Joseph Collins discusses the book "Food First"
BROADCAST: Oct. 28, 1977 | DURATION: 00:53:55
Dr. Joseph Collins co-authored the book, "Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity". Among the topics in the book include world hunger, famine, food policies and politics. Collins asks the readers to think about being ok with eating food grown in another country when the workers of that country are so poor, they themselves are starving for food.
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Studs Terkel Every once in a while a book comes along that explodes myths that are so much a part of American folklore, for that matter world folklore and folk say such as the world has too many people, overpopulation, scarcity of food or of energy, and that book blast destroys the myths. Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" an example of the effect of pesticides and insecticides on our society, unquestioned 'til her book. A book called "Food First" is another one that explosive, the subtitle is "Beyond the Myth of Scarcity", and my guest is Joseph Collins a co-author with Frances Moore Lappe, who wrote "Diet for a Small Planet", and that's the book we're talking about. "Food First" is the title. And so in a moment you will hear all sorts of myths, many of which a good many of us believe, people who are decent and intelligent and think we know what it's about believe, and suddenly realize something else is the case. There is no scarcity but there's something else in the air. "Food First" and Dr. Joseph Collins my guest in a moment after this message. [pause in recording]
Joseph Collins Writing a positive book about world hunger sounds to most people like trying to make a joke about death: it just isn't in the material. This attitude comes home to us every time we are introduced to someone and attempt to describe what we are doing. A typical response is a sigh of sympathy overlaid with a look of bewilderment. Why should any normal person choose to think all day and every day about starving people? Sometimes we sense latent feelings of guilt, because we inevitably appear as individuals who are quote making a sacrifice. We too feel uncomfortable. How can we explain in a few sentences that we are not dwelling only on a tragedy of hunger and deprivation, instead we are learning for the first time where our own self-interest really lies. Rather than being a depressing subject to be avoided, the world food problem has become for us the most useful tool in making sense out of our complex world. But how can we explain that in a few sentences? We cannot, and that is why we decided to write a book.
Studs Terkel Because that's what this is all about, isn't it? And so the question comes up, "What are too many people in the world, not enough food, not enough land, I know what's going to happen." that's -- you hear it. And in your book, you and your colleague, Mrs. Lappe, did this. The questions are asked and you answer. Now, this is myth number one. Let's tackle that.
Joseph Collins Well, the first questions in the book, Studs, deal with the myths that people are hungry in the world because of the scarcity of food, another way it's often put is that there are too many people, people have too many children. There isn't enough land. We've exceeded the possibilities of the planet, or they have exceeded the possibilities of their country to produce the food that they need. And we have done over the last several years research and in turn we have benefited from the research of many, many people around the world. We find out that this just doesn't hold up. Let me share just a few of the things. We find that Bangladesh, a country that is roughly the size of the State of Arkansas, with 84 million people, well that isn't really a basket case. In fact, they have a situation where already they have twice the cultivated land per person that a country like Taiwan does. And Taiwan has virtually eliminated a real hunger problem. Or that Bangladesh
Joseph Collins Well, to focus in on the difference between Taiwan or some of the differences between Taiwan and Bangladesh, Taiwan is a country where about 25, 30 years ago, the land was redistributed to the peasants. Now, this was done we must add here quickly by outside forces, by the mainland Chinese under Chiang Kai-shek and also with support from foreign governments such as the United States. Now, there was a lot of self-interest operating on the part of people like Chiang Kai-shek, he wanted to break the power of the local landed elites in that country. But the reality is that peasants began to have something of control over land. They began to see that this land belonged to them, that they could in fact improve the quality of that land, they could drain parts of it, they could dig irrigation systems, that the work that they put into the land would benefit them. In Bangladesh by contrast, about a third of the rural population has no land at all, and another third are sharecroppers, tenants. They have no reason to take an interest in improving the land. We find this with sharecroppers around the world. The fact that the land has, as has happened in many cases with the green revolution becomes more productive
Joseph Collins Okay, but I'm saying that that the sharecropper-type people are not really -- they know that land isn't theirs, they're not going to work on improving that land. The important thing that brings this clear in Bangladesh is that the problem there is one of rainfall occurring in only one month a year. But lots of it: 200 inches, 300 inches a year. But all in one month. Now traditionally, the peasants would work together to dig very deep ditches, and I mean Olympic swimming pool and larger to collect that water, so that that water could be used throughout the months when it wouldn't rain. But with the coming of the British and the British using various systems to build up local elites, who in turn would be their agents in maintaining political control in the countryside, most of the people were cut out of having any benefit from this work, so they certainly weren't going to do the work.
