In case you missed it, you really owe it to yourselves (and the planet) to read the NY Times Sunday Magazine, The Food Issue, from October 9, 2008. The articles by David Rieff and Michael Pollan I would make compulsory reading.
Then there's the blog "Stuffed and Starved" written by Raj Patel. One of the best-written blogs there is, it covers the food crisis in a most engaging way. And it always provides important information and discussion
The issue of food and agriculture here in Veracruz is one of my driving interests. Sitting here and looking out of my big glass doors at rich forest and coffee, I KNOW that we need to be encouraging the return to small farms, but in a way that makes use of new knowledge: sustainable farming that doesn't destroy forests.
I have a new hero in this regard: Bill Clinton. Now I have been very unhappy with Bill Clinton lately. I thought his performance during the primaries was pretty sleazy and self-centered and for me, the notion of him wandering around the White House while Hillary was trying to get stuff done is probably what most turned me off Hillary as a candidate.
But here he is, being a good guy: a really good guy. Here's some of what he said in an AP article posted in Raj's Stuffed and Starved blog (Italics are mine).
President Clinton Tells UN Gathering "we blew it" by treating food like commodities
UNITED NATIONS – Former President Clinton told a U.N. gathering Thursday that the global food crisis shows "we all blew it, including me," by treating food crops "like color TVs" instead of as a vital commodity for the world's poor.
Addressing a high-level event marking Oct. 16's World Food Day, Clinton also saluted President Bush — "one thing he got right" — for pushing to change U.S. food aid policy. He scolded the bipartisan coalition in Congress that killed the idea of making some aid donations in cash rather than in food.
Clinton criticized decades of policymaking by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and others, encouraged by the U.S., that pressured Africans in particular into dropping government subsidies for fertilizer, improved seed and other farm inputs as a requirement to get aid. Africa's food self-sufficiency declined and food imports rose.
Now skyrocketing prices in the international grain trade — on average more than doubling between 2006 and early 2008 — have pushed many in poor countries deeper into poverty.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the gathering that prices on some food items are "500 percent higher than normal" in Haiti and Ethiopia, for example. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the number of undernourished people worldwide rose to 923 million last year.
"Food is not a commodity like others," Clinton said. "We should go back to a policy of maximum food self-sufficiency. It is crazy for us to think we can develop countries around the world without increasing their ability to feed themselves."
He noted that food aid from wealthy nations could itself be a tool for bolstering agriculture in poor countries. Canada, for example, requires that 50 percent of its aid go as cash — not as Canadian grain — to buy crops grown locally in Africa and other recipient countries.
U.S. law, however, requires that almost all U.S. aid be American-grown food, which benefits U.S. farmers but undercuts local food crops. Bush proposed earlier this year that 25 percent of future U.S. aid be given in cash.
"A bipartisan coalition (in Congress) defeated him," Clinton said. "He was right and both parties that defeated him were wrong."
Clinton also criticized the heavy U.S. reliance on corn to produce ethanol, which increased demand for the crop and helped drive up grain prices worldwide.
"If we're going to do biofuels, we ought to look at the more efficient kind," he said, referring, for example, to the jatropha shrub, a nonfood source that grows on land not suitable for grain.
The U.N. General Assembly president, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua, agreed, speaking of the "madness of converting crops into fuel" for cars.
D'Escoto also expressed disappointment that of $22 billion pledged by wealthy nations to help poor nations' agriculture in this year of food crisis, only $2.2 billion has been made available.
In opening the meeting, Ban expressed dismay at the potential impact of the global financial crisis on world hunger.
"While the international community is focused on turmoil in the global economy, I am extremely concerned that not enough is being done to help those who are suffering most: the poorest of the poor," he said.
I hate to say it, but in this article it is reported that GWB actually tried to do something right: provide more cash to developing countries instead of insisting they accept our food.