Raj Patel’s Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Choice, and the Battle for the World’s Food System describes how our current food economies hurt both workers and consumers. He describes how supermarkets use the ‘free market’ to pulverize wages for farmworkers, farmers, and their own service workers, and spend huge amounts of money to manipulate shoppers into buying what we don’t really want.
And yet, in exploring the social movements that are resisting the domination of the mega-marts, he notes that “none wants to do away with markets, or innovation or vigour. They merely want to put markets under their control, rather than being controlled by them. And it can work in the food system” (248).
So how do we begin putting the food system under democratic control? Patel points to the promise of worker-owned cooperatives such as those in Mondragon, Spain, as well as places like the Arizmendi Bakery in San Francisco. In these work spaces, each worker has an equal voice in the decisions that affect their lives. Patel also highlights the justice-oriented work of places like The People’s Grocery in Oakland, which grows much of its own food, enhances its working-class community’s access to healthy and organic food by selling it at a deep discount out of a mobile produce-truck, and encourages a “holistic understanding of community change” through its education activities (250).
But Patel also notes that there is a danger in this kind of activism. Governments and non-profits are often happy to support these small, local alternatives to destructive systems because they are founded on a “self-help ethos” and “can be encouraged without at the same time having to admit to the existence of poverty.”
This means that the crucial work of creating better alternatives, which prefigure the world we want to live in, is perhaps not enough. Patel notes that places like The People’s Grocery are also involved in “confrontation work,” protecting their communities from gentrification and forming food-growing commons on derelict land.
Aunt Mollys’ Kitchen opens itself up to this dual role of both prefigurative and confrontation politics, providing what political ecologist Paul Robbins calls “a hatchet and a seed.” We can explore alternatives of dominant systems, encouraging creative human action in our food and our art, at the same time that we challenge dominant systems in our scholarship and our public activism, clearing more spaces for more creative ‘seeds’ to be planted.