Joseph Collins Colonialism coming in, and the inheritance of colonialism goes on to this day. So if you go to Bangladesh now, you find that fewer and fewer people control the land. And since the majority of the people are not anymore working at digging these wells -- or not wells, but these pits to collect water, they are silting up. They don't hold any water. But the big guys are in turn counting on the United States government and the World Bank, etc. to give them a loan so that they can buy the machinery to dig a well so that they will have the water they will need. Now, our aid program experts can say, "Well, isn't this great. We're bringing in modern equipment and it's digging a well and then these landholders will be able to produce food." But what happens is that the majority of the people are impoverished, they have no money, so they don't make up what you know economists would call a market for that food. So those people who do have land increasingly begin to think of how they can grow things that can be exported to other countries in Asia and exported to Europe and beyond.
Studs Terkel And so a country that has perva-- where hunger is pervasive are exporting what might be called luxury items to the more affluent peoples elsewhere. That is, who is they who export? A certain few who hold this land thanks to colonialism.
Joseph Collins Right, and it's important that you phrase it that way, Studs, because so many people say, "Oh well, you know Bangladesh or Guatemala's exporting this or that," but it's really not a country that's exporting it's a certain group of people.
Studs Terkel But if Bangladesh now, let's stay with Bangladesh or any of the countries where hunger is so pervasive, when we come to the case of another wholly different aspect, China and what happened there, what we have to learn. Let's say Bangladesh or a country in Africa pre-colonialism, there was something called rotation of crops, was there?
Joseph Collins Well, most importantly in most precolonial societies in Africa, the land was thought of as a communal possession. It would have been considered absolute madness for one individual to think that the land belonged to him or to her, but instead people thought of the land as a communal trust. What happens with the coming of colonialism is that the people who lived on the land were taxed by the colonial government, and the only way they could pay those taxes was by growing something that could be sold abroad, in Europe primarily in the case of Africa. What happens today is that so many of the independent governments are really no different from the British or French governments, in fact in many cases they have increased the taxes, forcing the people to use more of their land, more of their work time, more of all types of resources in order to grow things like cotton and peanuts and cocoa
Joseph Collins Which is to be exported. In fact, Studs, the new modern form of this is things such as vegetables and flowers. In a very significant way now in Africa, I was just, I was in Africa twice this year, and both times I visited a number of countries where firms from the United States and from Europe, from Japan, were coming in and taking over some land, often by a certain arrangement with the local government, a little bit of money here and there to the right person, using that land often with a very modern Israeli-type irrigation system, a drip irrigation, a little drop of water on each little plant, to grow vegetables that are then taken off to the main airport and airfreighted off to Europe. In fact, in Upper Volta I saw a German company experimenting with the use of a blimp that would go around from village to village collecting vegetables that they had contracted from villagers to grow, that then would go to the main airport and be exported off to Frankfurt.
Joseph Collins Things like artichokes, beans, eggplant, really the high value and water-intensive vegetable. The things that are being grown are actually crops that the local people have often never seen or heard of, before in fact these lands have been used to grow basically grains such as millet, rice in some areas, and
Joseph Collins There was not pervasive hunger. In fact, hunger begins also with another pattern of colonialism that is draining off the most able-bodied people for slavery. Or draining off the most able-bodied people to work on the plantations, on the plantation crops. This varies a little bit with different areas of
Studs Terkel You say plantations, because by the way the parallels are remarkable, how it affects U.S. and agribusiness, plantations replacing the small peasants, the small farmers, as just agribusiness does in our [country?] replacing small farmers. So everything we're saying over there in some way comes back home.
Studs Terkel Remember the myth with, myth number one we're attacking here is too many people in the world, too dense per acre, therefore no matter what we do, so therefore the scarcity of food. Now, over-population, this is the [thing? theme?] we're talking about. You say no, you and Mrs. Lappe, say "No, that's not the problem at all. That's a symptom rather than a problem." symptom.
Joseph Collins It's a symptom, so, and it's important to emphasize that. We're not saying that there is no limit to what resources could support, what we're saying is that if you think that in fact it is an urgent thing to be concerned about the number of people in relationship to resources, you want to get at the real nature of the problem, to get at the root causes, and that so often is in fact the same thing as the root cause of hunger. People have a lot of children because they're poor. They need their children to work for them. There have been studies around the world that showed that in rural areas, a child at the age of eight, nine or ten is able to produce more for the family than he or she consumes.
Studs Terkel So when someone who means well, family planner, others say look at birth control here, the implication is "Look, too many mouths to feed." That is not what the poor people think, aside from being made guilty because of that.
