Monday, August 16, 2010

Right to Food

This is a brief discussion by Raj Patel of the right to food.

I believe, and think many others do too, that food is indeed an intrinsic right. If you have no food, no other supposed liberty or right means anything. That said, I don't know how one ensures this right in the real world. In a small group of people, it would be fairly simple to make sure that no one went hungry, even if one family or another had a bad hunt, harvest, or income flow for a period. But in a larger society, it's not so easy to keep track of the needy, or to convince those that have food to share it with others, especially with strangers. Furthermore, in either a small or large group of people, there is an important hypothetical question: does someone who doesn't work have a right to food? For children the answer seems to be yes, because they're dependent and can't provide for themselves. But what if an adult were to decide that he or she didn't want to work for food? I don't think this situation truly presents itself that often in the real world. Though we seem to have a constant fear of "free riders", neither hunter-gatherers, farmers, or urban dwellers are wont to sit around, even if they were able to subsist despite their laziness. I think most people want to work, want to create, and feel a natural link between work and food. But it seems that even a tiny minority of lazy bums, or even just the fear that in the future such people would present themselves, often throws a wrench in the thinking about the right to food.

So if a society were to make the right to food a reality, it would have to deal with free riders in some way. I imagine a small group could provide food for the needy, with the tacit understanding that those who don't even work for their own sustenance forfeit their right to the sustenance generated by the work of the rest of the group. Again, in a larger society that's harder to enforce. Once you separate work and the production of food, how do we decide if someone is legitimately working? In a food-producing society, it's simple. If your work normally produces food (crisis notwithstanding) or other valuable things for society, it's valid work. But if you live in a city, and have not found work, or work in something that doesn't produce sufficient income, how do we determine if you're working "hard enough"?

No comments:

Post a Comment