Marx as a Food Theorist

Foster, John Bellamy
http://monthlyreview.org/2016/12/01/marx-as-a-food-theorist/

Publisher:  Monthly Review
Date Written:  01/12/2016
Year Published:  2016  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20319

Marx developed a detailed and sophisticated critique of the industrial food system in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century, in the period that historians have called "the Second Agricultural Revolution." Not only did he study the production, distribution, and consumption of food; he was the first to conceive of these as constituting a problem of changing food "regimes" -- an idea that has since become central to discussions of the capitalist food system.

Abstract: 
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Excerpt:

Marx was such a keen observer of the political economy of capitalism and the metabolism of nature and society that lack of an analysis of food would represent a surprising and significant gap in his work. I will show that Marx in fact developed a detailed and sophisticated critique of the industrial food system in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century, in the period that historians have called "the Second Agricultural Revolution." Not only did he study the production, distribution, and consumption of food; he was the first to conceive of these as constituting a problem of changing food "regimes" -- an idea that has since become central to discussions of the capitalist food system.

As will become clear, food for Marx was far more than a "passing interest": in his work one finds analyses of the development of agriculture in different modes of production; climate and food cultivation; the chemistry of the soil; industrial agriculture; livestock conditions; new technologies in food production and preparation; toxic additives in food products; food security; and much more. Moreover, these issues are not peripheral, but organically connected to Marx's larger critique of capitalism.

Since Marx's analysis of food production and food regimes was not developed in a single text but integrated into this larger critique, which remained unfinished, and in some cases unpublished, it is understandable that many commentators have missed this aspect of his work altogether. Yet these issues were far from marginal to Marx, as he based his materialist conception of history on the notion of humans as corporeal beings, who needed, as "the first premise of human existence," to produce their means of subsistence, beginning with food, water, shelter, clothing, and extending to all of the other means of life. "All labour," he wrote in Capital, "is originally first directed towards the appropriation and production of food."

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