Joseph Collins And it's not only that famine has been overcome in China, but people are no longer dependent upon children as a major part of their livelihood. They're not dependent in old age. Old people in China have security of knowing that when they cannot work, they will be able to have a decent life. So they don't have to have large families to take care of them, which was the Chinese tradition previously. So once the social circumstances have been changed, then a certain type of family planning, and that's basically where the people feel the need, where they are in charge of it themselves, has its role. And when so-called family planning experts go to China, they are quite impressed to find that the Chinese are certainly very involved in family planning, and very successful, much more so than multimillion dollar and tax-funded programs in India and similar countries, but what they sometimes see and sometimes miss depending on how blind they are or not, is that the social circumstances of the people were changed first.
Studs Terkel Yes. And then comes the family. In the social circumstances, so by the way, to make it -- just to get a point straight, say, "Are we to be like China and have a certain kind of freedom we know restricted?" This is not what you're talking about. We have things to learn from China, but what we learn should be based upon our own indigenous, our own culture, and not theirs.
Joseph Collins Right. So often we're asked if we think China is a model, and we say that we don't even think thinking in terms of models is a very good idea. What is more important is to try to understand each situation. The experience of the Chinese people as well as possible and sort of sharpening your ability to understand by focusing in on that experience will help you understand other situations, including our own situation.
Joseph Collins Right. So what we write here is that in this one area of Bangladesh, in a village of [Kunjipupkur?], the local villagers, by developing a collective decision-making process, succeeded in first of all repaying outstanding loans to credit agencies and replacing them with a common community fund. So they got out of that situation where the individual peasant is in debt, which we want to talk about that later as a big problem around the world. Also they were able to guarantee work to all the landless. They planted fruit trees on all the idle village land, trees that would be however cultivated or harvested collectively. They constructed roads and irrigation canals using unoccupied village workers. They didn't get a multimillion dollar World Bank loan and a D-6 Caterpillar tractor. They established a literacy program, settled disputes through a village People's Court, not going to you know to outside authorities, but seeing that they had to control their own lives, and moving women towards economic independence for men by allowing the women to take over the responsibility for, and all the proceeds from, because women take on a lot of responsibilities everywhere, but the proceeds from poultry raising.
Joseph Collins The Institute for Food and Development Policy in San Francisco. We are seven of us, and we are basically researching food and hunger problems around the world, and we have experienced over the last few years, as we talked with Americans, a real cynicism about change. Many Americans say, "Oh, my. Maybe in China they've eliminated hunger, but haven't they sacrificed freedom? Those people don't have any ability to decide things." Well, same time I find so many Americans who seem completely paralyzed. They despair at anything being changed in the world. So one of the things that we are now working on and it's involving a lot of our resources is to get in touch with places like this village in Bangladesh, countries like Vietnam. I was just myself for a month in one of the former Portuguese colonies in Africa, Guinea-issau. Movements even within the United States, where people are beginning to take control over the resources. We want to see how did they do this, what -- you know, in much greater detail. What are the ways the country does organize itself so that everyone can participate, so everyone can eat? What are the difficulties? What common patterns do we see from place to place? So you know, over the next few years this is what we'll be doing, and
Studs Terkel And along with that is the demolition of myths, because the myths have to go. So we dealt with the question of, for the moment of overpopulation. Now, well, the fact there is -- now we come myth number two: scarcity. The subtitle of your book is by the way "Beyond the Myth of Scarcity, " so not enough food in the world. That's the myth number two.
Joseph Collins Right. Now, you know the myth that comes right back to scarcity is the idea that the thing to do in order to eliminate hunger in the world is to get more food produced. So many international agencies, so many governments, so many well-meaning Americans have thought that people were hungry, the most urgent thing in the world is to get the production totals up, get more food produced. So rather than looking at the real living situation of people who are hungry and seeing what are the social causes of their hunger, seeing for instance that the peasants in Upper Volta do produce enough grain every year to feed themselves, but they're so deeply in debt to local moneylenders who come along right after harvest and take a big hunk out of the harvest, that they can't make it to the next harvest, and then they have to borrow more grain and they have to borrow it precisely at the time when grain prices are high. That is to say, a few months after harvest. So every year they're deeper in debt and they lose more of their harvest every year after harvest. So rather than looking at that type of situation, planners have gone into a country like Upper Volta and said, "We have a new miracle seed here. We're going to get the food production of this country increased. We'll go to the people who have the best land and the largest units of land, because that's how we'll get the biggest sign of increased in the shortest period of time. We'll build a dam so that they can have irrigation, because these seeds need almost laboratory-like conditions if they are in fact going to respond, we'll bring them fertilizers and etc., and pesticides because their seeds are these new seeds are more in fact prone to disease? So what happens is more gets produced, but by the very people who didn't have the hunger problem to begin with. They take then that food, they sell it, they make money, and they buy up more land and they become bigger and bigger.
