From time immemorial food has been invested with cultural values that acknowledge it as a gift. However, the globalisation of food production and distribution disrupts these mores and values not by the free choice of affected populations but as an imposition of global players.
This was the problem examined by three authoritative speakers at a recent seminar arranged by the Tamihana Foundation.
Dr Manuka Henare of the University of Auckland Business School suggested M%u0101ori philosophy and values may contribute to a renewal of modern agriculture, food preparation and related social questions.
Noting that modern Māori businesses were coming to dominate sectors of the New Zealand economy including food production, he pointed out that the Māori food ethic was locked into the creation mythologies through the children of Rangi and Papa.
Māori philosophy takes the cosmos, the natural world and humanity as an integrated unity. Innovation has always been assessed from the standpoint of kawa atua (spiritual concerns) and tikanga tangata (appropriate behaviour). The Māori system gives primacy to the spiritual over the material, and ethics and values govern the economy which is not independent of the culture.
In their new businesses Māori were showing a traditional openness to innovation and change, but the new environment brings new challenges to the culture. New tikanga must be devised for new technologies. He noted that Māori approached new technologies such as genetic modification with caution rather than opposition.
Professor Jane Kelsey of the University of Auckland, an internationally recognised critic of and authority on neoliberalism and globalisation, presented a trenchant analysis of the impact that the trade agreements of the WTO and similar bodies have on local populations worldwide. They allow mega-corporates access to local markets to the detriment of local cultures.
She highlighted the impact that supermarket chains are having on local markets. With supermarkets the supply chain is about bulk production with prices set by big bulk purchasers and with devastating consequences for small producers. The globalisation of supermarket chains such as Walmart and Carrefours exacerbates the problem.
Water control is also of growing concern in a world of water shortages. Who controls water controls property rights and Monsanto is now trying to extend its control over water.
Economist Petrus Simons addressed the quarrel between industrial and biological agriculture. Industrial agriculture is based on high technology and mechanisation which have many unintended consequences.
Mr Simons believes the West has had a fatal fascination with technology which he attributed largely to the thought of 17th century philosopher Rene Descartes. Cartesian thought is rationalistic and analytic and had a big bearing on the development of science. A primary characteristic of science is its curiosity element. This however has become subverted by big business in the pursuit of profits leading to technological economism.
He was also concerned with how technology interferes with the sociability that food has always engendered.
The subsequent discussion considered alternative paths for globalisation that would promote full human development rather than narrow economism.