Internationally recognized writer, activist to discuss growing food crisis


Raj Patel, author of “Stuffed and Starved.” Photo by Jan Sturmann.

Mariam Makatsaria

Award-winning writer, activist and academic scholar Raj Patel will discuss the current dichotomy of the global food crisis at the Student Center on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at 7:30 p.m.

Victoria Bocchicchio, the Honors College’s director of academic programs, said the lecture is part of the Guest of Honor University Artist/Lecture Series.

Patel is a British-born writer who now lives in the United States. He is author of “Stuffed and Starved: the Hidden Battle for the World Food System” and “The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy.” His journalistic pieces have appeared in The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Patel, who has earned degrees from Oxford University, the London School of Economics and Cornell University, said he is excited to connect with students at Kent State.

“I hope to do what any good academic and good activist should do, which is learn,” said Patel. “I want to listen. I want to know what the specific challenges at Kent State are and be able to see if there are things that I can possibly be able to connect people struggling in some ways there, to ideas and people elsewhere. My great privilege is to be able to run from one place to another and be able to see people doing really great activism and ideas and teaching. The privilege of seeing all of that comes with the responsibility of sharing it, and that’s what I’m excited to be able to do.”

Bocchicchio said that she thinks the lecture will be especially beneficial for students transitioning from living with their parents to an independent life and starting to make their own choices about food.

“It is important to understand our choices about what we eat, how we shop, where we shop and how that impacts not only us individually in terms of our health — and certainly our budget — but how those choices impact the larger community,” Bocchicchio said.

Bocchicchio said she spoke with Susan Roxburgh, associate professor and graduate coordinator of the department of sociology, who recommended Patel. Bocchicchio said Roxburgh was instrumental in helping her make the decision.

Roxburgh, who teaches honors sociology of food, said she assigned her students Patel’s book “Stuffed and Starved” as a part of the syllabus.

“His book is one that comes up a lot,” Roxburgh said. “My students are actually reading it in class for the semester because of him coming. I think it always helps to hear the author of the book (talk) about a book that you just read.”

In his book “Stuffed and Starved,” Patel comprehensively critiques the global food system and discusses major food-related issues of today, from starvation to obesity. He wrote that today, “the hunger of 800 million happens at the same time as another historical first: that they are outnumbered by the one billion people on this planet who are overweight.”

“I think the real strength of his work is the effect (the global food system) has on ordinary people,” Roxburgh said.

She said she thinks students will come out of the lecture better informed about what they are eating and what they should be thinking about.

“So much of what we eat we don’t know what it is,” Roxburgh said. “So I don’t think you come away from that kind of information with the same view that you had when you went into it.”

His other book, “The Value of Nothing,” landed on The New York Times’ non-fiction best-seller list in February 2010.

Patel said the common denominator of both books reinforces the idea of organizing and making big changes to the current food system by raising public awareness.

“I think the big message is that we are more powerful than we think,” Patel said. “There are lots of ways that we’ve been told that we can’t change the systems in which we live. I think the realization that we can make big change is the one message I’d love to be able to come through both of those books.”

His books encourage the movement of “food sovereignty,” a term that describes people’s right to define their own agriculture and food policies.

“What young people, I think, need to realize now is that several generations ago young people just like them organized and changed the world,” Patel said. “They can do the same right now.”

During the lecture, Patel said he will also talk about “Generation Food,” his new project that looks at “ways in which people around the world are breaking rules in order to be able to feed the next generation.” Patel said the project involves a documentary that he is working on with award-winning director Steve James.

“Even though I think this is a serious topic, I think he is going to be a very engaging and an interesting speaker,” Bocchicchio said. “I think he will help them learn about these very important issues without being didactic about his lectures.”

The lecture will be followed by a book signing. Copies of “Stuffed and Starved” and Patel’s latest book, “The Value of Nothing,” will be available for purchase.

The event is free and open to the public. The room serves 175 people. Attendance is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Contact Mariam Makatsaria at [email protected].