Studs Terkel But what you're saying also, you're kind of exploding this theme of the miracle seed and the green revolution, aren't you? We have --people think green revolution is something quite beautiful, but it turns out to be something less than that. Would you mind explaining that?
Joseph Collins Well, since we have a little time on this program, let's understand something about the so-called miracle seeds themselves. Scientists who invented them like to call them HYVs: High-yielding varieties. And when you hear that, you get the idea that this is wonderful thing. We got a seed that's going to give us a bigger amount of food in the world. How could that be bad? Well, we point out in the book that it might be much better to call them HRVs: high-response varieties, meaning that these seeds have been genetically worked with in such a way so that if they get certain amount of water at the very right time, a certain amount of fertilizers, certain amount of pesticides, they indeed might give a higher yield, but they're responding to ideal circumstances. And indeed many times these seeds were developed in one or two laboratories around the world in rather specific climate, in sunlight and [a?] condition. It makes a difference, you know, whether you're growing something up in the northern hemisphere or whether you're growing it down in the, around the equator. Many of our listeners might not be aware of that, but these seeds were then sent out and given to the farmers who were the most likely to be able to show good results. That means they were given to the farmers who already had land, the reality is that in underdeveloped countries around the world, 30 to 60 per cent of the people who live in the countryside have no land at all. So we're already dealing with a little elite. It was given to people who had political influence, people who knew where this dam was going to be built, and where the irrigation canals would go. You can get in on that action soon. So what has happened around this so-called Green Revolution, around these so-called miracle seeds, is that a whole new class of farmers has emerged. I was to a couple of areas in India where you find that now today, the landholders are retired military officers, politicians, some of the traditional large landholding families in the area, shopkeepers who again had the money, shopkeepers always being in fact moneylenders or shall we call them loan sharks, to make it clear what they really do in life. These are the people who have been producing indeed in a business-type way more food. But as we like to say, more food in these circumstances means more hunger. This is not just, you know, our sort of speculation about
Joseph Collins In the first case, they were basically grain crops that were grown, but because this phenomenon that many of the local people were poor and indeed they were getting poorer as they had less land, as these large holders for instance mechanized. Now how does that happen? You see, a large holder, when he gets interested in the land as a business-type activity, might have traditionally had sharecroppers on his land who would get one-third or whatever of the crop. He might say, "I'm going to get rid of these people and I'm going to turn this into much more of like a factory. I'm going to have wage laborers when I need them, and I can therefore keep more of the crop for myself," and then the next thing he thinks about is, "Well, what if I -- if I had a machine, then I wouldn't have to have so many laborers, and I wouldn't have quote 'labor problems,' laborers who see how much money I'm making and how poor they are." So he gets a machine: less talking back from a machine. Then once he has the machine, he figures out that he could do better if he had a larger piece of land. So he takes some of the profit and buys up a smaller farmer's land. So this is a constant process of this guy getting bigger and bigger and more of the local people neither having land nor having jobs. So they can't buy any of the food that's produced.
Studs Terkel So as you talk of other lands, primarily third-world countries in which this is happening, I think of the obvious analogy that is here, that agribusiness is buying up more and more land here and the small farmer becomes less and less a factor in our society, and he becomes the sharecropper on what was once his own land.
Joseph Collins Right. And indeed you find in the United States Senate's studies of hunger in the United States, some of the greatest hunger is right in rural America and it's not just in the mountainous rocky areas, it's in some of the biggest farming -- that is to say in valued value producing lands in the country California produces nine billion dollars a year in agricultural goods. And you have hungry people living right among those fields and you have very hungry people who are wage laborers on those fields.
Joseph Collins To the people who have the high income. And because the people, most of the people don't own any of the land. They don't share in it. They get a certain wage labor, a certain piecework-type rate, and it's not enough.
Studs Terkel This is Joe Collins, my guest. Joseph Collins and he and his colleague, Frances Moore Lappe, who had written "Diet for a Small Planet", have come through with this explosive book called "Food First", subtitled "Beyond the Myth of Scarcity", and Houghton Mifflin the publishers, and we'll resume the conversation in a moment and more of those myths to be exploded and what is to be done about it. Un momento. [pause in recording] So resuming the conversation with Joseph Collins and "Food First", and so technology. We come to the question. Well, of course these benighted people of the Third World don't know as Senator Moynihan pointed out, "How come we're able to do things and they can't." And what about -- by God, maybe some of those big machines that are so good we can use, tech -- they lack know-how. They lack know-how.
