Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, held a talk on the issues of workers and food systems. Patel’s work focuses on the paradox of widespread hunger and obesity. In the talk on Wednesday night, he focused on how social change affects food systems.

Patel spoke about the cycle that cheap food creates: cheap labor and cheap care. Patel stated in his speech,“The modern food system is kind of designed to produce cheap food for workers in cities, to help workers potter along.”

Patel explained that to make better and more expensive food we need to pay more for the work and care involved. “The only way to have a conversation about paying more for food is to talk about paying more for workers,” Patel said.

The rise of cheap food has unknown implications in the production of this food. “How is a dollar burger possible?” Patel exclaimed. The cost of producing food at a chain like McDonald’s should cost much more than just a dollar.

Photo by Mike V.

The talk centered around villagers in the small African country of Malawi. Malawi was experiencing problems with child malnourishment so the villagers attempted to plant and harvest more food. In order to produce more food, men needed to be involved in what was considered women’s work.

More men being involved in cooking and harvesting food allowed for community building and empowerment for women. The people of Malawi were responsible for their own nutrition, and were able to produce and consume healthier food.

Photo by ILRI


Direct responsibility for the production of food allows communities to develop more functional food systems. “Farmers themselves became researchers. This was incredibly empowering for them,” said Patel.

Patel concluded his talk by explaining that to change a food system, we must start from individuals. Patel prompted the audience to think about their loved ones, and their struggles with food.  “If you want to know where to start, let love be your guide.”