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The monumental shift in agriculture from local food economies to food supplies driven by gross domestic product and corporate profit gave rise to the modern food movement. Many now understand the frightening implications for our own health and that of and our communities. Mostly, the topic is contemplated with a strictly western perspective, even though it is lesser developed countries who have suffered the most; a pattern that isn’t likely to change. One such country is India, and it was Indian author and environmentalist Vandana Shiva who provided new insight on the issue in her 2000 book Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply.
India has traditionally been an agrarian culture. One in which farming is a common occupation, which is a far cry from the current American economy which aims to distance people from farming as much as possible. This lifestyle has obvious effects on Indian culture. For example, in India, the cow is considered sacred “because it is at the heart of the sustainability of an agrarian civilization.” (75) Furthermore, scattered across India are Chakki Wallas (local flour mills), which produce almost all the flour consumed. In fact, less than one percent of their flour is actually a brand name. (87)
Shiva explains the many ways companies like Monsanto (specifically accused) and organizations like the WTO (World Trade Organization) have deeply hurt India on a local community level. As an example she details Monsanto’s promotion of the Bollgard cotton seed, which is genetically engineered to defend itself against bollworm. While Monsanto’s marketing in India reported a 50% increase in yield, another evaluation found essentially the same yields as traditional seeds. (100) In addition, of course, farmers are legally prohibited from reusing seeds from Monsanto’s Bollgard cotton plant, despite the fact that seed-saving is as old as agriculture itself.
This book has certainly done its part to promote organic, sustainable farming, or what Indians call ahimsic krishi, which means “non-violent agriculture.” (119) Stolen Harvest delivers, in a small and readable package, an important, yet under-represented perspective on the current food system. I can only hope the world begins to hear the stories of this and other similarly vandalized cultures.