The age of fake food: a conversation with Satish Kumar and Vandana Shiva

The same tycoons who created factory farms are the ones investing in fake meat. But “real” food can’t be created in laboratories: regenerative agriculture is the only way.

On January 5, 2022, Navdanya International participated in the annual Oxford Real Farming Conference with a session titled “Healing Our Connection With Food In The Fake Food Era”, with Dr. Vandana Shiva, founder of Navdanya and the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (India) and President of Navdanya International, and Satish Kumar, Editor Emeritus of Resurgence & The Ecologist, and co-founder of the Schumacher College. The speakers discussed how we must re-establish our connection with eating as an ecological act in defiance of the false solutions that shift political power away from regenerative farmers and local communities.

Vandana Shiva against fake food
Vandana Shiva, scientist, ecologist, activist and author © Manlio Masucci-Navdanya International

Fake food is not the solution

“Fake food is essentially repeating the old failed narrative that industrial agriculture feeds the world”. Vandana Shiva stressed. Real, nutrient rich food is disappearing, and the dominant farming model is exacerbating climate change and leading to an increase in chronic disease epidemics. Yet, in reality, it is the small farmers that feed us and therefore real food comes from biodiverse farms that embrace a regenerative farming model of care. Creating a farming system devoid of animals is not the answer because it represents a form of violence that condemns them to the danger of extermination. Instead of writing off animals altogether, it is important to understand the difference between both systems: whereas small scale farmers integrate animals as vital diversity in a functional agro-ecosystem and do not torture and overpopulate their fields with them, factory farms feature huge numbers crammed in deplorable conditions while emitting GHG emissions.

“The current agricultural system does not provide dignity for the farmers” said Satish Kumar. Through his Schumacher college, he tried to reverse the notion that if you are educated, you do not need to work on the land. According to him every school should have a garden, every university should be associated with a farm and young people should recognize the value of growing food to have a holistic, ecocentric education. In October, Kumar spoke at the Vatican and suggested a perspective on the problem of climate change and the ecological crisis we face today, from a Jain point of view. The idea is that, first of all, we should do no harm. That is the Hippocratic Oath that medical doctors take, which is a commitment to non violence. In his view, we all should take the same oath and commit ourselves to causing no harm to nature, animals, land, forests, and people. Non violence should thus be the guiding spirit in our relationship with food.

Eating is an ecological act

According to Vandana Shiva, the ecological movement of today can learn from the perseverance and solidarity exhibited in the Indian farmers’ protests. To be transformative, it needs to promote a kind of farming that supports the Earth through true ecological processes that support people’s health and that of the Planet. “Our movement – said Vandana Shiva – has to be founded on the awareness that eating is an ecological act, and join hands with the Earth, and with the farmer as one unity. Therefore, the pattern of big farms with big money, and big investors wanting to extract more from the earth, needs to be reverted in favor of a return to a culture of care that provides dignity to farmers who produce real food to feed the world”.

Satish Kumar against fake food
Satish Kumar, activist, ecologist and author © Manlio Masucci-Navdanya International

Satish Kumar expressed how the world has created a uniformity that tends to invalidate local conditions and knowledge elsewhere. Because of this mindset we are gradually losing the diversity of seeds, foods and plants. As a result, we are eating fewer products and replacing them with increasingly synthetic ones like fake food. Instead, we need to embrace this diversity that defines our Planet and its cultures, because diversity and unity are inseparable. Reflecting on how we can create more holistic solutions in the food system, Kumar urged people who want to contribute to change to think that even a huge river starts from many little springs. We must therefore be the spring, and start wherever we are, however we can, because even the smallest idea can be transformative.

Food is not a commodity

Vandana Shiva ended the discussion with a plea for plant-based diet advocates: “It is possible and healthy to have a whole and nutritious diet based on biodiverse plants. But do not become subscribers to Mr. Bill Gates’ fake food empire. Please do not serve a bigger evil just because you want to avoid animal products. The same Tycoons who created the factory farms are the ones who are investing in fake meat, so don’t see these as alternatives because they are both sources of profit for the same actors”.

This event showed us that the solutions to our global crises already exist. They come from building cultures of interconnection and regeneration and of healing our relationships to food, nature, and community. Food is not a commodity, it is not stuff put together artificially in labs. Food holds the contributions of all beings that make the food web. We need to become aware of these connections and actively work to rejuvenate and regenerate the Planet by participating in reciprocal ecological processes and restoring biodiversity. For this to happen, eating must thus return to being an ecological act, so that the false solutions of fake foods – which do nothing to challenge the profit-oriented food industry – will not create further disconnections and crises.

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