In this blog piece, author Allison Gray explains what food crime is and why it can’t be ignored.
“When people learn that my research involves food crime, they often gasp, lean toward me and ask ‘so, you study people stealing a lot of food’? Even for the hundredth time, I offer a small laugh in return, followed by a deep breath, and proceed to watch their eyes widen and eyebrows furrow as I turn their forks into weapons.
Food crime involves the range of systemic harms, injustices, and crimes involving the production, processing, marketing, distribution, consumption, and disposal of food. It includes the use of slave labour in the cocoa industry, deadly salmonella outbreaks, genetic dehorning and the unethical care provided to ‘food animals’, food waste and the impact of food production on climate change. The consequences impact human, animal, and environmental victims, often simultaneously.
These issues are happening around the world, yet people are not aware of them. This should not be a surprise given the physical and psychological distance between individuals and food today. Food systems today are run by corporations (agribusinesses) using highly industrial processes, within a political-economic context of ‘cheap capitalism’. Local farming populations are dwindling and food manufacturing occurs in poor rural areas, hidden from the bulk of urbanite populations. Home gardens and backyard animals are being replaced by microwavable meals and manoeuvring through a drive thru at a fast-food restaurant.
One of our goals in A Handbook of Food Crime was to draw attention to these social conditions that facilitate food harms and crimes and their consequences. To think criminologically about food means recognising that these systemic issues are not mere coincidences or weaknesses of our risk-based society. Nutritiously-poor, unsafe, and fraudulent food, produced through unfair, unjust, and dangerous labour, marketed for profit, distributed unevenly, harming ecological systems, is not normal. It is unacceptable.
Environmental harm, particularly anthropocentric climate change, is arguably the most pressing issue today. The United Nations (UN) Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced this year that the world has only 12 years to drastically transform its practices and avoid catastrophic consequences associated with climate change. Unprecedented changes are urgently needed to avoid the danger in moving above 1.5o C and the deadly floods, fires, droughts, and poverty that accompany it.
Food systems, particularly animal agriculture, are leading contributors to climate change. The production of livestock and animal products dominates environmental impacts involving carbon footprints, air and water pollution, and land use. Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 51% of anthropocentric greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and meat-free human diets can reduce GHG emissions by up to 50% of current levels. Unfortunately, it is a vicious cycle where agricultural land, increasingly subject to devastating droughts, floods, and carbon dioxide levels, becomes less efficient and produces less nutritious food.
Big problems require big solutions, and there is a role for everyone. Producers need to act ethically, manufacturers need to accept corporate social responsibility, and governments need to create and enforce regulations that mitigate food harms and crimes. Consumers need to make informed purchasing decisions – however, they are largely unsure of or underestimate the connection between animal agriculture and climate change.
It is our hope that this food crime perspective can be part of the sustainable and just food movement that is so urgently required today. Food literally invades and builds our bodies and fuels our social livelihoods. We need to recognise that our intimate consumption practices have global political, social, and criminal connections, so we can give ourselves and our environment a ‘helping fork’.
A Handbook of Food Crime by Allison Gray and Ronald Hinch is available on the Policy Press website. Use discount code POHFC19 (valid until 31/1/19) here to get it for £42.50 (RRP £85.00), or get the EPUB for £21.59.
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