Joseph Collins Right. Well, that is certainly the way that many of us grew up thinking in this country, that people are poor because they lack know-how, the countries are poor because they lack technology. And then the next step in thinking is that, "Well, we have to get them some of our technology. Maybe our corporations can do that." We made a study, in fact we're still at our institute studying large agricultural firms from this country who go overseas, go to Latin America, go to Africa, go to Asia, and what are they doing? Well, basically what they are doing is not growing food for the hungry local people, because again those people are poor, they don't have anything to buy it with, it wouldn't make any business sense to do that in the first place. So what they are doing is seeing these countries as what they in fact often call it: export platforms. Places where they can get land cheap and because the land is cheap to buy, it's treated cheaply. Let me tell you, Studs, the type of erosion, the type of salination that's going on in some of these agricultural operations of the supposedly very sophisticated companies, and what they're most importantly doing is growing things that can be sold in Japan and the United States, Western Europe. How many of our listeners are aware of the amount of agricultural goods imported into the United States? And it's not all bananas.
Joseph Collins Right.
Joseph Collins But as we point out in "Food First", it's not just cocoa, coffee and peanuts. About half of what we're importing is exactly the type of thing that many American farmers grow: vegetables; string beans; tomatoes; strawberries.
Joseph Collins Okay. Fifteen years ago there were no strawberries being imported from Mexico at all, but some of the big food companies, and here I really have to point out something we haven't mentioned, that the food manufacturers in this country, there are 30 thousand of them. But about 50 to 60 of them control over half of the food industry. So we have a very concentrated thing. Well, now it's going on in Mexico. As I say, 15 years ago no strawberries were grown, now there's about 160 million pounds a year that are being imported. We went to one of the areas of Mexico, the area where this is going on, Zamora
Studs Terkel Zamora.
Joseph Collins And what you find that has developed there is a -- is two towns of a few so-called, and this is what the local people call them, "strawberry millionaires." People who live like rich Chicagoans, who have three or four automobiles, whose children go to boarding schools in the United States, who take their trip to Las Vegas, who go up across the border to do their shopping from everything from underwear to automobiles. While most of the people in town are dirt poor. They often have no employment during the part of the year where there's no strawberries being grown. In fact, a very dramatic thing is to go to the area next to the railroad station where at five o'clock in the morning thousands of men gather, hoping that they will get a job picking strawberries in the strawberry
Joseph Collins And that's exactly the attitude, and they go and work in the fields. And I should point out that a lot of women are hired, and as we quote one grower in the book, he says he likes to hire women because they don't have to stoop so far. That's also in case that he pays them about half of what he pays the
Studs Terkel This brings us back, doesn't it, to the original myth of overpopulation, that to that poor Mexican little daughter or little son is not another mouth to feed, but somebody to bring in another peso or two.
Joseph Collins Now, these same fields that are being put to growing strawberries five, six months of the year, and then the rest of the year lying idle, could be if they were under the control of the local people, growing all the food they needed plus some, and even then some strawberries. In fact, you could have a much more rational use of the land by having different types of food crops.
Studs Terkel Since you mentioned that now, okay. So there can be without the hand of whatever multinationals of course, big companies of course, plus their stooges and indigenous stooges, people can -- everyone can be fed by a matter of rotating whatever it is that was natural to that land. And now we come to the machinery, without necessarily the huge machines.
Joseph Collins That's right. And see, what's interesting is that when people are first and foremost growing the food that they like to eat, they're not going to grow rows and rows of one thing, they're going to grow a variety of things. They're going to grow beans and corn and a number of vegetables, and they might want to have a little grass area especially in the marginal land so that they can feed some goats and some chickens and some cattle, etc. But it's exactly this type of mixed crop farming that is in fact so very efficient. To the sometimes sophisticated American idea, it looks very backward to have a field such as I was recently visiting some fields in Guatemala where the Indians plant corn and they plant beans right in the same lines with the corn, and the beans grow up curling around the cornstalk. Now, to the big mechanized thinking American mind, this looks terribly inefficient. What do you do with the fact that the corn is ready at one time a year for harvesting and the beans at another time? But that's no problem when people are locally working it. They can come pick the beans, pick the corn
Joseph Collins Right. And we're also talking about how the bean is taking nitrogen out of the air and putting it into the soil. And the corn in turn is using that nitrogen in the soil. Corn uses a lot of nitrogen, bean actually increases the nitrogen in the soil. Therefore, they don't need to think of importing chemical fertilizers, other costly items.
