THE BLOG
04/10/2008 09:19 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Subprime Food Industry

This decade has been marked by a growing awareness of and appreciation for organic foods. Rising obesity rates have prompted many Americans to review their eating habits and adopt regimens featuring fewer processed foods. America's healthy eating renaissance corresponds with what everyone freely refers to as a green movement that addresses everything from what people eat to what they drive, and take out their trash. Tragically, this newfound commitment to leading healthier lives in the United States has very little to put Americans on equal footing with the rest of the world -- especially when it comes to food production and consumption, a fact that has become exceptionally evident this week.

As a subprime mortgage crisis continues unraveling this country's economy, Haiti's fragile democracy is once again being challenged; this time by a subprime food crisis. Americans can immediately point to an unregulated recalcitrant banking industry as the culprits in the mortgage crisis spurring this latest recession, but the causes behind Haiti's subprime food crisis are harder to pin down--not the least of which because Haiti is not the only country grappling with a subprime food industry. The World Bank and its penchant for debilitating debt-repayment conditions deserves part of the blame as Stephanie Black vividly showed in her film Life and Debt, but even something like this can not be pinned on the shoulders of The World Bank alone.

In a recent conversation with Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, activist and writer Raj Patel declares:

For a start, there were just bad harvests last year. Some people say that this is a sign that climate change is biting in agricultural economies...But on top of that, there are a few other factors. One of them, one of the issues, is that governments, particularly the US government, is very keen on biofuels...On top of that, you've got an increasing demand for meat in developing countries. And as people get richer in those countries and they shift to something that looks more like an American diet, you have a situation where the grains are being diverted away from poor people and into livestock. So, again, that's driving up the price of grains.

Haiti, the Philippines, Thailand, and a number of other countries in the global south are now facing the wrath of a three-headed-hydra: (1) climate change (2) instability cause by increased demand for biofuels and (3) shifting dietary habits. Combating one of these situations is tough enough for Haiti and its counterparts, but addressing all three at once is an incredibly harrowing task.