I talk to Vandana Shiva, real-life Superhero.

Music is what I write about because it's what I love. It is a powerful communicator and a vital part of any thriving culture. But, at the end of the day, it's just music. There are people out there doing important, compassionate, world-changing things that improve the lives of everyone and everything they come into contact with. Eco-feminist and human love-beam Dr. Vandana Shiva is one of those people. When I found out that she'd be speaking here in Victoria at UVic on the eve of her receiving an honourary doctorate from the university I jumped at the chance to interview this vitally inspiring person. I had originally planned on doing a phone interview before she arrived as a preview piece, but instead was given the privilege of sitting face-to-face with her and conversing like humans. I consider myself a relatively intelligent person but I the nerves I felt going into conversation with this intellectual titan where nearly overwhelming. I asked some things that I may have already known, but that I wanted articulated to be by one of the most important and inspiring people working today. As we sat across from each other I was quickly calmed by her calm demeanour and warm smile.

When the night did come for her to receive her honour from the University of Victoria, I was amazed not at the turn out of people, but at the passion that she inspired in everyone in that room. Dr. Vandana Shiva is a beacon of light and hope in a world that is seemingly more enveloped in darkness and chaos by the day. Seemingly is the operative word there...

(Photography credits (Main photo and thumbnail) to Hugo Wong.)


Rags Music: So I’m just going to ask some general questions for my general article on Food Security. How do you define Food Security?

Dr. Vandana Shiva: The definition of Food Security is so very established now with the UN and everyone else. It basically is having access to adequate food, healthy food, safe food, good food and culturally appropriate food.

RM: What are the biggest challenges facing our food security?

Dr. V.S.: The biggest challenge facing food security is corporate greed. Corporate greed that is coming in the way of farmer’s having their own seed because if farmer’s having their own seed, they should not be insecure and the societies which they’re a part of should not be food insecure. Corporate greed is coming in the way creating a trade system that privileges the subsidized and makes it cheap, allows dumping, destroys local production and local markets in the name of increasing food production. I have watched this happen in my own country. Look at the state of Africa, in the name of so-called Free Trade has just devastated food security. Just look at what NAFTA did to Mexico. Mexicans, who come from “The Land of Corn”, the land that gave the world corn has none of its own corn. They’re importing everything and it’s GM (Genetically Modified) corn.

RM: How did we move so quickly to that? It seems like it’s happened so fast in the span human history when we’ve had good food and all of a sudden that’s gone quite quickly.

Dr. V.S.: Most of human history was based on ensuring food supply for yourself and your community. After the wars the big powers ensured they had food because they had seen lack of food during the wars. So they had put laws in place for food security and food sovereignty. Then 20 years ago, the corporations that started to drive the system got trade laws written, Cargill literally wrote the WTO agreement. Cargill has devastated Canadian production. And for them it was all about grabbing markets, not about food security. The term “food security” doesn’t exist in the agricultural agreement. Monsanto, in that WTO agreement, defined the patenting of seed which has created a seed famine, just like Free Trade has created a food famine. The combination of these monopolies has been put into international Free Trade law. We will have to revisit the assumptions because these companies are trying to take it to another level -  whatever wasn’t made subject of Free Trade, wasn’t commodified, now through the Trans-Pacific Partnership they’d like to put it all in. For example I have been told the U of V tries to procure locally, gives priority to local procurement, those kinds of Trans-Pacific partnerships would make local procurement illegal.

RM: Wow. Is trying to stay as local as possible the best strategy the average person has?

Dr. V.S.: The best strategy is trying to stay as local as possible, ensuring the food you eat has been grown ecologically, safely, without toxins, without GMOs, without chemicals, while also staying vigilant with what is happening at the national laws and what’s happening at the international level. Because all you do is build the local and meantime, they’re out to destroy local, so your gardens and food sovereignty won’t exist. So you have to do both and that’s why food democracy has to be worked at on the international level, the national level and the local level.

RM: With as quickly as everything’s changed for the worse, with monopoly, is it possible to bring it back to where we were with increasing populations throughout the world?

Dr. V.S.: Because populations are increasing we can’t afford an agriculture system that wastes resources. Industrial agriculture uses 10 units of input to produce 1 unit of food. That’s a very inefficient way to produce food. Ecologically we can use 1 unit to produce 2 or 3 units of food.  And so we have to go ecological because the Earth is limited and numbers are increasing.  Second, the industrial system wastes 50% of the food that is produced. So because numbers are increasing we can’t afford increased food waste. Third, and most importantly, the industrial system is not producing food anymore, it’s producing commodities. If it makes more money to use that commodity to turn it into biofuel, which is the large diversion of corn and soya, or into animal feed, then that’s where it will go. So 80% of the industrial food is not reaching humans. It’s driving cars and creating torture factories for animals. That’s precisely the cause, because it is so inefficient, so wasteful, so violative, that need to move very rapidly into an ecological system that renews fuel resources, produces food at lower costs and feeds more people.

RM: It seems pretty logical.

Dr. V.S.: It seems pretty logical and the entire industrial system is so illogical and so based on false propaganda, mythology, for which there should be no place.

