Introducing Season Two: Power in the food system
Samara Brock 0:03
We're gonna start with a really easy question.
Matthew Kessler 0:05
I was wondering how you think about power in the food system?
Pete Ritchie 0:08
Well, it's a huge question isn't it.
Thomas Peterson 0:11
It is a big question.
Marta Suplicy 0:13
That's a very complex question.
Welcome back to season two of Feed, a podcast by TABLE in conversation with people who are trying to transform the food system. I’m Matthew Kessler
And I’m Samara Brock. And on this season we dive into questions about power in the food system. We’ll talk with researchers, farmers, activists and others to dig into what kind of power shapes food systems, if this needs to change, and how.
First, we dive into what is power and where does power lie.
Phil Howard 0:43
Yeah, I think power is really complex. But a way to talk about it succinctly is the capacity to create foreseen effects on others.
Philip McMichael 0:54
Power, I think, is multi-dimensional, first of all, and I think the kinds of dimensions that I would be focusing on are the political dimensions, which refer to hierarchies of class, race and gender, as well as state institutions such as the police, legal systems and education.
Julie Guthman 1:13
What does political economic power look like in the food system? Well, power to set prices, power to determine wages, power to determine land costs, power to set policy.
Pete Ritchie 1:24
We see even more naked power in places where people are still getting driven off their land to make room for plantations, a sort of 21st century version of the clearances we had here in Scotland, where, you know, people are in the way of an extractive industry, and so people have to go, and that's at the point of a gun.
You will hear our guests reflect on a wide range of ideas about power and how it operates.
Politics are very important, because they make the laws and they have the power to make them work. But I think education is the main instrument that we need to have.
Philip M 1:57
And then there's epistemic power, which refers to the way in which we see the world and the way in which we learn to see the world through education quite often. And so that concerns issues to do with the kind of narrative about food systems and about development and progress and change and the role of technology.
How we come to understand what is good for us and what is good for the environment. So there's a lot of power in certain kinds of expertise in agenda setting, and promulgating common sense, or deciding what is thinkable. So I don't think we can think about food systems without thinking about the power of knowledge creation, and dissemination.
Philip M 2:36
And then finally, the other dimension of power, of course, is collective action,
Guests will discuss who they think holds too much power, how this should be shifted to achieve their ideal future, and who has the power to do this.
Those in power want to keep power, and they want status quo, because it's in their benefit. So how do you create a sense that the status quo is actually not in the best interest of those in power,
There are a series of points at the food system where power is intensely consolidated. For example, a very small number of agricultural commodity traders control a vast percentage of the global trade and a certain number of key commodities. And while that causes a lot of problems, it also means that when we're working with those companies, getting them to change their practices can have huge follow on effects.
Because of the way the system is currently structured with so many companies holding such a large portion of the market. That also means that investors can have a really big impact on the companies that they're holding, we could see a really massive shift in power if some of the larger investors started really holding the companies that they invest in accountable to setting goals for no deforestation, for pesticide reduction, etc.
Most changes in society have been driven by the youth. So like looking historically, I think the youth has a lot of power also because we are like the future. So I think people tend to listen to us. Well, some people, not everyone, like we have our whole life in front of us. We are the ones who are going to grow up in this world.
To sum it up, I'd like to see power more widely distributed in the food system at the level of individuals and families. You know, there's an awful lot of nonsense talked about consumer choice, particularly for families on low-income. There is often, they have very little power to choose the sort of healthy foods, they don't have power in the food system because they don’t have money. I don't know, that's a bit of a start. That's one question. Yeah.
Well it started getting into the next question we wanted to ask…
So tune in if you care about who decides what ends up on your plate and how power in food systems shapes our collective future.
Join us as we Feed our own curiosity, and ideally yours, about critical food systems issues. And we’d love to hear from you. You can write us at email@example.com and tell us who you’d like us to talk to about power in the food system.
And you can join the discussion on TABLE’s community forum - https://community.tabledebates.org/
TABLE is a collaboration of the University of Oxford, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Wageningen University.
A big thanks to all the voices you heard in this intro clip - some voices you might recognize from past episodes and others are people to look forward to hearing from in upcoming episodes.
We heard from Vera Roos, Pete Ritchie, Marta Suplicy, Thomas Peterson, Annalisa Tarizzo, Patty Fong, Philip McMichael, Julie Guthman
And our first guest for the season, Phil Howard.
Phil Howard 5:46
Corporations are not out there creating a production and consumptions system that they happen to profit from. They’re actually sabotaging society to increase their power.
Thank you all for listening. Please rate and review us at Apple podcast or wherever you listen. It really helps others find the show! And tell your friends and colleagues who share your interest in food systems about us! This episode was edited by Matthew Kessler. Music by Blue dot sessions. Our first full season 2 episode will be out in two weeks. Talk to you soon.