Video: Vandana Shiva at MAD3

In her presentation at MAD3, author and seed activist Vandana Shiva described how decades ago she got the gut feeling that she needed to leave the world of physics (she has a PhD in quantum theory) to fight against industrialized and commodified food systems. Although she had published work on seed freedom early in her career, she felt that wouldn’t be enough. “If you’re serious and honest,” she says, “you can’t just analyze something.” 

At the symposium, Shiva provided a dizzying array of data to describe how monocultures result in food that is both unhealthy and not nearly as tasty as it could be. “They claim that they are feeding the world,” said Shiva of those who push the Green Revolution, “but it is actually small farmers who account for 72 per cent of the world’s food.” She condemned companies like Monsanto for having the gall to patent seeds (“Patents are for inventions, not for life”), and described how pesticides and genetically modified foods harm both the land and the people that consume the crops.

She also alluded to the nefarious efforts some of these corporations have made to maintain the status quo, like pushing out scientists whose data doesn’t support their agenda, and charging royalties for seeds that can push farmers to the brink. To support the latter point, Shiva referenced the staggering suicide rates among farmers in India.

Perhaps because she was addressing an audience made up primarily of chefs, Shiva emphasized how being guided by deliciousness can actually help the problem. According to her, instead of deluding ourselves with the promise of things like Golden Rice, we should support indigenous agriculture so we have a world of diverse, unpolluted, and tastier foods to draw from. 

Shiva called on chefs to note on their menus that they don’t serve genetically modified crops. Reflecting on her 40 years in the seed freedom movement, she said that chefs were actually among the first people to speak out against GMOs and patented seeds. “There has to be food freedom,” she said. “How can food be manipulated, how can it be poisoned?”

Stay tuned for more on Dr. Shiva and her efforts this week on the MADFeed.