the kitchen sink on lettuce, miso soup loaded with extras, and lately corn on the cob with lots of things. Basically I check the ads, stock up on what is on sale, and cook around it with a few staples like rice and pinto beans, corn tortillas, pasta and tomatoes or tomato sauce, fresh baked potatoes, fresh onions, garlic, nopales, various peppers, squashes, basil, cilantro, hot sauce, turmeric, cumin, thyme, Asian sauces from local Cambodian groceries, and finally a bulk source of sage! Protein comes from beans, eggs, some dairy like sour cream and yogurt, chicken, turkey bacon, and salmon. Fruit is seasonal at best mostly berries, grapes, apples, peaches, avocados, whatever is reasonably ripe and cheap.

I try to stay away from packaged and food industry processed foods, but budget determines how organic my diet can be, essentially it means no Whole Foods but the occasional trip to Trader Joe’s, lots of local Mexican, and Asian markets, Food 4 Less and rare visits to the yuppie farmers markets.

Industrial food

Bad Food Chart

Got to go back to the studies, oh and I seem to be recovering from my surgery last month reasonably well. My visiting friend from Mexico has been here for almost two months and my couch is suffering from the effects. He needs to get his act together and head back to the hacienda, or on to the next couch. It is time.

Couch sitter

Shadow of the Couch Crasher

All images from Google Images.

50th Anniversary of March on Washington, Breakfast, Syria

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

Been busy with school, so the blog is going to be less than what it was during the summer break when I put several hours into each post. I will be lucky if I can get an hour in here and there.

Lettuce wrap

Somebody else had the same idea for a lettuce wrap,
Breakfast was sweet. Poached eggs on sourdough toast with sour cream and turkey bacon. The bacon had been cooked with canola oil with cumin and lemon grass powder on it. For my side I had sauteed 1/2 a chayote chopped with the skin pealed off, 1/2 a Roma tomato chopped, a small preboiled potato sliced, two green onions white part first, green part added later, then a quarter of a yellow onion chopped, and a jalapeno pepper chopped. Later I added a quarter of a bell pepper chopped, 4 pieces of garlic chopped, and cilantro stems chopped. For spice I had cumin, rosemary and chili powder, later I chopped up a couple of sprigs of fresh basil and added that. I dumped in a little sweet chili sauce, and some Japanese soy sauce, and a couple dollops of sour cream, I poured a little hot sauce on top, sprinkled a good amount of black pepper on and a dash of sea salt. I sometimes wrap in lettuce, sometimes in tortillas, sometimes not at all.

In a bowl I had some fiber cereal, with kefir and prune juice, lots of fresh blueberries and a bit of water. I made some tea but tossed it, too bitter.

Syria, its complicated

Syria, a complicated place.

Events, well Obama is going to bomb Syria, maybe, since he said that he would consult with Congress. The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where Dr. King gave his “I have a dream” speech was last Monday or Tuesday. I was too young at the time to go or even be aware of, and since it was in the summer, it was not mentioned in school, unlike the Kennedy assassination which was a major event of that year for even a nine year old such as I was at the time.


Martin Luther King “I Had A Dream” Speech in Washington, DC. 1963

Images from Google Images.

Obama Administration Flounders In Palestinian Peace Talks And Middle East

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

Protests of Settlements

A Palestinian protester holds a placard in front of Israeli soldiers during a demonstration in the West Bank village of al-Masara near Bethlehem, marking the recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state by the United Nations. Friday Nov. 30
(photo credit: AP/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

US Policy In Middle East Caught Between Idealism and Real Politik, Results in Confusing and Mixed Messages

Immediately before the peace talks were about to start, Israel announced plans to build more settlements, immediately threatening the peace talks, which even if the Palestinians want to continue, would have to give up even the pretense of being an equal player. This seems to be a deliberate effort at sabotage, or if that is not the case then at least rubbing the Palestinians noses in their lack of power and playing up the American’s lack of sincerity in attempting to give the Palestinians a fair break.

I am not exactly saying that is the game plan, but well, what else can it be. The US is taking hits all over the Middle East as Obama’s policies are proven to be just verbiage from Libya, to Syria, most significantly in Egypt and even the propaganda ploy in Palestine is being shown up almost immediately as little more than pretense. It is hard to understand what exactly Kerry is planning here unless the US is going to use some real leverage and remove military aid to all these players. But Obama has claimed to want to try a soft diplomatic effort, which becomes mired in the Gordian knot of the politics of the region. If the US wants to pursue some wings of Al Qaeda in say Yemen, support for others such as in Syria seems to be the price that the Saudi’s extract for the US to play on their turf.

The sad thing is that Obama with his speech in Cairo lifted expectations of the peoples of the Middle East and then the real politics of the US long term politics would leave these people high and dry, or as in the case of Egypt in a descending spiral of violence and the Syrian people engaged in a civil war that will probably end in the partition of the nation. Libya has become an Al Qaeda base for moving into the West Africa, and leading to destabilization in Mali, Nigeria, Chad and others to be seen.

Unintended consequences or simply the result of the on going game of chess that is international politics? Lives are at stake and the conclusion is still that the US should withdraw or completely change from a capitalist exploiter to some kind of a socialist people’s republic and even then there is no guarantee that national interests won’t trump international solidarity. There simply are too many factors and factions in the world today. It would behoove the US policy makers to attempt to pull back as much as possible and let international policy to be made through the UN, but that would take real change. Right now we have a muddling policy after an aggressive and pointless one under the Bush administration.

The USA when it was clearly pro Israel and pro dictators was at least consistent. Now that it is giving lip service and pseudo support to democracy, it is confusing people and causing unneeded misery throughout the region. Capitalist priorities make it impossible to implement a true democratic policy. We need to reject the control of the elite interest groups and work seriously for change or not pretend and cause people’s unwarranted deaths.

From Electronic Intifada

Quit meddling, Kerry, leave the Israel problem to the proper authorities

by Stuart Littlewood

No sooner had peace talks restarted under the warped patronage of the United States than Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu published bids for the construction of more than 1,000 new housing units in Palestinian East Jerusalem and existing illegal West Bank squats.

This and all the other unpunished illegal squatter building by Israel should have caused any sensible Palestinian to walk away from the ‘peace’ table, and never to have sat down in the first place. Of course, no sensible Palestinians are taking part in this latest peace pantomime. Instead we have to suffer the antics of Abbas and Erekat, the most obliging negotiators on the planet, who think nothing of holding talks without a popular mandate and while the thieving, blockading, lethal military force and trashing of their country continue unchecked.!+Mail

Kerry and Netanyahu

Wikimedia Commons
John Kerry and Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, May 23.