RM: I guess with companies like Monsanto, the huge conglomerates who are bed with the media, it’s hard to get that message out.

Dr. V.S.: The thing is they buy media space. Part of what public relations exercise is to pull out a message, turn a lie into truth. The second part of it is - get money down to the newspaper editor, to the TV station and say “Here’s five million if you put this news.” And since everything is about money, that’s the news which comes through and it’s not news. The real news of what’s going on in the world is constantly suppressed which is why more people believe that Monsanto could be part of the solution when it is part of the problem.

RM: It seems to the head of problem.

Dr. V.S.: Monsanto is very much the head of the problem.

RM: How, with all this destruction and negative impact on our planet you see, how do you avoid allowing that negativity to consume you? How do you stay so positive?

Dr. V.S.: One, very consciously because you can’t afford to be eaten up by the negativity. Second, by every day doing the right thing. Everyday saving that extra seed. Everyday helping a farmer give up their addiction to chemicals. Everyday being with people to say another world is possible.

RM: What are some of the best examples you’ve seen of small projects that are doing their part?

Dr. V.S.: The movement I started  to deal with all this, to deal with GMO, patenting and the Monsantos of the world is called Navanya, which means 9 Seeds, also means New Gift. I began it with a simple imperative  - that I didn’t want to see seed patented. I wanted to see seed evolve freely and I wanted farmers to have access to seed. But today not only have we saved seeds, we grow more food through ecological methods. We grow more food by saving biodiversity. We conserve water. We increase farmers’ incomes and livelihoods. We help get food to children. In our short quarter century, the same period where worst of destruction has been witnessed – For example, the quarter million farmer suicides all started after Monsanto started to take over seed supply, especially in the cotton areas. Today they control 95% of the cotton seed in India. They control 95% of soya seed and corn seed in the United States. They control 95% of the canola seed. So you’re talking about a monopoly bigger than any monopoly than has ever existed. When the DuPont, the second biggest seed company, sued them, for three years the US Department of Justice did an investigation and then suddenly it was wrapped up because Monsanto controls the White House. Monsanto controls the US government. They even managed to get into the budget act, for financing this year, a clause for total immunity, that no court can ever rule against Monsanto.

RM: What?! How is that even possible?

Dr. V.S.: Yes! It is possible! And that’s the challenge we face. The issue of food and food security is not a little isolated issue. It’s now connected to whether our democracy will survive. We will only remove hunger if our democracies are alive again and that means dealing with the illegitimate, exaggerated power and with it, the responsibility of the corporations.

RM: It seems like such a scary thing to have something as important and personal as food controlled by non-human entities. How do first-world behaviours directly affect the way food security is handled in the third-world?

Dr. V.S.: I think at this point the issue is not so much the consumption patterns – it still is, but I think it’s more the indifference of not knowing that the corporations that are bringing you bad food are also stealing from the poor. And that is where the solidarity must grow. Where first world people must realize, “I have a right to good food but I also have a responsibility to grow my own food so I don’t have to steal the land of the south and empower the corporations. And also allow myself to imagine that by starving the small peasant of the south I’m somehow helping that peasant. Because the narrative is that if all the stuff is coming from the south it’s removing poverty. No, it’s removing the poor. It’s not removing poverty.

RM: I know what’s happening, but the scope every time I look a little closer…

Dr. V.S.: The scope is big. When you think of food you think it’s “What’s on my plate.” We have to realize when we think of food we’re talking about the planet, the world, all people and all life.

RM: Maybe terms like “First World” and “Third World” just don’t need to exist.

Dr. V.S.: They don’t need to exist. We need to think of the food web.

RM: Does meat have a place in the future of food?

Dr. V.S.: I think in places…for example, Arctic people don’t eat vegetables and to tell them to eat salads is a bit ridiculous. So they will eat fish and eat meat, that’s fine. I remember a long time ago we were doing a thing called “Arctic to the Amazon” and, I wasn’t organizing I was a speaker. This was 25 years ago. The organizers thought, “Ecological meeting…we should have vegetarian.” And all the indigenous people eat meat and they walked out. So if you eat meat because that’s your local food source, that’s extremely different from being pushed into blindly eating bad meat from tortured animals in factory farms fed on soya that has destroyed Argentina and the Amazon and think that somehow you’re living better. Meat has become a curse with the industrialization of the meat business and the factory farming. It is a big cause of both biodiversity loss and climate change. Those who are meat eaters need to be meat eaters with a conscience and reduce meat eating and eat more vegetables. Though, of course, I’m a vegetarian and I can tell you vegetables are delicious.

RM: I agree and over the years I’ve gradually stopped eating meat myself. Wow, this 15 minutes went by so quickly. I’m so excited to get to talk to you. I’m usually a music writer but when I saw you were coming to speak here, I had to get in contact. I’ve read so many essays by you and you seem to be in every documentary I see. It’s so great to talk someone who’s doing so much for people and the planet. It’s fantastic and I appreciate it.

Read the Martlet article here.

Dr. Vandana Shiva visits the community market at the University of Victoria. Photo by  Hugo Wong .

Dr. Vandana Shiva visits the community market at the University of Victoria. Photo by Hugo Wong.