Speaker talks sustainable food

Michael Williams

Author and social activist Raj Patel will speak at the University Center Thursday, Feb. 20 about sustainable global food systems.

Patel’s presentation, titled “Feeding the 10,000,000,000 Sustainably,” will focus on the logistics of feeding the burgeoning global population when a food distribution gap already exists.

Patel’s presentation is jointly organized by the NMU Social Justice Committee (SJC) and Platform Personalities.

SJC’s theme for the 2013-14 academic year is food security. Arika Egan is SJC’s president. She is joined by Taylor Tillotson, who helps organize SJC’s events.

“I am extremely excited to have him come here,” Egan said. “I know he has been cited as the rock star of social justice writing which is exactly what we’re looking for. He hit on a lot of the hard points that we are trying to educate the community about. A lot of that deals with food inequality, access to nutrition and the different effects it has on people based on the…access they have.”

SJC found Patel through the American Public Bureau (APB) website. APB caters to campuses looking for speakers who are authoritative on various topics.

“Being that we are a brand new organization, we did have some limits with the budget that we were able to get because we didn’t have any preceding events that had success rates,” Egan said. “It was recommended to me to search for somebody who had a good budget and cost for bringing them to campus. After searching through food politics and related issues we came upon him. Patel really met up with our needs.”

Patel is the author of “Stuffed and Starved” (2008), “Value of Nothing” (2010) and co-author of numerous books focusing on the intersections between social justice, food sovereignty and environmental issues. His commentary on food justice was SJC’s motivation to bring him to NMU.

“He really tied into our main message of food security,” Tillotson said. “Although I don’t personally identify with every position of Patel’s on every issue, I think it’s really valuable to have more diverse speakers at NMU. I agree every human has a basic right to nutrition and calories to get by as a human rights issue and social issue going forward.”

Food security was an easy theme for SJC to choose.

“Particularly for me I’ve noticed a lot of food being wasted at the MP or the Den by people getting portions that are too big or they decide that they don’t like it after they’ve already gotten the food and then they just throw it away,” Egan said. “It’s just not something that people think about. It’s important to get people to think about how their actions perpetuate these paradigms that we live in, especially in America where food is something a lot of us have very much access to.”

Patel’s commentary on economics resonates with Tillotson.

“I really respect his view on externalities and hidden costs related to simple things like cheap clothes and cheap food,” Tillotson said. “By examining these hidden costs, people and consumers can make wiser decisions in their daily life.”

Egan said Patel’s presentation will be relevant to Marquette.

“There’s a disparity between the food quality that exists and the places that you go,” Egan said. “There is a group of people that are able to shop at the Marquette Food Co-op. You can go there and get really healthy things. But those are the foods that are really expensive.

“And then you have college students like myself and others who are trying to make it on their own, who are trying to reduce their meal plan and they’ll end up going to Wal-Mart. So even though everybody is buying enough food to keep them from being hungry, there is still an inequality in the amount of nutrition they have available to them. Even though everybody’s fed, there’s still a lot of inequality.”