Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shiva speaks to South Sound community about food politics

Above: Dr. Vandana Shiva enjoys a cozy potluck and the company of Olympians before her talk at South Puget Sound Community College Thursday evening.

“Never before have we had structured hunger…due to corporate greed…misappropriation of land…and now, climate change,” said Indian physicist, environmental leader and activist Dr. Vandana Shiva at South Puget Sound Community College's (SPSCC) Minnaert Center Thursday night.

Shiva received a whirlwind one day tour of Olympia before she spoke to the capacity crowd of 500 about the interrelatedness of community building, food politics, corporate greed and climate change.

Shiva, who holds a PhD in particle physics, founded a movement in India to promote the use of native seeds and biodiversity. She has authored hundreds of articles both scientific journals and the popular press and several books.

Invited to Olympia by the SPSCC student group BRICK, Shiva started her day with a muffin at Blue Heron Bakery, and later, enjoyed a bountiful potluck lunch in a cozy Westside home filled with about 30 Olympians. An impressed Shiva said during her talk that the potluck “…was a community lunch created mysteriously….where there’s a will to share, and a will to give, things multiply….”

On the topic of food politics, Shiva said, “Cheap food is a lie…it is very costly…on water, biodiversity, and on our bodies....Toxic food is not worth being eaten. Nature never would have produced it....Never trust cheap. Trust quality and trust your community.”

Shiva urged the need for community building and said, “The reason community is so threatening to corporations is because it is ordinary people organizing. That is democracy. Democracy is dead when people stop shaping the present and the future.”

Shiva shared many examples of her efforts in India to organize people against corporate greed and water privatization issues. “The worst dictators cannot take away the right to water, but the largest five corporations can...." In 2002, she helped with an effort to stop Coca-Cola from using so much water out of a village aquifer that there was no water for the villagers. Women sat outside the gates and shut the plant down. “The state has no right to take over a public right....”

Speaking about genetically modified food, Shiva said corporations are trying to patent regular foods as a way to control the market on those products and forcing farmers to use chemical fertilizers. “Free market democracy - there’s nothing free about it. It’s based on taking away working democracies and freedoms."

Shiva described how she helped stop a law that would have made it illegal for Indian farmers to have indigenous seeds. Taking their inspiration from Gandhi’s historic Salt Walk, they created a successful “Seed Walk.” In Tamil Nadu, a law was passed that made it illegal to give training in organic farming. Farmers organized, and that law with withdrawn. Shiva said 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide in the last ten years. The preferred method is by drinking pesticide. “This is a genocide. Farmers are a group of people who produce our food and are being targeted by corporations. Civic action has to shape the response to the crisis, whether it be climate, financial or farming."

In closing, Shiva read a Palestinian poem that says, in part, “You can destroy my village, you can kill my tree…but I do not fear you…I have one seed that I will plant and grow again…”

Shiva said, “Your lived experiences, your trust in your holistic knowledge, and your community has to guide us into the future…Every initiative in your community is a seed - as it grows, so does our fearlessness, our courage, in our love and passion for life. We refuse to be subjugated…by this dictatorship over our everyday lives. The possibilities are limitless, the alternative is extinction.”

Several South Sound community organizations hosted information tables in the lobby, including Transition Olympia, the South Puget Environmental Education Clearinghouse (SPEECH), Olympia Seed Exchange, Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation, Left Foot Organics, Thurston County Progressive Network, and Sustainable South Sound.

Above: Karin Kraft, Executive Director of Sustainable South Sound.

Above: Dr. Shiva and Judy Hollar of Thurston County Progressive Network. Hollar bought Shiva's latest book, "Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis."

Above: Craig Corrie meets Dr. Shiva. Corrie bought Shiva's book, "Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution and Profit."