This book concerns the precarious relation developing between a growing world population and the increasing dependence of most regions, including Latin America, on a dwindling number of countries that still reliably export food surpluses. Following Marx, however, the authors deny that population growth is a factor in world hunger. “Over the past century,” they assert, “the world’s food supply has in fact tended to increase more rapidly than its population…. Contemporary food ‘shortages’ exist only because of the way food is distributed in the capitalist world economy, which has very little to do with the absolute availability of food” (p. 10).
The maldistribution of food is attributed chiefly to the growth, both in the United States and Latin America, of new forms of large-scale farm production, processing, and marketing (“agribusiness”) that are export oriented, labor exploitative, and destructive of family farming. Much of the book is devoted to a description of agribusiness in the United States and its spread to Latin America as part of an insatiable capitalist quest for profits. International corporate control is reinforced by United States foreign policy, which treats food as an economic weapon. “With the passage of Public Law 480 in 1954, food aid was institutionalized as an arm of U.S. imperialism …” (p. 64). Humanitarianism was only an afterthought.
While the description of agribusiness is informative, its incorporation in a sustained polemic against injustice and abuses affects its credibility. At every opportunity, the worst motives are assigned for every advance in the human condition. “The end of slavery opened the possibility of a more rational system of labor exploitation whereby plantation owners could purchase labor power when needed rather than incurring the cost of buying slaves as well as feeding and housing entire slave families” (p. 91). The Green Revolution, which dramatically increased wheat yields in Mexico, is discredited because “only a relatively small group of agricultural producers benefited” (p. 116).
How would the authors solve the world food problem? Presumably they would advocate a return to peasant agriculture. “China is a dramatic example. In spite of extreme population density, a low ratio of arable land to people, and a long history of mass famines, China has virtually eradicated hunger and malnutrition among its 900 million people” (p. 11). When the revolution comes, Latin Americans may be comforted.