Economist and food activist Raj Patel spoke passionately Thursday night in the Student Union Jordan Ballroom about global food insecurity and why it needs to change.
“I was exposed to extreme poverty in India when I was fairly young and it’s an image that I’ve carried with me,” Patel said.
Patel’s passion resonated with audience members when he spoke of the deep-seeded complexities of world hunger. Presented by the Honors College, Patel drew an estimated 1,100 attendees. Patel, with his animated presentation style and humorous anecdotes, engaged every person in the room.
“The audience response seemed to be very strong … you could tell the crowd was listening intently to his words,” said Andrew Finstuen, Ph.D., director of the Honors College.
“I enjoyed him immensely because rather than just shooting off a bunch of statistics, numbers and case studies, he used a great deal of humor as well as very up-to-date, prevalent information both in our city, our country and the world,” Ruth Ann Cary, freshman with an undeclared major, said.
Patel, a British-born American academic, received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford, his master’s from The London School of Economics and his doctorate in developmental sociology from
Cornell University. Patel has worked and lived in South Africa, Zimbabwe and the United States.
His latest book, “The Value of Nothing,” was on the New York Times Best Seller List for February 2010, but Patel is best known for his 2008 book, “Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System.”
“I don’t just care about things happening in Africa, I care about hunger and food insecurity right here in the United States,” Patel said. “I wanted to be able to add my voice to the growing movement of people in this country who are fed up with the fact that there are 50 million Americans who are food insecure.”
Patel, who sometimes participates in protests as part of his activism, joked with the audience about becoming a U.S. citizen so he wouldn’t get arrested for protesting.
“We can write to the editor, we can organize our food groups, we can join co-ops, but sometimes you need to put your body on the line,” Patel said. “People around the country are protesting against a system in which the poorest Americans aren’t getting enough to eat and that seems, to me, absurd! In a country where protest is allowed, although it’s increasingly frowned upon, it’s still something that is possible here and that’s one of the reasons why I am very happy to be here to share ideas … with you.”
Patel began his speech with the history of the food crises we’re facing and elaborated on a concept introduced by former Director of the United States Agency for International Development William Gaud in 1968: “The Long Green Revolution: A Century of Ideas to Feed the World.”
There are many factors that make up the Green Revolution, but a large part of it focuses on supporting farmers, taking care of the land, distributing hybridized seeds and expanding irrigation structures. Patel is also studying the pesticide and fertilizer industry.
In Northern Malawi, Africa, there is a project consisting of 5,000 farmers experimenting with sustainable farming, including cross pollination to create variety and year-round ability to grow crops. Patel explained that as a results, farmers have seen a 20 percent increase from fertilizer yields. Patel urged people to talk with one another and rediscover politics.
“Democracy is more than just every four years putting an “X” in the box,” Patel said. “The one thing that we can do to feed the world is to drop the idea that there’s one thing we can do to feed the world.”