From the Middle East Monitor

Kerry was aware of latest settlement plans

Friday, 16 August 2013 12:04

Israeli newspaper Maariv has revealed that US Secretary of State John Kerry scolded Benjamin Netanyahu about Israel’s latest plans to expand settlements; they will, Kerry said, reduce the country’s legitimacy in the international arena. The secretary of state’s telephone call was an attempt to deflect Palestinian criticisms of settlement expansion.

Maariv portrayed this news as if the US is capable of being an honest broker in the conflict, but the truth of the matter is entirely different. In reality, Secretary Kerry was well aware of Israel’s plans to expand settlements in Jerusalem prior to resuming negotiations and he did not object.

According to the newspaper, Thursday’s telephone call came after a three-way conversation between Kerry, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Netanyahu on Monday. Kerry is alleged to have urged Netanyahu to halt all settlement expansion for the first nine months of negotiations. This, said Maariv, was despite the fact that he already knew about the Israeli plans for 1,200 new housing units in occupied Jerusalem as well as another 920 units in the Gilo colony-settlement.

According to Israeli officials, Kerry’s criticism of settlement expansion was lip service for the Palestinians’ benefit.

- See more at:

Netenjyahu Approves New settlements

Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel announced Sunday that he has given final approval for the construction of 1,187 apartments in settlements
Photo: AP

From the Independent

Peace talks at risk as Israel approves 900 more settlement homes despite Palestinian prisoners release

Long-awaited negotiations near collapse before they start - even as release of Palestinian prisoners begins

Ben Lynfield


Wednesday 14 August 2013

Close to 560,000 Israeli nationals now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel occupied those areas in the 1967 war and considers its rule of East Jerusalem as reflecting a “liberation” of the area and its Jewish holy sites.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior official with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said the approval of thousands of homes for Jewish settlers could bring about the “collapse” of the talks. “This settlement expansion is unprecedented,” Mr Abed Rabbo said. “It threatens to make talks fail even before they have started.”

The surge in construction plans is intensifying Palestinian criticism of President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to return to peace negotiations with Israel without securing a freeze on further settlement.

The 900 homes will include an extension of East Jerusalem’s Gilo settlement towards the West Bank town of Beit Jala. Israel considers Gilo, which is built on land expropriated from the Palestinians of Beit Jala, an integral part of its capital.

Palestinians believe the new buildings will reinforce a wedge of settlement that separates Arab areas of East Jerusalem and the Bethlehem area in the West Bank. “This [move] means that Israel is determined to force its position,” said Jad Ishaq, director of the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem, a non-governmental organisation that monitors settlement activity. “There is a shortage of land in Beit Jala and this should be land on which Beit Jala expands.”

Efrat Orbach, a spokeswoman for the Israeli interior ministry, confirmed that approval had been given to expand Gilo. She said more approvals were needed and it could be years before building began. But Israel’s Peace Now organisation disputed this, saying that construction could begin within weeks.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Palestinians should not be surprised by the plans since Israel had rejected Mr Abbas’s demand for a freeze on settlement building as a precondition for talks. “They knew that a freeze was unacceptable and they entered the talks nevertheless,” he added.

Israel Makes Palestinian homeland a non-starter

Map shows Disappearing Palestine

From the International Middle East Media Center

Israeli-Palestinian Officials Meet In Budapest

Sunday August 18, 2013
by IMEMC & Agencies Report post

Israel and Palestinian officials held a meeting, last week, in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, and discussed the efforts to ensure the continuation of the recently resumed direct peace talks, mediated by the United States.

Israeli daily, Maariv, reported Sunday that members of Knesset (MK’s) of the Yesh Atid Party (There is Future) Dov Lipman, Boaz Toporovsky, and Yifat Kariv, in addition to MK Moshe Mizrahi of the Labor Party, and David Tsur of the Hatenua Party, met with Fateh officials Qaddoura Fares and Sameeh Al-Abed, legislators Abdullah Abdullah, and Jamal Zaqqout.

MK Kariv stated that the meeting was held to help boost direct peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel.
“The sooner we achieve the two-state solution, the better it is for both sides”, she said, “I left the meeting knowing we can talk with them”.

“Any support to a one-state solution from the river to the sea harms the peace process”, Kariv added, “The Israeli government also needs to make some responsible and brave decisions”.

Responding to a question regarding the effects of political stances of her party on the coalition with the Jewish Home Party, she said that “the two parties helped form the current government in Israel”, and added that “whenever a difference in political stances emerge, we need to find common ground”.

The convening Palestinian and Israeli officials agreed on issuing a joint statement that would “pressure Israeli and Palestinian leaders to reach an agreement”, and expressed support to the Geneva Initiative for peace.

On his part, Fares confirmed the meeting took place, but did not give any further statements or details.



Netanyahu: “Israel Will Always Maintain Sovereignty On Settlements, New ‘Jewish Neighborhoods”
Saturday August 17, 2013 by IMEMC & Agencies

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stated during his recent meeting with UN General-Secretary, Ban Ki-moon, that Israel will continue to build and expand settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, and that settlements, and what he labeled as “new neighborhoods”, and settlement blocs will always remain under Israeli sovereignty.

During his meeting with Ki-moon two days ago, Netanyahu said that there is nothing to discuss or negotiate on regarding Israel’s settlements.

“Everybody knows new Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, all settlement blocs, will always remain under Israeli control”, he said, “There is nothing to talk about, there will be no discussion on the issue”.

The Israeli Prime Minister also claimed that “it is clear everybody known that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not the core source of tension in the Middle East”, and alleged that “the fundamental issue, the core problem in the region, is not recognizing Israel is a state for the Jewish people”.


After taking a break from describing my meals, I have decided to add them again. I would really like to figure out how to transfer images from my cell phone to my wordpress account. It would make this a lot more graphic.

I had an egg free breakfast August 18th. Chorizo, plantain, nopales, onion, garlic, two strips of Turkey bacon with hing and ginger, half a potato, a decent chunk of Panela cheese, chili powder, basil, Thai sweet chili sauce and turmeric. Corn Tortillas, fresh lettuce pieces, cilantro and New Mexican Salsa. Tastes good and has plenty of protein.

Oil, Food Insecurity, GMO’s, and Anonymous

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Today I have two subjects, the problems in Nigeria linked to Oil and the big oil company Shell which seems to be funding militias to defend its pipelines. I also posted some info about recent Anonymous activity, last summer they started a campaign against oil companies in relationship to the Tar Sands pipeline. They are also involved in the actions of Occupy Wall Street. The people in LA I saw wearing “V” masks may have been Anonymous activists, as that is their moniker. What I like about Anonymous, like Wikileaks, is that they use the technology to strike back at the system. They are involved in what seems to be electronic guerrilla warfare. I am barely able to use a computer myself; I have nothing but admiration for these ethical hackers.

