The film’s central thesis is that the conventional wisdom that advances in technology and global food systems are necessary to feed the world is a myth. Rather, unfettered free trade, based upon the economic theory of comparative advantage – that countries should only produce and export those products that they can make cheaper than others – is a mistake and harmful. Far from creating wealth, on the contrary it leads to the loss of livelihood for millions of farmers, suicides, hunger, mass migrations from the countryside to the cities, exploitation of resources by global corporations, and increased poverty. Corporations, as depicted in The Global Banquet, are as exploitative as the Once-ler – that rapacious devourer of Truffula trees in Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax.
Globalization’s failure, according to the film, is due to the fact that free trade, open markets, and corporate capitalism ignore equity (in favor of efficiency), a sovereign nation’s interests in food security and land reform, and do not respond to the needs of those without money – which is most of the world’s population. Over 1.2 billion people – about 40% of the world’s population – make less than $1.00 a day. It hardly matters if a loaf of bread or a bowl of rice has gotten cheaper if fewer people have money and farmers who have been driven from their land can no longer feed themselves.
The film posits that rather than creating a rising tide of prosperity, globalization is causing people to drown. Over the past twenty years income per person has declined dramatically, life expectancy and levels of education have decreased, infant mortality has increased, and other measurements show that extremist globalization has failed. Food scarcity is not the culprit, but rather, income inequality.
The Global Banquet argues that solutions to this problem lie in harnessing economic markets, placing some controls on corporations and certain limits to free trade, and returning to policies that encourage local agriculture so people can once again feed themselves. Contrary to popular belief, small farms, according to the film, are actually more productive and sustainable than larger farms, producing more food per acre, because they don’t rely on a single commodity crop but grow many different fruits and vegetables.
The Global Banquet does an admiral job of weaving disparate threads into a cohesive whole and making or suggesting connections between events and phenomena that might not be obvious, for example farmer suicides in the United States and India or World Trade Organization (WTO) protestors in Seattle a decade ago and present day Occupiers.
Corporations are not going away any time soon, and they remain powerful actors on the global stage. However, most analysts in the movie believe that their influence has been seriously weakened in the face of the recent economic meltdown, increased global awareness across the first and third worlds, and the surge of countervailing actors – non-government organizations (NGOs), farm workers, labor unions, churches, consumers, etc. – across the food justice/sovereignty movement (the globalization of civil society).
Continued advocacy is necessary to rewrite WTO trade rules and farm policies to support small scale agriculture and farmers. And continued vigilance will always be necessary. But when even Hollywood begins to echo a pro-environment, anti corporate messages, it’s harder for large corporations to get away with bad behavior and there’s some reason to hope that their power can be checked.
Tuesday, September 11th, 2012
Park Slope Food Coop – 2nd Floor
7:00 p.m. Refreshments will be served.