On Monday, the non-profit student-run food collective Midnight Kitchen hosted a workshop entitled “Anti-Capitalism and Environmental Organizing,” which described the importance of food and environmental justice as well as the manner in which capitalism has co-opted radical green and anti-colonial movements.
Brad Vaughan, a member of the Midnight Kitchen collective, began the discussion with a brief history of capitalism. He chose not to focus on its ideological dimension, but rather looked at it through the manner in which it has been manifested across the world.
“This isn’t about Adam Smith or Milton Friedman. This is about the accumulation of wealth within the hands of a few,” said Vaughan, reminding the audience of the divide capitalism has created between capital and labour and the manner in which every field of our lives is controlled by that dynamic of working and owning.
It was argued that this consequence of capitalism has perpetuated itself in food. One example given was that of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which presenters argued may be great for commodity output, but at the expense of plant life.
Eric, another member of the collective, explained that “global warming is not a ‘thing’ which fits into the market” and is therefore ignored.
Shon Wi Jin, a member of CKUT, disagreed, citing the corn drought in the United States as an example: “It will make its way into the market once it affects the market.”
In the third part of the presentation, Cera Yiu, Midnight Kitchen’s Outreach Coordinator, explained that the Plan Nord – the Quebec government’s development strategy to develop the natural resources extraction sector in the north – represents yet another clear example of capitalism’s exploitation of land and mining.
According to Yiu, the plan operates “under the pretence that it will create 200,000 new jobs as well as $80 billion in public money, all the meanwhile having dire environmental impacts.”
One member of the audience, who chose to remain anonymous, attempted to explain the reasoning behind Plan Nord, saying that “it is a marketing campaign to get international investment and bring more respect to the Quebec government globally” and fails to factor in environmental concerns.
The talk ended with a debate on alternatives to capitalism. Although no consensus was reached, most agreed that support for capitalism in its current form is not progressive. Disagreements occurred, however, on whether this brings about the need to totally overthrow the capitalist system or rather to make an adjustment within it.
From Midnight Kitchen’s perspective, they believe that capitalism creates high amounts of wasted food – a good that they say should not be part of capitalism since it is a fundamental human right.
Others, including Wi Jin, disagreed.
“Privatization makes food production more efficient,” said Wi Jin. With the huge population boom, “GMOs and capitalism are the only means of feeding the entire world.”
Others also pointed out that Midnight Kitchen does use food produced from GMO crops, and still others suggested that GMOs and capitalism may not be the most important focus. As one member from the audience explained, “We have so much food, yet people in Africa don’t. That’s the area we need to work on.”
Midnight Kitchen stuck by the argument that food production and distribution are part of a larger system of oppression, and that we must reclaim control over the distribution of food in the community in order to pursue social and environmental justice. It was largely agreed upon that people need to be more informed on the current problems surrounding capitalism and consumption, that more community meals and meetings from the grassroots need to take place, and that we must continue to question corporations and government in order to maintain our real freedom, not the freedom based on capital. More open discussions, such as these, they said, should take place.