There is an ongoing low intensity war between the haves and the have-nots around the world. Even within the nations of the haves, their own have-nots are battling with the bastions of power. As we see credit dry up for the masses, consumerism becomes more of a burden than a right, and people become aware of the trap they have been ensnared in. That is in the countries where there has been enough wealth for consumerism to emerge. Countries not at that level, the new struggling working class world of India, China, East Asia and locales around the world where the industrial factory system has been relocated, these people have not the financial infrastructure that has developed in the US, Europe, and Japan. For them it is simply a struggle to make ends meet while they waste away their lives in the factories and related industries. They are glad to have whatever meager income they get.

Subsistence farming, the livelihood of many of these new factory workers before they went into the industrial world, has been priced out of competitiveness in the marketplace by the importation of cheap subsidized grains from the large agribusiness producers. The remaining farmers are roped into growing cash crops for agribusiness using Monsanto GMO seed and petrochemical fertilizers to boost production to make the crop competitive. They go into debt, and become dependencies of agribusiness.

It is not all evil, there are real economies of scale and rational production methodologies that scientific farming can help. Part of the problem is simply population growth, there simply is not enough land to support all the children of the modern peasantry, so they move to the cities to try their luck. ZPG would help stabilize the situation along with a rational distribution of resources and a scientific farming methodology geared to human need, not distorted by the demands of the marketplace and finance capital.
Meantime until we bring the beast of capitalism down, I admire the efforts of Anonymous and the people occupying Wall Street.

From Guardian.UK

Shell accused of fuelling violence in Nigeria by paying rival militant gangs

Oil company rejects watchdog’s claims that its local contracts made it complicit in the killing of civilians

David Smith
The Guardian, Sunday 2 October 2011

Shell has fuelled armed conflict in Nigeria by paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to feuding militant groups, according to an investigation by the oil industry watchdog Platform, and a coalition of non-government organisations.

The oil giant is implicated in a decade of human rights abuses in the Niger delta, the study says, claiming that its routine payments exacerbated local violence, in one case leading to the deaths of 60 people and the destruction of an entire town.

Platform’s investigation, which includes testimony from Shell’s own managers, also alleges that government forces hired by Shell perpetrated atrocities against local civilians, including unlawful killings and systematic torture.

Oil and Food Insecurity in Nigeria Link to paper below

From CNet News

“Anonymous targets Monsanto, oil firms

By: Elinor Mills July 12, 2011 5:48 PM PDT

Military contractor Booz Allen Hamilton today confirmed that it was the victim of an “illegal attack,” one day after hackers posted what they said were about 90,000 military e-mail addresses purloined from a server of the consulting firm. Hackers also today said they were targeting Monsanto and oil companies in their protests.

“Booz Allen Hamilton has confirmed today that the posting of certain data files on the Internet yesterday was the result of an illegal attack. We are conducting a full review of the nature and extent of the attack. At this time, we do not believe that the attack extended beyond data pertaining to a learning management system for a government agency,” the company said in a statement after refusing to comment yesterday.

“Our policy and security practice is generally not to comment on such matters; however, given the publicity about this event, we believe it is important to set out our preliminary understanding of the facts,” the company added. “We are communicating with our clients and analyzing the nature of this attack and the data files affected. We maintain our commitment to protect our clients and our firm from illegal thefts of information.”

Meanwhile, the Anonymous online activist collective, which is part of the AntiSec campaign that claimed it had attacked Booz Allen Hamilton, said today that it had attacked Web servers of Monsanto and released data on employees to protest the company’s lawsuits against organic dairy farmers for stating on labels that their products don’t contain growth hormones.

“Over the last 2 months we have pushed the exposure of hundreds of pages of articles detailing Monsanto’s corrupt, unethical, and downright evil business practices,” Anonymous said in a statement on the Pastebin site. “We blasted their Web infrastructure to **** for two days straight, crippling all three of their mail servers as well as taking down their main Web sites worldwide. We dropped dox [released information] on 2,500+ employees and associates, including full names, addresses, phone numbers, and exactly where they work. We are also in the process of setting up a wiki, to try and get all collected information in a more centralized and stable environment.”

A list of more than 2,550 names, addresses, and e-mail addresses–many that appeared related to Monsanto–were posted to the Web site.

Spokespeople for Monsanto, which is based in St. Louis, did not immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment late today.

Anonymous also announced “Operation Green Rights/Project Tarmaggedon,” against Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Canada Oil Sands, Imperial Oil, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and others.

“This week, activists are gathering along U.S. Highway 12 in Montana to protest the transformation of a serene wilderness into an industrial shipping route, bringing ‘megaloads’ of refinery equipment to the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada,” the group said in a statement. “Anonymous will not stand by idly and let these environmental atrocities continue. This is not the clean energy of the future that we are being promised.”

The group promised to “use the powers we possess to spread news about this scenario and the corporations involved” and said it was “seeking leaks” on the matter.”

From Anonymous site.


GMO Crops and profitability

From The Standard? Online Edition Nairobi Kenya

“Consider access to seeds before embracing GMOs

Published on 04/05/2011

Winnie Nvindi

For poor nations, whether or not to adopt genetically modified products is hardly ever an objective decision for governments and farmers. Rather, it is presented as take-it-or-perish doctor’s prescription! The argument goes that, by planting high-yield GMOs contrasted to the traditional variety, food sufficiency would be guaranteed.

The real truth is less charitable. Rather, it is rooted in a pernicious and often secretive marriage of big business to government. Peering through debates in media and other forums promoting adoption of GMOs, it is apparent multinational companies under the protection of home governments are spending fortunes to market GMOs in Africa.

But why would the US government, for instance, spend so much resources promoting GMOs?

Seed trade is big business valued at Sh1.9 trillion. The aggressive pursuit of seed business by gene giants poses important moral issues. It is evidently prompted by a realisation of the power of the seed. Farming exclusively depends on seeds. Majority of the local farmers own and control their seeds.

They grow their own crops from seeds they have saved from previous harvests. They make decisions concerning seed storage, sharing, replanting as well as redistribution.

By contrast, GMO seeds are patented. Rushed embrace of GM technology could disenfranchise farmers through patenting of naturally-occurring genes. It could lead to licensing and therefore controlling seeds that would normally be freely retained and sown the following season. This “patenting of life” could lead to an unacceptable control and commercialisation of natural resources.

Sole dependency on GM seeds has the potential to create a private monopoly over plants and seeds that would likely be priced way above ordinary farmer purchasing power.”

