Banking on Hunger

A note from the editor

Hazel Healy

Growing up in London, the harvest festival meant delivering dented cans of baked beans to local pensioners. Moving to Oxfordshire to take a job at the New Internationalist brought me the closest I’d ever been to the seasonal cycle of reaping and sowing grains.

In May I biked to work past fields of stiff green wheat, cut through with red streaks of poppies. Over the summer months, the wheat grew a hat of soft green fuzz that shimmied in the wind, before finally turning golden. Then the combine harvesters moved into action, whirring through the night and depositing neat rectangular straw bales at regular intervals.

All the while I was learning how food had been teleported far away from its earthly origins. This month’s main analysis section looks at how banks have alighted on food commodities, turning them intoan asset that can be invested in – like a stock or share. The resulting speculation has disrupted our fragile food system, which fails to feed people at the best of times.

But campaigners are pushing for a clampdown on financial speculators. With the European Commission pushing for a Tobin tax on financial transactions and a Tahrir-style occupation of Wall Street under way, the political winds – for once – are blowing in their favour.

Elsewhere in the magazine, we examine Russia today, 20 years this month since the break-up the Soviet Union.

For the Argument, a humanist and a Catholic debate whether religious schools are good or bad for society. And leading children’s writer Michael Morpugo talks about how the story of the PiedPiper sheds light on the London riots.

Hazel Healy for the New Internationalist co-operative.

The big story

The food rush

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Maize and wheat are hot assets, right up there with gold. But since investors piled into food markets, the poorest can no longer afford to eat. Hazel Healy gets to grips with the commodity speculators.

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