Studs Terkel So in contrast to that, you have quotes. By the way, all these, we should point out that you and Frances Lappe have a question always asked, and the question is a logical, not an absurd question, because these are not setups. What about scarcity? What about over-population? At the end you have quotes.
Studs Terkel Brazil. And here's what he said in 1973 from London. "You can buy the land out there for the same price as a couple of bottles of beer per acre. When you've got a half a million acres and 20,000 head of cattle, you can leave the lousy place and go live in Paris, Hawaii or Switzerland, anywhere you choose." This in a sense, in a grotesque sense, is what it's about, isn't it? He doesn't give a damn about the land or the people there. He can make a buck or two, so this, we're talking one rancher, but then I suppose [think of a?] multi-national, think of a thousand.
Joseph Collins Right. In fact, in our own country we know of agribusiness taking over large areas of land, and you know, trying to operate that, and in fact bungling it as has happened so often when large corporations take over areas of land. But when the stockholders begin to question this, they say, "Don't worry, we're not really into this for agriculture. This is just a good way given tax laws for us to hold the land until we can turn it into a subdivision so we can you know make it into real estate. Now, what happens in America when we lose more and more of our agricultural land? First of all, we're losing our farmers, and once a man and his family leaves the land, once they have to go out of business in farming, it's not going to be easy five, 10, 15, 20 years from now to say, "Oh, would you come back and do some farming for us?" Secondly, we're losing a lot of agricultural land. We're losing it in the form that I indicated, it's being turned into real estate, etc. But we're also using it through the type of land management practices that occur when people don't see that land is really something that they are going to make their livelihood off for the rest of their lives, that they want to pass on to their children. In Iowa now, there's been a lot of outside speculation going on in Iowa farmland. Lands that really in the western part of the state should not be tilled, are much better for grazing lands, are being put into corn production, and this has meant that two bushels of topsoil have been lost for every bushel of corn that's been harvested. [Other?] areas in the Plains states like Nebraska and Kansas where big-time farmers, outsiders, foreign corporations come in and put in an irrigation system. Now, this is the land that has perfectly well produced through rain for generations. But now these guys are into a $60,000 pivot irrigation system, now what is a pivot irrigation system? Well, a well is dug, and then a pipe which is so many hundred yards long goes across the field with a wheel at the far end, so that it in fact can spin around the field irrigating that land. Now, this means of course that you're going to get a growth of a very nice-looking crop there. But what's going on? The water underneath the land that has accumulated over generations is being mined. And the studies indicate that in 12, 15 years there'd be no water at all. But by that time, these guys will have made their killing.
Studs Terkel It's funny, everything you say, you in this book, always comes back to us here. What is being done THERE, out there, third-world countries, under-- so-called underdeveloped countries, is also coming back here, whether the use of cattle, chickens, pesticide, we haven't -- I realized we're not gonna touch a tenth of what you have here in the book.
Joseph Collins Right. In fact, in much of farming, not only poultry but in vegetable farming, farmers have become mere serfs as you say to a large processing company. They are presented with a contract which is very hard to not accept, because the local bank won't give them any credit unless they signed the contract, and that has happened in so many areas. And once they sign this contract, then it's sort of like indentured servitude for the, for the rest of their lives because the company will give them in the case of poultry it gives them the little chicks and then they in turn have to agree to buy the feed from that company and feed those chicks, and then nine weeks later turn them over to the same processors. And about 90 -- I think 97, 98 percent of the chickens grown in the United States today are grown in this fashion, of contracted with a big feed company that in turn buys the end product. And one study done by Harrison Wellford, his study was called "Sowing in the Wind", he found that these Alabama farmers who had gotten into this were earning I think it was minus 9 cents an hour.
Studs Terkel Because something happens here, as this seem -- this deal seems so good, in the meantime new kinds of appliances come into being to pay for, 'cause they're kind of good, and so they're in debt, it's like a company store in a mining town.
Studs Terkel We
Joseph Collins Best
Joseph Collins Right.
Joseph Collins Right. Cattle can certainly, like all rudimentary animals, have this this type of function in the human food system where they can eat things that human beings cannot eat and turn it into proteins that human beings can use. I think China's a good case in point. The Chinese like to have [prints?] and pork in their diet. Today there are about, when we wrote the book there were about 240 million pigs in China, and yet they are not being fed grains, they are living off the farm waste, the waste from the urban areas. In other words, they're using things that are in one sense perfectly useless and turning it into meat.
