Vandana Shiva wants you to put down your fork and turn on your brain.
Shiva, who will be in Portland next week to speak at a World Affairs Council event, is a 58-year-old environmental activist on the frontlines of the global fight against “biopiracy”— the corporate patenting of ancient food crops.
Formerly one of India’s leading physicists and mother of a Lewis & Clark College grad, Shiva is possibly Mother Earth disguised in a sari. She has hugged trees to prevent felling, written more than 20 books on environmental justice, spoken at the 1999 Seattle WTO Summit, and won the 1993 Alternative Nobel Peace Prize.
She starred in the award-winning documentaries “Blue Gold: World Water Wars” and “Dirt! The Movie,” and is the founder of Navdanya (“Nine Seeds”), a food sovereignty movement that flouts WTO laws against seed-sharing and seed-saving. She also has successfully protected over 2,000 varieties of rice in India.
In advance of her speech on Wednesday, Feb. 23 about the world food crisis and the need to go local, WW talked to Shiva via Skype.
Willamette Week: What do you say to people who think organic and local food is too expensive?
Vandana Shiva: It’s time to separate organic from class, and recognize that organic works for everyone. The only reason junk food is so cheap is because it’s subsidized at every level. The corporations that pollute our water and destroy our climate collect a huge amount of subsidies—$400 billion is collected by agro-businesses at the global level to dump cheap food on us. But when you remove long-distance trade and keep food local, costs go down. We have all been told a big lie—‘you have to industrialize and put chemicals in the ground to produce more food.’ That’s not true. Local, organic systems of agriculture are not just more productive than any commercialized agricultural system, but also have lower costs that solve the agrarian crises. In India, the costs [of buying pesticides and herbicides] show in the form of 200,000 farmers (according to the India National Crime Records Bureau) who’ve committed suicide because of immense debt.
What is the genetically-modified food you most miss eating?
I don’t miss eating any GM food because there is already enough diversity on this Earth. Maybe if eggplant had become a GM-monopoly, I would have missed that.
What are a few baby steps Americans can take to promote better agriculture practices?
The first step is for every American to recognize that there are giant corporations like Monsanto controlling food supplies. We eat three times a day and the food we choose to eat is something we can change. We need to know what we eat. We’ve been told for over 200 years of industrialization that, to touch the land- ‘oh my God, it’s dirty’. We should turn gardening into our deepest expression of humanity. Every child should have the miracle of harvesting a garden.
Do you think GM-food has any place in our food supply? For instance, in preventing famines?
The Union of Concerned Scientists has put out a study saying genetic engineering does not increase yield. If you can’t prove there’s more yield, how can you prove genetically modified food prevents famines? Monsanto is growing lies, not food.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I have to use cars, trains and planes. I don’t get a kick out of flying, but I do it conscientiously. I use planes because I realize we have to be connected in order to overcome the challenges we face. We cannot be isolated. When I fly to Portland to give this talk, the two images in my head will be butterflies and bees pollinating.
ATTEND IT: Vandana Shiva will be speaking in Portland Wednesday, Feb. 23 at 7pm at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall for the 2011 World Affairs Council of Oregon’s International Speaker Series. The topic of her lecture is “Soil Not Oil: Climate Change, Peak Oil, and Food Justice.” Tickets available online starting at $31.25.