Also known as the Institute for Food and Development Policy, Food First (FF) describes itself as a “people’s think-and-do tank” whose mission is to “end the injustices that cause hunger, poverty and environmental degradation throughout the world.”
FF was founded in 1975 by anti-globalization activists Joseph Collins (who was working at the Institute for Policy Studies) and Frances Moore Lappé (a devotee of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty who has characterized globalization advocates as “renegades and … extremists” with a toxic allegiance to the corrosive “religion of the market”). Collins and Lappé formed FF to educate Americans about “the root causes of world hunger” and to dispel the “hunger myths”—allegedly promoted by “corporations and governments”—which erroneously portray hunger as a consequence of food scarcity. Asserting that “there is more than enough food in the world for everyone,” FF contends that hunger in fact results from “the control of the global food system” by “a small, powerful cartel of multinational corporations.”
To eliminate “the injustices that cause hunger,” FF prescribes “transformative” and “structural, redistributive reforms” to the “corporate food regime.” A “progressive, food justice agenda,” says FF, would not only jettison all corporate influences, but would also “dismantl[e] racism [and sexism] in the food system” so as to guarantee “access to healthy food by marginalized groups defined by race, gender and economic status.” “If [local] farmers and communities take back control of the food systems [i.e., production and distribution] presently dominated by transnational agri-foods industries,” FF declares, “a world free of hunger is possible.”
FF laments that the 1990s brought an acsendancy of what it terms “the trinity of the free market ideology of liberalization, privatization, and deregulation imposed by international financial institutions” such as the World Bank, the IMF, and the GATT (which was eventually replaced by the World Trade Organization, or WTO). Meanwhile, FF elaborates, “structural adjustment eliminated much of the social safety net both in the U.S. and in countries around the world” as “the rich got richer and increasing numbers of the middle class dropped into poverty.”
Responding to this trend, FF in 1994 launched an educational initiative to raise public awareness of how the negative “impact of economic globalization” was suppressing “the economic human right of all of the world’s people … to have the resources to feed themselves.” In the latter part of the decade, FF shone added light on this issue in two congressional hearings and a pair of educational bus tours jointly organized with the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Institute for Policy Studies.
Since 1995, FF has partnered with anti-globalization groups like the Organic Agriculture Group and the Center for the Study of Sustainable Agriculture to trumpet the virtues of Communist Cuba’s rigidly enforced, collectivized agricultural programs. Praising that nation’s “system of food production and distribution” as “the most large-scale conversion to organic and sustainable agriculture ever attempted,” FF has sponsored a host of training sessions, exchange programs, outreach initiatives, and fact-finding delegations to Cuba “to increase awareness of the Cuban work and to help extend Cuban expertise in sustainable agriculture to the rest of the world.”
In 1999, FF was a signatory to a petition of civil-society organizations that opposed globalization and “any effort to expand the powers of the [WTO] through a new comprehensive round of trade liberalization.” That same year, FF strongly supported the anti-WTO riots in Seattle. And in 2003, FF endorsed the “Our World is Not for Sale” campaign condemning the WTO.
Because FF attributes poverty and hunger directly to the free market and globalization, it adamantly opposes potential remedies that would clash with its anti-capitalist catechism. In June of 2003, for example, FF campaigned against a Bush administration plan to alleviate hunger in Africa through the introduction of genetically engineered crops. Despite numerous studies suggesting that such biotechnology would spur agricultural productivity in Africa while reducing the number of malnourished children on the continent by as much as 40%, FF warned that the Bush plan presented “a grave threat to poor people’s economic future and the future of human health and of the earth’s ecosystems.” Said FF co-director Anuradha Mittal: “The Bush administration and the biotech industry are shamelessly using the poverty and hunger of the Third World to further their corporate agenda.”
Over the years, FF has spawned a number of new organizations such as the Pesticide Action Network [of] North America, Neighbor to Neighbor, the Center for Living Democracy, the Land Research Action Network, the U.S. Working Group on the Food Crisis, the Oakland Food Policy Council, and Global Exchange. Notably, the veteran pro-Castro activists Medea Benjamin and Kevin Danaher were both FF officials before they founded Global Exchange.
FF in recent years has received financial backing from numerous foundations, including the California Endowment, the Christensen Fund, the Community Foundation of Sonoma County, the CS Fund, the Ford Foundation, the Gaia Fund, the Hill-Snowdon Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the Meshewa Farm Foundation, and the San Francisco Foundation.
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 FF ignores the fact that Cuba’s agricultural economy stays afloat largely on the strength of independent agricultural markets that were warily introduced by the Castro regime in 1994; these miniature free markets permit state and private farmers to sell their surplus produce at market prices, rather than government-fixed prices. And despite subsequent government attempts to curb their influence, these markets reportedly feed some 60% of the country’s population and drive down prices on the black market.