Understanding the political economy of food.

Jennifer Clapp

If you go to a local farm and buy meat or apples directly from the producer, food trade can be straightforward. But international economic forces make things a lot more complicated when you buy globally traded foods at the grocery store.

Jennifer Clapp, a School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability (SERS) professor, is a highly regarded expert in food politics. She says the way that the dominant global food system is organized perpetuates the inequalities that have resulted in over 800 million people not getting enough to eat while others have too much. And it encourages unsustainable food production practices.

 Food, by Jennifer Clapp.Clapp has recently added two books to her long list of publications. One, simply titled Food, details the environmental, social, and economic implications of how the global food system is organized and suggests ways the system can be transformed.

“Global trade rules, patterns of agricultural aid for developing countries, and growing corporate concentration in the agrifood sector have all contributed to a system that many say is highly skewed and ecologically damaging,” says Clapp.

“If you shop at the supermarket without thinking about how your food was produced and where it came from, you might be supporting some of those kinds of relationships that some people would say are socially unjust or ecologically unsound.”

Clapp’s other recent book is Hunger in the Balance: The New Politics of International Food Aid, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Donner Prize.

One of the many issues with food aid is that some countries, notably the U.S., tie their food aid to the commodities they produce, meaning it has to be grown, packaged, and processed in the source country, says Clapp.

“It’s very inefficient because it drives the cost of aid up by 30 to 50 per cent above what it would be if you bought it closer to the source of hunger.”

Book cover entitled Hunger in the Balance, shows helicopter above crates and bags of food aid.“And there are environmental consequences from with shipping food half way around the world, as well ecological risks associated with introducing whole grains such as maize that may contain genetically modified organisms to countries where they are banned.”

Clapp is currently researching the growing importance of speculative financial investments in the agrifood system, and the implications of this practice for hunger and the environment.

“Recent years have seen a huge increase in investment in complex agriculture-based financial derivatives. These investments may seem purely financial on paper, but they have real world implications and have been associated with land grabs, forest clearing for biofuel production, and rising food prices.”

“Global economic forces affect the food system in myriad ways, and it’s important to understand the linkages if we wish to work toward more sustainable and just food systems for all.”

Clapp’s other recent book is Hunger in the Balance: The New Politics of International Food Aid.