Climate Shocks And Food Security in Horn of Africa

Climate and food security expert Jim Hansen from the International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society lays out the root cause of food insecurity in East Africa.

“Since the early 1990s, there’s been a serious neglect in agricultural development in that region—most of Africa south of the Sahara. It’s been driven more by shifts in ideology than any real evidence among some of the key international development organizations. But as a result, rural communities across Africa have been trapped in worse and worse poverty, and have become more and more vulnerable to the impacts of shocks such as the current drought, and they have become more and more dependent on external humanitarian assistance.

As a result, we have a cycle of accelerating poverty, vulnerability, and dependence, that can best be described as a “a larger and larger slice of a smaller and smaller pie” having to go to short-term crisis relief instead of longer-term development that could have prevented the crisis.

There seems to be some evidence that policy makes a huge difference in the current crisis in the greater Horn of Africa. For example, northern Kenya, southern Ethiopia, and Somalia have similar severity of drought, but the humanitarian crisis is much more severe—the loss of livelihood and life is greater—in Somalia, largely because the government is weaker, there are fewer policies that are effective at mitigating the effects of the drought, whereas in Ethiopia, there are very strong safety net programs—in Ethiopia and Kenya.”

Agriculture Policy, Poverty & Zimbabwe Land Reform

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

There are a couple of things I found interesting today. One was the new report that claims that the Zimbabwe land reform, although somewhat agressive has not been the complete failure that the western media claims it to be.

I found a few articles in the British Media on the subject but nothing in the USA. That means if you are not tuned into the BBC you would have no idea. This was played up in the media as an irrational attack on healty white owned commercial agriculture at the time of the accelerated land reform in 2000. The reports were that Mugabe gave land to his cronies and destroyed the agricultural base of Zimbabwe in the process. It seems not to be exactly true.

This report shows that agriculture in rural Zimbabwe, while not the commercial success it was before land reform, is developing and that small holder agriculture is not the disaster that the media indicated. It seems that poor black people can grow crops successfully and if they were capitalized to a greater extent they could do even better.

I found something called the Human Development Report, it is a UN report on the status of humanity now vs 1970 and it finds that there has been improvements in the standard of living for most of the people in the world with some areas doing better than others. It seems that the ravages of colonialism that destroyed much of the third world has begun to be alleviated as more countries gain some control of their economic well being. The question is how sustainable are these developmental paths?

Zimbabwe did not do so well on that report. But then this new report on the agricultural reform seems to indicate that the changes are more small scale and may take time to show more impressive results. Changing to small holder production for need rather than for the agribusiness market may not make the capitalists happy but perhaps in the long run it is better for the people of Zimbabwe and ultimately the world.

Also I have listed related reports from Global Issues and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Some of the issues include the lack of advancement in efforts to preseve global diversity, and the commodification of food which has resulted in a miss match between productivity and consumption. The IFAD report seems to be all for increasing that model although they seem supportive of small holder agriculture.
From Institute of Development Studies Site.

Producing food for the world’s people is an important issue. Returning to a hunter gatherer society is not practical with today’s population. But there must be an alternative to agribusiness with its heavy dependency of oil based fertilizers and industrial production. Perhaps a more human intensive small holder methodology is more appropriate. The question is can the problems of agricultural production and distribution be solved under capitalist methodology?

Zimbabwe’s land reform ten years on: new study dispels the myths
16 November 2010

A major new study published this week asks what has happened in the ten years since large areas of Zimbabwe’s commercial farm land were invaded by land-hungry villagers - and it challenges the view that land reform was an unmitigated disaster.

“Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities”, by IDS Fellow Ian Scoones together with Zimbabwean colleagues Nelson Marongwe, Blasio Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba, Jacob Mahenehene and Chrispen Sukume, presents the findings of the first comprehensive study into the controversial policy and its effects.

The book is based on ten years of detailed research across 16 sites in Masvingo province, involving 400 households from both small and medium scale farms.’

While the Masvingo experience is of course different to other parts of the country, it does represent an important, and as yet untold, part of the land reform story,’ said Professor Scoones.

A radical change in agrarian structure since 2000, land reform has resulted in the transfer of around 8 million hectares of land across 4,500 farms to over 160,000 households, representing 20 per cent of Zimbabwe’s total land area, according to official figures. If the ‘informal’ settlements, outside the official ‘fast-track’ programme are added, the totals are even larger.

The book challenges five myths through a detailed examination of field data:

Myth 1 - Land reform has been a total failure
Myth 2 - The beneficiaries have been largely political ‘cronies’
Myth 3 - There is no investment in the new resettlements
Myth 4 - Agriculture is in complete ruins creating chronic food insecurity
Myth 5 - The rural economy has collapsed

Professor Scoones explained: ‘What comes through from our research is the complexity, the differences in experience, almost farm by farm; there is no single, simple story of the Zimbabwe land reform as sometimes assumed by press reports, political commentators, or indeed much academic study.’

Rural entrepreneurialism

While not downplaying the violence, abuses and patronage that have occurred, the authors argue that a more balanced appraisal of the land reform policy is needed. As Professor Mandivamba Rukuni, founder and executive director of the Wisdom Afrika Leadership Academy and formerly chair of the Commission of Inquiry into Zimbabwe’s Land Tenure Systems said: ‘The book uses evidence to argue that the land reform programme may well be the foundation needed for broad based economic efficiency and new livelihoods in the fight against poverty.’

For example, the book shows that:

While production of wheat, maize, tobacco, coffee and tea has declined, other crops such as small grains, edible beans and cotton have increased or remained steady. Overall it is a very mixed picture.

A core group of ‘middle farmers’ - around half of the population in the Masvingo study areas - are generating surpluses from farming.

There is substantial agricultural production on smallholder farms, with the majority producing enough to feed their families and sell to local markets in good rainfall years.
Significant investment in the new land has included plots clearing, well digging and home building. In addition, schools have been built, roads cut and dams dug.
New market connections are being forged, unleashing a dynamic entrepreneurialism in the rural areas.

Professor Scoones said: ‘If the new resettlements are to contribute not only to local livelihoods, but also national food security and broader economic development, they unquestionably require external investment and support - just as was done from the 1950s for white agriculture.

‘There are also major future policy challenges for Zimbabwe. These include implementing an effective land administration system to root out abuses and corrupt practice, and investing in smallholder farming to drive economic growth.’

From the New York Times

Human Development Report Shows Great Gains, and Some Slides
Published: November 4, 2010

UNITED NATIONS — The world has made significant progress in income, education and health over the past 40 years, but the gains have been uneven and in some places war and the ravages of AIDS shortened life spans, according to a United Nations report on Thursday.

