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Food failure

By Leanne McRae - posted Friday, 6 June 2008

When I was writing about men’s studies, in the early 2000s, the phrase “crisis in masculinity” concerned me. It was a catch-phrase used to describe the tumultuous experiences of manhood and the contemporary difficulties in men’s lives as they negotiated their way through work, intimacy and embodiment.

But the “crisis in masculinity” rhetoric was activated only when those men in empowered, stable and silent social positions had to begin questioning their roles and responsibilities - to reframe who they were and how they fit into the social network.

Men of other sexualities, colours and classes have always had to negotiate and reinscribe their identities in relationship to the social meaning systems that permit very narrow renderings of male authority and power. For most men, this reinscription is nothing new.


The “crisis” in this process was conjured when the impact of instability began to affect those traditionally able to endure and even control social shifts and changes. The same concern is present within me now the phrase “food shortage” is being used in the popular media. The crisis in food production is being felt now that empowered and moderately-to-well-off individuals and families are having to pay more for their food.

A report in the Wales News on April 28, 2008 interviewed Gareth Vaughn president of the Farmers’ Union of Wales. In mapping the issues between food production, farm prices and the current crisis he characterised the emerging paradox by stating “we are now seeing food shortages across the world and major price increases in developed countries”.

It is the situations in “developed countries” that stimulates the rhetoric of a “food crisis”. A large portion of the world’s population, in both empowered and disempowered contexts, have been permitted to go without food for decades. Now that the problem has percolated into the everyday experiences of those in relatively wealthy contexts, the complex crisis in food production is finally spotlighted.

It is a crisis of our own making. The causes of increasing food shortages have been traced to a combination of factors including rising oil prices putting pressure on transport and production costs, climate change affecting yields, increase in land being allocated for bio-fuel production, and rising demand from emerging Chinese and Indian middle classes.

However, these issues mask the extent to which unfair systems of production and distribution of food have persisted over time. This inequality is revealed in the attendant focus on technology as the saviour - providing us with more efficient modalities of food production at higher yields and greater nutritional value.

Alex Cerniglia, the UN secretary-general spokesman interviewed for ABC news, cited the need to “look to the future and farming methods”, as a key strategy to solving food production issues. This is a predictable narrative.


Every so often an article in a magazine or newspaper announces a radical new technology that will enable the world’s poor to be fed for an incredibly low cost. Genetically modified crops for example, will provide us with the bioscience to halt world hunger and conquer nutritional difficulties.

The widespread resistance to genetically modified crops has been highlighted during this most recent food crisis where it has been ear-marked as a potential stop-gap for starving rioters in disempowered national contexts.

Such interventions demonstrate the grossly unequal structures that permit starvation. Scientists and commentators have all been calling for a reduction in legislation restricting the production of GM food, but fail to acknowledge the unfair systems that have stimulated this need.

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About the Author

Leanne McRae is the senior researcher and Creative Industrial Matrix Convenor for the Popular Culture Collective

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