April 7, 2002
Food, Human Rights
In April of 2002 Mike meets Richard Robbins at a conference in upstate New York. Richard has written a book on corporate globalization, and he offers to organize a lecture by the WTO for his students at the State University of New York in Plattsburgh, where he is a professor.
Andy and Mike are happy to accept this invitation—especially since they already have been invited to speak to some trade experts in Australia. They feel they have come up with the surefire reaction-getter, but since it’s likely to be their last chance, they’d better make sure. College students will make an excellent test audience before the real thing in Australia.
Just before leaving for Plattsburgh, they hear the conference in Australia has been cancelled. This is no longer a dress rehearsal.
The whole crew (Mike, Andy, Matt, Caz, Wolfgang, Snafu, Andrew, Rich) drive up from New York and arrive in Plattsburgh. Richard shows them the venue. Andy and Matt put on standard WTO business suits, while Mike wears a McDonald’s uniform.
Richard is kind enough to foot the bill for more than a hundred McDonald’s Hamburgers, which Mike passes out to the students at the beginning of the lecture. Andy introduces the talk by asking that important basic question: “Why is starvation a problem?” Matt’s illustration of “poverty guy” stands shrugging on the PowerPoint slide. Andy explains with candor how WTO agribusiness policies (like the policies of the British during the Irish Potato famine) are causing widespread starvation in the Third World today. He suggests a solution that—unlike protectionism and so on—remains within the logic of the free market.
The solution, as elegant as it is simple, is to provide Third Worlders with filters that allow them to recycle their food—extending the lifespan of a typical hamburger up to ten times.
In answer to one student’s outraged question, Mike explains that McDonald’s, in partnership with the WTO, is already experimenting with this technology in its products, and has been including 20% “post-consumer waste” in many of its hamburgers. Patrick’s 3-D animation of Ronald McDonald squeezing Menu Item Number Two from his colostomy bag erases any doubts about what is actually being said: the WTO believes that the poor should eat their own shit, or perhaps eat the shit of the rich, if an efficient pipeline can be established.
As might be expected, the students react violently to these concepts. But what is more surprising is that they have been reacting—with hisses, boos, even a spitwad or two—ever since the beginning of the lecture. Long before Andy tells them that they have eaten shit, they are appalled at the version of reality that he is asking them to swallow.
This is the only negative reaction Andy and Mike have gotten for a lecture. But the strong reaction clearly isn’t because the lecture is any crazier, since the students started reacting from the very beginning: it’s because the audience is smarter. All along, the problem has not been with the lectures, as supposed, but with the audiences themselves.
Years of neoliberal “education” and experience seem to make people stupid.
This realization causes Mike and Andy to abandon the lecture they planned for the agribusiness conference in Sydney (cancelled, but a special luncheon just for the “WTO” has been scheduled in its place), and to devise a whole new approach to the problem of representing the problems of free-market orthodoxy.