Joseph Collins Yeah, they're not competing with human beings. Where in our country so often, and this is a model that that aid agencies and corporations from our country have been pushing in Africa and elsewhere, animals are competing with people for grain. They can be fed a ton and a half of grain, often in fact injecting hormones and other chemicals into their bodies that makes it possible for the animal to go on eating and eating and eating and eating grain. Now, this can be economically very profitable for a few people, but is it the way that we want to use our resources?
Studs Terkel You know, one of the themes of the book and it's connected with it, knowledge of monopoly, that is again we come to the ordinary person, particularly the Third World or here for that matter, using the Third World, the underdeveloped countries so-called, they don't know. So we have -- you call, you quote some scientists who are quite horrendous by the -- because they work for the companies obviously and in "Science" magazine for that matter they're quoted. Now, these are the experts. And again you destroy the theme of the knowledge monopoly.
Joseph Collins Well, one of the really frightening things that's been happening in the last 10 or 15 years is that in organizations like the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, where in fact you would expect to find many knowledgeable people who have had experience in agriculture in various countries in the world, would be able to offer advice to farmers around the world, instead -- and there are many good people among them, but instead more and more the balance in those organizations, the balance of power if you will, have been shifting to those people who are very technocratically-minded. And when a country in Africa finds that it has a pest problem, or pests shall we say eating the yams, which is a very important element in the diet of the people, and that government refers that problem to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the government will be told, "Well, you should meet with the pesticide working group." Well what is the pesticide working group? It's part of something within the Food and Agricultural Organization that is made up of members who are in fact the big chemical corporations in the world. Some of the big drug companies. And naturally, when it comes to solving the pest problem, what they're going to push is a type of pesticide, something that they can sell. But what we do in our book I think is blow away the myth of how pesticides in fact work. So first of all, some very startling things. Americans think that well, one of the reasons why we have so much produced in the United States must be because of pesticides. In fact, most of the pesticides that are used in the United States are used in cotton. About 50 percent of all pesticides are used in corn. A lot of farming in the United States is done with, without pesticides. A large percentage of the rest is used on one particular problem in corn: corn root worm. We'll come back to that. And then another and third area of pesticide use in this country is fungicides on certain fruit crops, so that they can look, you know, perfectly beautiful to the consumer. It doesn't have anything to do with improving their growth rate or their nutritional value. Now, pesticides, when they are sold by a profit-making corporation, are likely to be pushed in the following manner: namely, the farmer is told that he needs these pesticides and that he should set up a regular schedule four times during the season, he should have his field sprayed and that should be just like clockwork. Well, what happens is that these pesticides are also produced in such a way that they will kill a wide variety of pests. This is the cheapest way to manufacture something, make it so it serves for a lot of things, but unfortunately the way a field is, is it's not just the food that is growing, and then a pest that might eat that food. But out there in that field there are a variety of pests, some of which are actually friendly to the plant, some of which are in fact predators on the so-called pest. Their function is to keep the thing in balance. Along comes the pesticide and it kills, if you will, foe and friend alike, and worse still, the way chemicals operate is that relatively quickly the pests begin to develop through mutation new generations that are resistant to that pesticide, and what looked like a wonderful situation for the first couple of years, you spray, no pests, bigger yield, all of a sudden turns completely around on the farmer. He starts using more and more pesticides and he gets less and less, and there are more and more pests. And this has been happening. Take the corn root worm that I have mentioned. It is now a National Academy of Sciences study released about a year ago says that the corn root worm in America has now developed near-perfect resistance to any pesticide that we now have. And the corn root is advancing, that's, I think it's 60 miles a year, up the South coming up to the corn fields, we're going to see it here in Illinois for instance. And then what are farmers going to do? Well, what were they doing beforehand? Farmers used to rotate their crops. They didn't grow just row after row of corn year after year, because what happens when you do that, Studs, is that you're leaving around in the field and in the ground exactly what the pest needs to survive. You're leaving his dinner there all the time, whereas if you pull out that one crop and put in another crop, pests are very food-specific if you will; they cannot change their diet from corn to beans.
Studs Terkel Even though a number of years ago Rachel Carson alerted us to it, though she was eloquent and had some impact, nothing too much has happened to end that thing. What's interesting to me, Joseph Collins is my guest is, in your book you and Frances Lappe say that that person, that farmer, seemingly ignorant, less knowledgeable than the expert, knows exactly what through the years he has rotated the crops, has it because he knows what his hands can do and what the crops -- whether it be in somewhere in Africa or somewhere in Iowa, the same kind of farmer knows it, but has been overwhelmed now by the big outfits.