Over all, average life expectancy around the globe jumped to 70 years in 2010, up from 59 in 1970. School enrollment through high school reached 70 percent of eligible pupils, up from 55 percent, and average per capita income doubled to more than $10,000 in the 135 countries for which numbers were available. The statistics cover about 92 percent of the world’s population.

While the broad measures advanced globally, life expectancy declined in nine countries and improved by varying degrees in others. Arab states measured an 18-year jump in life span, according to the report, while the average for people in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 8 years.

The authors of the report said the changes among such a variety of nations underscored that there was no one policy answer to the question of development. “There are no universal prescriptions which we can see taking effect in all of the countries,” said Jeni Klugman, the lead author.

In certain African nations — the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland — life expectancy decreased because of the AIDS epidemic or war, the report found.

But in some parts of the former Soviet Union where life spans shortened, specifically Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, the reasons were harder to gauge. The report noted that alcohol consumption combined with the stress of changing to a market economy was the likely cause.

The countries improving most since 1970 are Oman, China, Nepal, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Laos, Tunisia, South Korea, Algeria and Morocco.

Human Development Report

Human Development Tree

Sustainability and Development From Global Issues Site.

Biodiversity 2010 target not met

Perhaps predictably, meeting the 2010 target did not happen.
As the Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 report summarizes, despite numerous successful conservations measures supporting biodiversity, none of the specific targets were met, and biodiversity losses continue.

In addition, “despite an increase in conservation efforts, the state of biodiversity continues to decline, according to most indicators, largely because the pressures on biodiversity continue to increase. There is no indication of a significant reduction in the rate of decline in biodiversity, nor of a significant reduction in pressures upon it.”

Diverting Resources to Non-Productive Uses

It is perhaps natural to assume that we are growing food to feed people, but are struggling to keep up. Reasons are frequently attributed to the effects that rapid population growth places of poor countries as the ultimate cause. However, we make more than enough food to keep up with population growth, although environmentally damaging industrial agriculture threatens future sustainability.

Yet how is it that there is so much hunger, and that farm workers are usually the hungriest people in the world?

An indication of the answer lies in what is less discussed in the mainstream: the purpose of agriculture in today’s world. Like many other markets, food is available to those who can afford it, not necessarily those who need it. Most food is therefore produced to meet consumer demands, not the needs of the poor or hungry. When money talks, the poor have no voice.

This leads to a major diversion, and even wastage, of environmental resources from productive uses to non-productive uses. For poor countries that need to earn foreign exchange to pay off huge debts, cash crops offer the chance of money. For elite landowners, this is the only way they can make money, as the poor have little. As professor of anthropology, Richard Robbins, summarizes:

To understand why people go hungry you must stop thinking about food as something farmers grow for others to eat, and begin thinking about it as something companies produce for other people to buy.

•Food is a commodity. …
•Much of the best agricultural land in the world is used to grow commodities such as cotton, sisal, tea, tobacco, sugar cane, and cocoa, items which are non-food products or are marginally nutritious, but for which there is a large market.
•Millions of acres of potentially productive farmland is used to pasture cattle, an extremely inefficient use of land, water and energy, but one for which there is a market in wealthy countries.
•More than half the grain grown in the United States (requiring half the water used in the U.S.) is fed to livestock, grain that would feed far more people than would the livestock to which it is fed. …
The problem, of course, is that people who don’t have enough money to buy food (and more than one billion people earn less than $1.00 a day), simply don’t count in the food equation.

•In other words, if you don’t have the money to buy food, no one is going to grow it for you.
•Put yet another way, you would not expect The Gap to manufacture clothes, Adidas to manufacture sneakers, or IBM to provide computers for those people earning $1.00 a day or less; likewise, you would not expect ADM (“Supermarket to the World”) [A large food processing company] to produce food for them.
•What this means is that ending hunger requires doing away with poverty, or, at the very least, ensuring that people have enough money or the means to acquire it, to buy, and hence create a market demand for food.

From International Fund for Agricultural Development site.
Keynote address by IFAD President at the High-level Conference on Development of Agri-business and Agro-industries in Africa
Dr Goodluck Jonathan, Acting President

I should like to suggest four courses of action to ensure the development of agribusinesses and agro-industries in Africa:

First, African countries’ investment in agriculture must meet the Maputo target of at least 10 per cent of GDP. While a few countries have already achieved this – and should be congratulated for doing so – unfortunately many have yet to come close1. So I call on those countries to make a special effort to boost their public spending on agriculture – because time is not on our side.

Investments – by the international community as well as by developing country governments – need to be smart. Investments need to be in the research and development of new technologies to enhance productivity and intensify production. They need to be in natural resource management, to conserve the environment while increasing yields. And they need to be in the development of infrastructure to facilitate access to markets. Indeed, support for rural infrastructure is a crucial element in the value chain approach – including last-mile roads, electrification, post-harvest facilities, support to rural institutions, such as associations and cooperatives, and access to land and irrigation facilities.

Second, African governments must create the right policy environment to allow agribusinesses and agro-industries to develop and flourish. Market liberalization and macroeconomic policies, such as fiscal and exchange rate policies, have brought much-needed improvements already. But there is still more that governments can do both to help existing agribusinesses grow and to encourage the start up of new agribusinesses, providing much-needed employment for Africa’s youths.

Third, smallholders need support to enable them to compete in domestic, regional and international markets. For example, training can help improve smallholders’ managerial skills. Training can also help small agribusinesses meet the increasingly stringent sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards required by the burgeoning supermarkets for their increasingly demanding customers.

And fourth, access to financial services needs to be addressed holistically. Poor access has long hampered rural agribusinesses. The recent development of microfinance in rural areas has eased some short-term constraints. But more effort is required to ensure the long-term financing needed to attract investments in activities that can sustain the viability of agribusinesses.

From Wikipedia article on IFAD.

“Soaring food prices and the rural poor

The prices of basic food commodities have increased rapidly over the past three years. In only the first quarter of 2008, wheat and maize prices increased by 130 percent and 30 percent respectively over 2007 figures. Rice prices, while rising moderately in 2006 and more so in 2007, rose 10 percent in February 2008 and a further 10 percent in March 2008. The threat to food security in developing countries increases in stride. Coordinated action by the international community, and by the United Nations in particular, is essential.

IFAD’s immediate response has been to make available up to US$200 million from existing loans and grants to provide an urgent boost to agricultural production in the developing world, in the face of high food prices and low food stocks. But IFAD will also continue to press for rapid and urgent longer-term investment in agriculture, including access to land, water, technology, financial services and markets, to enable the 450 million smallholder farms in developing countries to grow more food, more productively, and thereby increase their incomes and resilience, and respond to the increasing global demand for food.”

