Stuffed and Starved author Raj Patel is back with his new book The Value of Nothing. It’s slim but it’s brimming with ideas challenging our market system and the consumer passivity that brought us to economic collapse. The Value of Nothing shows how the environment and the economy come together on your plate.
You talk about cheap food, or "cheat food’ as you call it. What is the $200 hamburger?
A regular hamburger is full of hidden costs – the long-term cost to our health, the cost of environmental destruction, the cost of unfair labor practices. It’s all been hidden from us.
What would happen if hamburgers really cost $200?
We would eat differently. One of the things modern capitalism has brought about is to boot out the consequences of our actions. The problem is that markets don’t work if the full cost of things doesn’t cover the full cost – and consequences – of the way we behave.
What role does Meatless Monday have to play?
It’s important. Absolutely. The first step. If the whole world were to go more vegetarian, it would have a tremendous positive effect!
The Value of Nothing is largely about the hidden cost of consumerism, but it’s also about the value – and risk – of doing nothing.
We have a very narrow idea of what personal responsibility means. We’re not geared to be good citizens – we’re geared to be consumers. But people need to feel they can be involved in an engaging, fulfilling way. It’s not, Yes I can, I voted for this dude, everything will be fine’it must be: there are community groups in my neighborhood that I’m interested in. I’m going to be an engaged citizen.
You’re advocating activism on a very basic level.
Right. It needn’t be an impoverishment. It’s thinking about ways of living that are sustainable, and joyful. How do we build up community? How do we transform? Food is exactly the way to do this, by sharing meals, by bringing people together for an exchange. The real promise of things like Slow Food is a radical commitment to democratizing pleasure. Everyone deserves the right to joy!