Joseph Collins Yeah, the type of information that is fed to him, the type of advertising done in farm magazines, and the United States Department of Agriculture, its so-called extension service, which is to help farmers with their problems, is just what I described on the world level the U.N. is. More and more becomes just an agency to let you know where you can buy the latest commercial product.
Studs Terkel I was thinking there's so much in this book and myths exploded, but above all toughly optimistic. Oh, another myth is, if only the greedy Americans would cut down on their food, help others. That's nothing to do with it at all.
Joseph Collins For their own health, etc., and where it comes from. And I think there are good moral reasons to think about, should we be eating food coming from countries where people are hungry, or do we want to eat food that's coming even from our own country, but on farms where the work is really being done by hired hands who are not paid enough to live themselves? I really recommend to anyone who's listening here that they encourage their church group, for instance, to get a film which they can get through the National Council of Churches in New York, 475 Riverside Drive, called "A Day Without Sunshine". Now, what is that about? Well, it's about, it's a film made by public broadcasting
Joseph Collins That film is called "A Day without Sunshine", and it's available through the Communications Division of the National Council of Churches, 4-7-5 Riverside Drive, New York, New York, 1-0-0-2-7. That will show you where the oranges in Florida come from. It'll show you where the oranges that Anita singing about how you can get sunshine
Joseph Collins No, she's not. But in fact she appears in the film and they bring in one of the commercials as I think a very, I mean tear-provoking contrast to the miserable lives of the people working in those fields. The point is, I think that you know, too many Americans are losing touch with where food comes from in their lives. And
Studs Terkel Know what I think we should read? By the way, I'm talking to Joseph Collins, who's co-author with Frances Moore Lappe, the book we're talking about, "Food First" is the book, "Beyond The Myth of Scarcity" the subtitle and Houghton Mifflin the publisher. There's a dialogue here we should read, and you do the narrating and I'll do one of the guys and you do the other. Of this dialogue here, which I think is almost a metaphor for the whole book, isn't it,
Joseph Collins Right. So this is Bill Paddock, who has done work over the years about agricultural development and aid programs, and he's a very conservative man actually, and he wrote, "I was sitting once at a table beside the swimming pool at the Biltmore Hotel in Guatemala City, writing up my log of the day's interviews when I became aware that six men at the next table were discussing development plans for Guatemala. When I went over later and introduced myself, I learned that the adviser of the group was the former executive director of a foundation whose effectiveness in providing overseas assistance had been endorsed by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Two of the men in the group were wealthy businessmen from upstate New York, who had generously decided to contribute money and time to set up their own program to help feed the people of at least one hungry nation. The sincerity of the men in the group and their basic Christian goodwill are also typical, and I urge that their conversation not be interpreted as a caricature of naivete. On the contrary, they were too highly motivated for that."
Studs Terkel "Now these people, these Guatemalans, don't even know how to use a screwdriver. You can't imagine how easy it is, would be to double their food production once you get 'em to accept our ideas."
Studs Terkel "We know and they don't." Aside -- these are people of goodwill. Now the other guys, they know what they're doing. A guy says "I can buy that land for -- that acre for a bottle of beer. Get out of that lousy land and make millions, and live in Switzerland." There are two aspects as well as the company itself. So how scarcity, why scarcity, if there is -- the book "Food First."
Joseph Collins We're living in an important time, Studs. What this book tries to help us see is what's happening in the food system of our own country, the food system of the world. We're being led down certain paths. We still have some time I think. I'm somewhat optimistic, because I have not found an area of the world where there are not people who are beginning to fight back, who in fact who have not -- they've been successful in a number of countries. We talked about that earlier in the program. As we go around this country we find that there are so many people who are beginning to ask questions about where their food comes from, who are beginning to organize themselves into worker-managed food systems that create alternatives, which in turn help them to learn more about the whole food system. People are getting concerned about what their children are learning about food. We talk in the book at the end, you know, can we do. We give examples of what people are beginning to do around this country. We list organizations and other sources of information besides Walter Cronkite about the world. And you know, we see it very much as an action manual, a book of real questions with some answers, some suggestions of what's happening, blowing away some myths and showing people how in fact one of the most meaningful things they can do perhaps in their entire lives is to find out what's going on with our food.
Studs Terkel And just as a postscript, the book is very salubriously written, there's a great style here, it's almost out loud reading as you heard a moment ago. "Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity", my guest Joseph Collins, who with his colleague Frances Moore Lappe, written this book. "Beyond the Myth of Scarcity", Houghton Mifflin Comp-- available and boy, important.