Food introvertism is assuming perilous political forms. In the name of self-dependence, political parties are doubling up as food nationalists. Across nations, collaborating with them are their governments who are rolling out food protectionist measures. This viral variant of nationalism will decide what people should eat and consume in future.
As is their wont, nationalist governments are going the whole hog by equating consumption of local products with patriotism. They are likening national food security to national loyalty. Such absurd equations are throwing common markets out of kilter. Yet, the crisis is not bothering jingoistic politicians.
Façade for Rabid Nationalism
Consider France where food and nationalism overlap to seek one common identity. France is known to invoke agro-economic patriotism by placing great stress on, say, French veggies. This is despite the fact French veggies may be more expensive than other European varieties. Usually, farmer protection is cited as the reason behind such zeal. This claim is a façade for injecting rabid nationalism into food economics.
Similarly, Poland frowns at dairy imports from other members of the European Union. Polish government is known for its penchant for publishing lists of ‘unpatriotic’ firms which are primarily milk-importers. Austria, a self-styled food patriot, is rumoured to be toying with the idea of launching regional food bonuses. According to agricensus.com, Russia has forced an export ban for grains outside existing quotas until 31 August. https://www.agricensus.com/Article/Russian-gov-sows-confusion-with-talk-of-grain-quota-export-ban-21132.html
Gory Forms of Gastro-Racism
Soon, many European nations will be rolling out plans to make their flags of food nationalism fly high. This unabashed display of food nationalism will make food prices volatile. Inevitably, food importers will hurtle down an economic precipice. Moreover, misplaced food nationalism will cloister cuisine markets and kill fair competition in common currency regions. Easy loans and relaxed anti-trust rules will hasten this process by tilting level-playing fields in common markets. In such a depressing scenario, inward-looking food origin labels will deepen the crisis.
However, the fear of food liberalists is the increased chances of inward-looking food packaging ending in food-import discrimination. This is already happening on a limited scale across nations. Food-producing and packaging companies are required in many countries to declare food metadata – including details of makers, ingredients and origins – on their packages. Over time, such declarations will take blatantly gory forms of gastro-racism.
Nevertheless, governments supporting such label-declarations argue they are necessary for fighting carbon imprints on food. This is sheer hogwash. Why are food packaging companies required to declare both nationality and regionality of products? How do declarations of regionality help carbon-curbing? Such manipulated patriotism is nothing but culinary parochialism. When countries bar meat from moving out of their borders, it is blatant gastro-chauvinism and outrageous culinary apartheid.
Regular Food Riots
Stepping away from food labels, consider how food politics assumes ethical overtones. Recently, the government in Karnataka, an Indian state, decided to add eggs in mid-day school meals. This kicked up a heated political debate. Such instances are regular manifestations of food politicisation in India. https://www.outlookindia.com/national/what-s-on-your-plate-the-legal-aspect-of-food-controversy-in-india–news-193454.
Such parochial politics seeps into food-growing technology too. For instance, China and Brazil offer nothing more than limited agrotech solutions in a bid to protect food and farm monopolies at home. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342260866_Food_politics_and_development. Powerful vested interests in cultivation, production and distribution of food have implications for democracies anywhere in the planet. Such democracy-endangering situations often lead to regular food riots, which could remove incumbent governments.
Bans Impose Huge Costs
These instances prove clearly food is getting political. Food is used increasingly as a tool for furthering political interests today. Worse, food is leveraged as a manipulating agent to gain populist votes. Such democracy-disturbing phenomena are visible in many Asian nations. For instance, in a bid to insulate its industry, Malaysia stopped chicken exports, pushing Singapore to switch over to frozen alternatives. https://www.foodingredientsfirst.com/news/food-nationalism-on-the-rise-as-countries-struggle-to-safeguard-domestic-supplies.html.
The list of such export bans is longer. According to International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Argentina has banned exports of soyabean meal-oil until December 2023. The Institute source indicates the list of food bans effective until December 2022 include Algerian and Egyptian vegetable oil, Indonesian palm oil, Iranian potatoes, Turkish beef, Tunisian fruits-vegetables and Kuwaitian chicken products. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/18/countries-banning-food-exports-amid-rising-prices-inflation.html
These bans impose huge costs to exporting nations. The bans may rein in prices at home temporarily. But, as food cultivators get deprived of export revenues, bans end up throwing national food security and food costs off balance. This is counterproductive. Yet, as an IFPRI report indicates, post-Ukraine aggression, 23 nations imposed outright bans on food exports and slapped restrictions on export licensing. The message is clear: bans are not desirable as they affect food-growers negatively and end often in farm protests. Indonesia is a good example of this theory.
Export bans apart, nationalist politicians and governments in Asia use food to mark their identity at home. Aggressive identity-marking with food gives rise to regional and communal conflicts, which are evident in many Asian and African nations. If unchecked, these conflicts will surely end in mass violence and civil wars. Ironically, a life-sustainer will turn into a life-taker.