Until yesterday’s post, it’d been a long time, we shouldn’t have left you without a dope blog post to step to… [step to, step to, step to…]
But we are back again, with more good news about Beginning to End Hunger. I’m honored to report that #btehbook was awarded the Society for Human Ecology’s G. L. Young Book Award last month at the annual SHE meeting in Lisbon. (I additionally gave one of the keynote talks at the meeting.) The award is given to work “Exemplifying the highest standards of scholarly work in the field of human ecology” and came as an amazing surprise during the conference’s “Gala Dinner.” My thanks to the Society for the recognition, and an enjoyable conference!
It is tempting for socialists to argue simply that the problem is capitalism and that only a socialist, post-capitalist world can feed the world’s population healthily and sustainably. M. Jahi Chappell’s important study shows that this is wrong. It is possible to build a more equitable and sustainable food system today at the same time as strengthening the struggle against capitalism. Chappell illustrates this with a detailed study of the experience of Belo Horizonte (BH), the sixth largest city in Brazil, home to about two and a half million people.
He points to two of the grand conclusions from the book, two “key strands to [Belo Horizonte’s food security] programme’s success”: targeted direction of resources (I would summarize them as being targeted at food access through regulating markets and changing policies and the social determinants of the food environment); and “empowerment of producers and consumers.” I’m also glad that the necessary synthesis between the struggle against capitalism and the need, and ability, to improve things now came across clearly.
However, similar to a second recent review by the inimitable Josh Sbicca, Empson says that he
…would have liked more contributions from those who work in and are affected by SMASAN’s programmes. The few that are included provide fascinating insights into how empowering people can improve food sovereignty. I would also have liked more information on the social movements that helped create [Belo Horizonte’s programs].
Thus, in his largely positive review in the Journal of Peasant Studies, Josh Sbicca points out that
[In the book] the more internal dynamics in Brazilian politics, the Workers Party, Belo Horizonte and SMASAN remain at the center of the analysis. But because Beginning to end hunger argues that the most promising narratives in the fight against hunger are food justice and food sovereignty, is it not important to shift perspectives to elevate the most marginalized voices in the food system? …It would have been just as useful, if not more so, to provide an account of how grassroots radical and progressive forces played a role in identifying the problem of hunger and poverty, reading the political context and shaping policy.
Josh brought up this important critique as well during an amazing and humbling (in a good way) session on my book at this year’s American Association of Geographers annual meeting. As I said then, as with all critiques, there’s a big part of me that wants to issue strong rebuttals! But I can’t, because I essentially agree with them. I discovered well after I started, and completed my work in Belo Horizonte that there were big parts of the story that still remained to be told; voices I’d definitely missed; and a startling (to me) lack of obvious on-going connection in the city between policy and movements/organized civil society, outside strong exceptions in the food policy councils and school meals council, and earlier engagement by pro-nursery movements. Heck, it was difficult to even find average citizens who were aware of the international prominence or even existence of Belo Horizonte’s Secretariat of Food Security, lauded as it is. This, perhaps, reinforces recent ideas about the need for further deep & strategic coordination amongst progressives, including this fascinating and important article from last year by Nathan Heller. Much food for further thought. (For an immediate taste of some of this food and thought, do see this recent piece by my colleagues Antonio Román-Alcalá and Becky Tarlau.)
In any case, I’m thrilled to have these further entries into the conversation, and further directions that need to be explored. My appreciation to Empson & Sbicca for their thoughtful reviews. Also, on the theme of food movements, I am very excited to read Sbicca’s book, just out, Food Justice Now! I’ve known and followed Josh for a number of years, and positively cannot wait for all that I’m sure I’ll learn from the book.