Food, Fuel And Water Wars

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

The world has come the point where we are facing the perfect storm of a convergence of crisis. This was predicted fairly clearly in the early 1970’s in a series of conferences that occurred to handle the then crisis in world food and energy supplies.
The global players of the past century want to blame the current crisis on the emergence of India and China as players in the world economy. Each of them has a new middle class roughly equivalent to the total population of the United States. That is approximately 600 million people with standards of living that can approach that of the average citizen of the west. There are another 300 million in the United States and another 450 million in the EU and maybe another 50 million elites in the rest of the world who want to partake of the grand illusion of material prosperity and consumerism. That is about 1billion 400 million out of a world population of 6 plus billion. Something on the order of 25% of the world population is included in this number. Actually a little less, since there are plenty of poor in the EU, and the US that don’t make enough to sustain high levels of consumerism, but compared to the truly poor around the world, they do alright. This population is putting enormous strain on the carrying capacity of the planet. Sucking up resources, especially in the west where most of the affluent still reside. The 600 million in India and China are more like a third of that number in effective wealth, comparable to the wealth in the west. That makes the real numbers more like 600 or 700 million who can effectively call them selves among the affluent. That is around 10% of the population.
What we are seeing is an explosion in the costs of basics such as rice, corn and wheat. This affects the truly poor more that the rich, what affects us in the middle, those in that gray 15% between the affluent and the rest are those who are grasping onto affluence by the skin of our teeth and we are being hammered more by the increase in fuel costs. While the 75% of the world who are poor find the increase basics to be hurting them, we in the in between 15% most of the more or less middle class of the world are being killed by transport costs. Those in the top 10% are not hurting and those in the top 2 or 3 percent who own real wealth are finding themselves increasing in wealth in almost geometric progression as the logic of monopoly capitalism plays itself out. Wealth is sucked out of the masses by the few via capitalist mechanisms of exploitation and government support policies that we like to call welfare for the rich that have increased in the era of economic so called deregulation. What would be a more fair assessment of what has happened across the planet in the last 30 years or so has been a massive reorientation of economies to benefit the few owners of capital. Legal mechanisms the world over have been geared to aid in easing the flow of capital to the top and resulting in the massive increase of consumption on the part of those who have become caught up in the debt expansion schemes that have allowed those on the margins of wealth to borrow against a future that almost certainly is not going to come to pass. But that is not the point, easy credit is not to create wealth for the many, but indenture to a system that guarantees a return to the lenders and other than an occasional hiccup where some debtors default en masse there is no lack of liquidity at the top.
Regardless, the increase in population and the increase in demand that easy credit has created, and in the less developed world the actual accumulations of small amounts of wealth on the part of large numbers of persons has led to a crunch in availability of cheap fuel, cheap food and most ominous cheap clean water.
Much of this is structural, wealthy elites tying up too much agricultural resource in inefficient beef production. The west investing in Biofuel in an unrestrained manner have combined to cause food shortages in the world grain supply driving up prices and encouraging a campaign of false advertising on the part of the Genetically Modified food industry who are making false claims that the world needs their seeds, now, and not a more rational allocation of the existing world production. These wolves, like Monsanto, are attempting to get an increasing percentage of the worlds farmers hooked on their product. GM seeds have to be bought from the corporations each year. That ends the farmers ability to save seeds for the next years harvest and makes the farmer an agricultural worker, dependent on the good graces of the corporations just as anyone with an internal combustion engine vehicle is dependent on the seven sisters for their life blood, oil.
Not a good idea. This excerpt below is in the main the entire article minus long sections that deal only with India.

“Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 30

Politics of Food
Wednesday 16 July 2008, by Kamala Prasad

Food politics is intimately related to food security as welfare gain for producers and consumers. It is realistically feared that the Millennium Development Goals for food security by 2015 is seriously endangered by the re-emergence of the current food inflation globally. There are prospects that high prices will prevail for at least a decade and no prediction of what happens thereafter should be taken as dependable. The Economist weekly of the UK terms it “a permanent relative price shock, not a temporary one”. Where should the blame lie after decades spent in building infrastructure for domestic food security and designing a framework for trade in agricultural commodities to be rule bound globally? One extreme view is that the global food crisis has been created by politicians obsessed with external security and new weapons of defense and offence. In India, there is broad opinion that the agriculture crisis is a product of the shifting goalpost of economic reforms initiated in 1991 away from structural problems and the investment needs of agriculture. Neglect of farmers and farming and the current food inflation has been further exacerbated by a misplaced zeal in delinking the liberalization of food trade in a hurry from investment needs to expand food security to incorporate in it right to food.

[Ed. In the 1960’s and 1970’s] Food was politics but of a different quality. It brought about a realization among all stakeholders of the difficulties and the government’s efforts in tiding over tight supplies for years. Relief came with the high production of 1968 which led a transition in the old system of trade and import dependence [ed. in India]. In the Biennial FAO Conference in Rome in 1969 the Director-General of the FAO specifically noted that a strong political leadership of the food and agriculture sector was important in each country for equaling India’s achievement.

The euphoria of 1969 was short-lived. The 1972-73 food inflation became a global crisis of supply as well. The FAO took the initiative to plead a security dimension to the access and price of food. It heralded a new global transition for putting the availability and price of food on sustainable basis. I asked Dr A. H. Boerma, the DG, in a private conversation why he had brought this term to seek global support. His candid response was that agriculture production and productivity were technical matters but food price and distribution had a systemic political dimension. The political leadership understands the emotive value of food security. So, the World Food Conference was jointly called in November 1974 in Rome by the Secretary-General of the UNO and the Director-General of the FAO. It drew other than agriculture, Ministers from developed and developing countries. The Conference drew a viable strategy of food and nutrition security and created new institutions for political deliberations and investment. And yet, the political commitment and momentum to treat food as above a purely commodity trading enterprise could not be sustained. About 33 years later in the first week of June this year the FAO Director-General stated in his opening address that “the problem of food insecurity is a political one”. [Business Standard, June 4, 2008] The President of the World Bank articulated a ten-point agenda on this occasion with emphasis that “food and fuel prices will shape politics”.

