According to one of the world’s best known environmentalists, the ruthless pursuit of profit is to blame for the toxic food systems that continue to ruin the health of millions worldwide.
Helena Norberg-Hodge, my guest today on Inside Ideas, is the winner of the alternative Nobel prize, the Arthur Morgan Award, and the Goi Peace Prize for contributing to ‘the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide’. She is also the founder of Local Futures, which is behind World Localization Day, a local economy movement backed by the likes of Jane Goodall, Noam Chomsky and the Dalai Lama, which is striving to transform the world from the bottom up.
“Are we really saying that we want to have a handful of men owning the entire world?”
“At the moment the top-down corporate structure has almost infinite amounts of money, with which to put out a dominant narrative, and that narrative has always been to tell us that it’s good for us to keep moving away from nature, to keep handing over power, to centralise institutions, to move into bigger and bigger urban centres where we are completely removed from the land, from the resources and have almost no power over our lives, and are dependent on these centralised institutions.”
Helena says this power to control the narrative has been used to convince people that black is white.
“We have been told that human beings, the minute we started farming everything went wrong. No, it was when the top-down structures and essentially a globalised system started shaping agriculture, using force – slavery, genocide, and forcing people away from producing a range of things for their needs in their own region, to producing monocultures for export.”
Co-author of Bringing the Food Economy Home and From the Ground Up, and producer of the award-winning documentary The Economics of Happiness, Helena wants to see an end to the deadly food systems that have grown out of greed.
“People in America now are dying younger than their parents because of diabetes and heart disease and obesity, which is all linked to this food system of toxic, addictive calories. Food that has been created, not just as a commodity but actually consciously to be addictive,” she said. “The highly processed, dead food which comes from the other side of the world, often at artificially lower prices, is costing us our health. [Look at] high fructose corn syrup, a corporate invention that has proven disastrous in creating an epidemic of diabetes – some people are now calling it the second pandemic.”
Helena believes this will change because people are seeing how the world has been arbitrarily turned on its head by the greed of a few.
“Healthy nutritious food, fresh food is the best medicine, and more and more people are realising that,” she said. “Once you start shortening the distance that food travels, once you start rebuilding these food webs, you are actually helping to create viable economic systems that are restoring our health, the health of the soil, and the health of different species of seeds and animals that are adapted to a particular climate, and region. And as you start producing diverse products on a given piece of land as a farmer you are no longer in this total fear of losing everything if there’s a drought, a hailstorm or wind. When you have diversity on the land you are not going to be losing everything. When you have monoculture you are creating something that’s completely unnatural. The monocultures are structurally linked to the long-distance, global, corporate system. And those monocultures are toxic and unnatural.”
This corporate culture, Helena says, stems from the obvious intention of elites to distort reality in their interests.
“There’s been a few hundred years of a trajectory of change where a few elites, starting in Europe, dominated the rest of the world and then used technology to subjugate both nature and people – and it’s a minority group of people.”
She added: “These people were not more highly evolved, they were simply using the tool of very narrow focus. A type of science that’s very narrowly linked to profit and control, and that tool and those technologies that came from that are not part of an evolution, they are part of a particular group of people exploiting the majority of humanity, and our blindness to this in part is because we’ve been told: ‘this is good for you, this is proven, this is evolution – don’t question it, don’t step back and say – wait a minute, maybe this is a wrong turn’. If we don’t recognise that this is a wrong turn, what are we saying – are we really saying that we want to have a handful of men owning the entire world? And the rest of humanity has no voice, nothing to say, no role to play, no creativity, no nothing?”
The world is waking up to the many wrong turns that have landed people and planet in such peril, so I am delighted to again welcome Helena on to the show to explore the ways we can turn it all around.