Courtesy Reuters

Food Politics

There is no doctrine more deceptive than the new idea that food is power. According to the doctrine, the United States has new power in the world by virtue of its position as the largest producer and exporter of food: in particular, over those developing countries, from the most destitute states to the richest oil-exporting countries, which import American food. The doctrine of food as power is deluded for several reasons. It promises an impossible form of influence. And it nurtures a false view of what has happened in the food crisis of the 1970s; of the political consequences of the crisis; of the even more fearsome consequences to come.

The new politics of food has been a specter in the international economic crisis. To some Americans, the possibility of agricultural power suggested extravagant opportunities. The Central Intelligence Agency's Office of Political Research, for example, looking recently at the future of food, concluded that "As custodian of the bulk of the world's exportable grain, the United States might regain the primacy in world affairs that it held in the immediate postwar period."1 The United States, others suggested, might join a cartel of food-exporting countries, an OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) for agriculture. The object of such an organization could be profit; it could be the opportunity to influence other countries to favor agricultural reform, for example, or contraception.

In the recent crisis, American pre-eminence in food also seemed to offer immediate advantages. The prospect that the United States might restrict its food exports for political purposes was disputed, hinted, feared. Food was considered as a means of exerting pressure on the OPEC countries, through a "counter-embargo," or some form of agricultural export tax. President Ford alluded to the possibility in 1974, in his first address to the United Nations-if only to deny it: "It has not been our policy," he said, "to use food as a political weapon, despite the oil embargo and recent oil price and production decisions."

The political

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