What is apparent is that the economic reform agenda has targets in “particular interests” in showing the aggregate growth rate. Its focus remains on the maximum of 20 per cent of the population, as noted by Narayan Murthy, and not the bulk of the population [Ed. in India]. Poverty levels are going down, though slowly, but there is no attention to income levels commensurate either with the annual rate of growth or annually indexed to inflation to protect the consumption of the poor. This year’s crisis has tested the private trade in food under a liberal regime and it has failed. Multilateral Organizations and Food Scenario

I first heard “politics of food” being in currency in the run-up to the World Food Conference in 1974. The crisis of food appeared despite the euphoria of the “Green Revolution”, another word first used by the USAID administrator, William Gaud, back in 1968. This signified that production revolution was important but not sufficient for adequacy of supply and affordability of price. The technology of the “Green Revolution” ended the regime of moderation in the cost of production. Intensive use of purchased inputs made price dependent on the price of hydrocarbon prices. Thus, after four-five years of the breakthrough from technology the world was plunged into the crisis of availability as well as the price of food. But the Conference witnessed sufficient political commitment to surmount the rigors of the crisis. The strategy was in global collaboration in crop research to offer more efficient seeds in the public domain; augment food aid to offer immediate relief to the needy countries to reduce nutrition gaps to the extent possible; provide for larger investment through existing multilateral financing as also by setting up a new investment body exclusively for agriculture; and mount technical assistance for vulnerable developing countries to evolve a food security strategy through amalgamated production for domestic sufficiency, stocking policies in the public sector and regulated distribution to serve all the population with differential pricing wherever feasible. This global initiative delivered.

The scenario at present is vastly different in dimension. The US political commitment was strong from fear of the poor and suffering countries falling into the Russian camp. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research was assured adequate funding. The FAO took up technical assistance through food security missions. The World Bank augmented assistance for agriculture. Global trade did not incorporate food as “strategic good”. All this has changed by now. Bringing agriculture under the WTO rules has created trading as “a new transmission mechanism” of worldwide food inflation. Food aid prospects have deteriorated. The WFP reports that food aid has declined to near fifty years low. Against the Conference target of 10 million tonnes, aid declined to 5.9 million tonnes in 2007, the lowest level since record keeping started in 1961. The other lowest year was the crisis year of 1973. Aid reduction by agencies is NGOs—19 per cent; multilateral including WFP—14 per cent and government-to-government—13 per cent. [Financial Times, June 10, 2008] Agricultural investment as percentage of ODA (official development assistance) was 16.9 per cent in 1985; 7.8 per cent in 1995; and 2.7 per cent in 2005. Global productivity has been declining and demand has been increasing with resulting pressure on prices. This is not expected to change for several years. Is the public sector’s retreat from the food scenario the cause? Must be. Finally, the more critical joining of food and fuel prices in production to distribution through the medium of trade is vastly different from the seventies.

The FAO convened the Global Summit on Food Security in the first week of June. The Secretary-General of the UN issued a warning that unless food production increased by 50 per cent by 2030 another crisis could not be averted. The Director-General of the FAO bewailed that there was no shortage of funds for armaments but he was not able to get assurance of assistance of a level of US$ 25 annually to assist food production in developing countries. Otherwise also, the Summit produced a disappointing result in this worsening scenario. The World Bank President called for “global-good” stock to offer food to poor countries at affordable prices but without any positive outcome. No “safety net” to tide over recurrence of such crisis appeared. The debate on diversion of food as fuel for biodiesel saw its stout defense by the USA, EU and Mexico who have ambitious targets for producing ethanol either from corn or sugar. Multilateral agencies have offered to increase their assistance level but not yet at the levels achieved earlier. These are indicators that India has to moderate its enthusiasm for integrating its food with the global marketplace. It has failed to offer incentive for farming in time and it will fail again. At least, the country should give the status of “national-good” to the availability of basic staples on which the bulk of the people still depend.

Global Politics

THIS is the context in which the contour of politics in food is practiced globally. Global concern comes out merely in token steps to pursue positive policies for domestic food security. In the wake of the Washington Consensus on global economic restructuring, the multilateral financing institutions followed neo-liberal policies that prompted dismantling food security infrastructure in poorer countries, more so in Africa. The new course since WTO-I has been to pursue diversification to augment trade in commodities needed by more prosperous countries. The guiding economic orthodoxy of global trade expansion has produced increased dependence of vulnerable countries on the so called global market for food. More developing countries are food deficit today than during the food crisis of 1973.What is more; the suggested infrastructure for augmented food and production assistance has not materialized. Global trade assurances have been altruistic but the net outcome in matters of access and affordable food has been highly deficient.

This is the backdrop in which the Global Food Security Summit was prepared. The FAO had organized a consultation on “organic farming” to unravel the alternative to the highly intensive chemical input based production. The reduced cost of such inputs could reduce the cost of production and uncertainties associated with high and still rising prices of such inputs. It concluded that there was the potential to increase the current level of production by 134 per cent from the present level. In inaugurating the summit, the SG of the UN in effect set the target of production increase in the long-term. He noted that the level of production of food had to go up 50 per cent by 2030. The FAO DG put across the need for global assistance at US$ 30 billion annually for the target to be met. That would also “avoid future threats of conflict over food”. The Summit skipped the issue. The DG put his finger firmly at the major risk factor in availability and access. Biofuels from food commodities is the single such risk pushed by subsidies and protective tariff. The issue was sidestepped effectively by calling for “challenges and opportunities” of biofuels. Climate change and impact of food-futures on food security risks were just ignored. The Latin American countries almost stalled the final draft declaration on the issue of farm subsidies that reduced the case for giving adequately remunerative farm prices to farmers in developing countries. This was also ignored. It was no wonder, then, that Cuba put its finger on the “lack of political will among countries of the North to resolve the crisis”. It is significant also that India did not voice any disagreement with the Declaration that is heavily weighted against firm steps for risk mitigation and affordable food supply through viable production incentives for self-sufficiency. This Summit exemplifies transparently the persisting politics of food. What is lurking behind all the time is the clashing alternatives of “right to food versus right to profit” as the Economic and Political Weekly puts it. The right to profit benefits the rich countries and the rich in poor countries and that has strong and abiding government support.

The current crisis differs significantly from that during the early seventies, though the two are being frequently compared. The current crisis is of prices and comprehensive food related inflation surge. Food for fuel production for use by affluent automobile users is new. In the last couple of years maize production has gone up by 51 million tonnes but 50 million of this additional production has been used by the heavily protected and subsidized US bio-fuel industry. Climate change is of recent emergence. Studies indicate that a number of developing countries may be reaching the tipping point earlier than projected by the official UN-sponsored committee. It will have variable impact on different countries but tropical developing countries may have more severe impact. Petroleum use escalation is a product of larger use by the rich and also in lifestyle and the fashion industry. It impacts the poor in modernized food production food processing and the whole distribution technology. However, the scales are smaller in volume but large in terms of prices through the food marketing chain as well as trading margins. These factors are not immediate that will vanish with fire-fighting measures. Jagdish Bhagwati seems to be on firm ground in stating that “the present crisis reflects long-term factors which will likely not disappear”. This links the food crisis to the rising financial crisis requiring restructuring of existing global financial architecture that gives larger management stakes to new stakeholders.

Another important factor relates to technology of production and distribution. The 1973 crisis lapped up the new seed-fertilizer-extension technology in the teeth of the emerging energy crisis. Energy intensity has narrowed the scope for extensive agriculture and restricted productivity to limited areas with increasing cost and knowledge inputs. This has aggravated the rich-poor divide within countries and globally. The prospect of adopting genetically modified organisms with providers largely in the private domain will accentuate the social divide the potential of technology. Global finance has potential to link up through newer instruments that will accelerate cost and risk of productivity and income. Besides, the looming shortage of water is already reducing the relative share of agriculture in its use. The USA, which has all the multinational companies in the GM seeds field and part of the scientist community propagate all this as opportunity for more and irreplaceable profit source. However, when the Green Revolution technology could not universalize technology adoption then the pay-off from bio-tech seeds is at best overblown. States Lester R. Brown who was associated with a plan for India during 1960s:

Although biotechnologists have been engineering new plant varieties for two decades they have yet to produce a single variety of wheat, rice or corn that can dramatically raise yields. The reason is that conventional plant breeders had already done most of the things they could think of to raise grain yields.

However, there is considerable slack in production and some extra land too that can stabilize productivity and add to total production. That is what requires external financial assistance for poor developing countries to make the desirable contribution to the grain pool. But there is no global commitment, particularly from the rich in the North, to that undertaking.

There is a last point regarding globally responsible conduct of public policy in aid of globalization of grain production. There has to be a “level playing field” for all countries to relieve the world grain scarcity with affordable prices.

This has been a failed enterprise in terms of differences in levels of production. What has been equalized is the high and rising cost of production. The traditional technology was based on peasant proprietors that took pride in farming. They valued human qualities. The GM technology has appeared as a companion to economic liberalization that intends to introduce corporate farming. The farmer we know will become wage worker on his own field. The progress moves in stages from contract farming, agri-business and agri-commodity exchanges. This American model is based on large per capita availability of land and manufacturing industry that produces all farm requisites. The two are in synergy. Developing country farming is based on small farms owned and operated by farm families to first meet the family food needs and offer the surplus to the market. This was the basis of food security. The American model can afford high subsidy and high levels of protection that keeps large farmers on land. This is a hurdle in the current Doha Round negotiations as well. The latest Farm Bill 2007 indicates how the high cost farming works. The Economist dubs it “a harvest of disgrace”. The Bill guarantees subsidy to protect annual income of 1.5million dollars to the farming families; the commercial farm families get more. How can the US’ politics of food smoothen sensible global trade in basic foodstuffs? In fact, the strain of protection runs deeper. Despite urgings by experts and food activists the Bill retains the provision that ties food aid to US-grown grain carried in American ships resulting in actual food aid reduced to less than 30 per cent of what is reported in financial terms. If this money were to be offered in cash for local purchase it could support local production for sustainable food security. Where would the traditional politics of food globally be in that case? That politics survives to justify the iniquitous global food system that survives on inherent imbalances and produces periodic food crisis.

The Way Out

FOOD crisis is obviously built into the domestic and global economic systems. That system is prone to recurrent crisis. Is it possible to separate the food system from the rest? The latest complexity in the crisis does not provide any signal for that. It signifies, then, that vulnerable countries must evolve protective mechanisms to make their food security system sustainable. The global system can stand only on the basis of a sustainable, national food security system. And, grassroots security for the local community is the foundation of such building blocks. India’s old system was a good model. The global system that the 1974 World Food Conference recommended took partly from our system as the suitable one for the developing world. If the country is relatively protected from global turmoil in respect of food supply it is in no small measure from the efforts of our farmers and consumers who have stood so far against a wholesale change in the model.

The world is groping in the dark about a more durable systemic alternative. This poses to be a hazardous and uncertain undertaking. There is evidently a clash between a purely business-driven model of food security and an alternative founded on permanent government intervention to function as a countervailing force in the market and regulating availability and prices. There is an emerging conflict between food choice and value based purchasing by the affluent classes in developing countries imitating the lifestyle in the rich world and the unorganized demand so far for greater equity in food access for all the population. The “rich are getting hungries” mentions Amartya Sen. But the poor are getting restive. Countries like India that are secure at present have a history of food riots. On present count, more than 30 countries have suffered such riots this year. There is a third kind of clash between the interests of the rich nations that engage in protection for their own country and preach liberal export-import regime for the rest but unhindered by severe regulation. In the matter of food the world remains divided in three: the surplus exporting countries in wheat and corn; the surplus rice countries; and the rest who live on the margins and depend on imports almost on a regular basis. It is clear in the way the course of the present crisis has been managed that deficit nations are growing and food shortage and high prices are there to stay. In this scenario, globalization without a framework of global welfare mechanism can only result in local wars and risk for global political chaos and economic and social turmoil.

Food politics has taken us to this state. Politics is also the force that can reverse the trend. Whatever scenarios are explored there is no escape from the fact of government intervention. When markets fail or are seen to follow a perverse course that hurts the masses the government alone has the moral authority to engage in legitimate intervention. When a government fails, it is to be changed by the people. Indian democracy has played this legitimate game positively. The problem is in global political pressures to dilute food security. Europe and America maintain their system of food security and mechanisms devised to protect it. They are not equally interested in most, if not all, developing countries doing the same with their support. The spectre of the US blaming China and India for the current food crisis is there. At the Global Food Summit NGOs made out that biofuels have added 30 per cent to food inflation globally. The US and Europe would not respond meaningfully for any change of course. The politics of the rich countries in the North has remained unchallenged so far. They see a shift in this situation from the changing economic forces. The Russian President has suggested at an international conference that the US no longer has the capacity to match its ambitions of global control. Is this power politics? But the past President of the IMF, then Finance Minister of Italy, suggested in February that the world was running an unsustainable system—if the 15 per cent of the population (of the rich) could cause such food inflation then we should ponder what would happen when 50 per cent reach that level. Changing the model of domestic food security for all countries can achieve that. It is being resisted in global encounters by giving legitimacy to proposals, financial and technical, for the same. Will this negative face of globalization change to welcome food security as global good in which every rich country should participate to the best of its capacity? Too idealistic? Perhaps. There is a need for some visionary politics to make the progress of the 21st century more eventful than the preceding one of global wars.

The author, a distinguished administrator, is a former Chief Secretary of Bihar (now retired).”

Sort of long, and if you read through it you will see that there needs to be a reorientation of multilateral policy, food has to be for all and not merely for the wealthy. Certainly the wealthy should subsidize the rest of the world and there is no excuse for anyone to be starving while there are some with much more than they could possibly need. Eat the rich? We may have to.

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