Jeremy Hopper, “Nine Meals Away from Anarchy” (2012)
Uploaded to Youtube early in 2012, this is an interesting if simply made documentary about the fragility of food supply in our modern societies. Director Jeremy Hopper more or less reads an extended speech for an hour over a series of images and film excerpts taken from news and current affairs programs sourced from networks such as Al Jazeera and Russia Today. He points out that food shortages and fears of food shortages often lead to mass rioting and demonstrations and marshals evidence from around the world to push home his points.
Hopper begins with a litany of examples from around the world of people protesting, demonstrating and rioting as a result of increases in prices of food staples or of food shortages, frequently in a context where the 2008 Global Financial Crisis has led to economic downturns, governments cutting back on spending on social services, severe job losses leading to rises in unemployment and poverty, and the failure of wages and salaries to keep up with inflation and cost of living rises. Hopper emphasises that First World nations are no more immune to rioting over food and energy price rises and supply shortages than Third World nations are. He states repeatedly that when people are faced with food shortages or other forms of food insecurity, they will resort to any means including violence (and in very extreme situations, cannibalism) to feed themselves. He cites a recent movie “The Road”, based on the novel by Cormac MacCarthy, as an example of what could happen in a post-apocalyptic world when there is prolonged famine.
Hopper even refers to incidents in American history in which people turned to cannibalism: in Jonestown (1609 – 1610), starving colonists became cannibals; and the famous Donner Party incident in 1846 when a group of settlers trapped in the Rockies during the harsh winter had to eat human flesh from dead bodies. In more recent times, German soldiers in Stalingrad in 1942 had to eat human flesh to survive; and passengers in a crashed Chilean aeroplane in the Andes in 1972 also resorted to cannibalism. In the late 1990s, there were leaked news stories of starving North Korean refugees having to eat human flesh.
Why do humans become cannibals only in situations of chronically severe food shortages? Hopper draws on Abraham Maslow’s theory of motivation to explain levels of motivation and demonstrates that basic physiological needs of humans must be fulfilled before other needs such as need for shelter, financial security and self-actualisation can be realised. He cites an experiment conducted in the mid-1940s in which test subjects were subjected to prolonged and severe food rationing: the men experienced incredible behaviour changes including dreaming about eating human flesh, constant stealing and thoughts of killing people for food.
On Youtube, the documentary is split in two parts. Part 2 looks at whether law and order enforcement has been effective in quelling mass unrest. Hopper uses the past history of mass riots in the US as a barometer of how police and other law enforcement agencies have been able to bring crowds under control and quotes statistics to explain how some riots were successfully put down and others not. He goes into some detail, based on a sample of riots in the US in the 20th century, to suggest an average ratio of one law enforcement officer (or equivalent) is needed for every 2.5 rioters during an unusual incident. If food shortages affect 3% of the US population, or over 9 million, and they all riot, then nearly 3 million law enforcement / military officers – the entire population of such people – are needed to suppress the riots. One has to consider that during situations of widespread rioting and ongoing instability, a number of law enforcement officers and soldiers will desert to look after themselves, their families or communities. Hopper concludes by saying that people must rely on themselves to feed themselves and their families if an incident or series of incidents leads to chronic food and energy shortages, then social breakdown and violence.
Initially I had thought that this home-made doco was going to be about how dependent societies have become on supermarkets and large corporations for food, how governments work together with the corporations to increase this dependency, and what people can do to lessen their own dependency on corporate systems and increase their own and their communities’ self-sufficiency. I had envisaged that Hopper would suggest people engage in guerilla gardening of open public spaces, turning nature strips and traffic roundabouts into food gardens, establish food exchange networks using local currencies or vouchers, set up communal rainwater tanks and form self-reliant food supply and distribution networks. Instead the film becomes more or less a personal plea for people, particularly men, to adopt individual methods of self-reliance to defend and feed their families. This makes me wonder just how accurate are the statistics Hopper uses to work out how many law enforcement officers and soldiers are needed to stop mass rioting, especially as he provides no credits and thus no sources of information viewers could check.
Although Hopper does not push an explicitly political agenda, I suspect he has a personal political philosophy based more or less on minimal government, small-scale capitalism and self-reliance, and he might come within the ambit of anarcho-capitalism. The problem with that kind of philosophy is that it doesn’t appear to admit the need for people to come together to co-operate on day-to-day issues that are beyond the capabilities of one person or one family to control. The film retreats into a conservative realm where it’s every man for himself and his family, and viewers gain no greater understanding of the corporate systems of control that have led to the present situation where corporations control what food we can eat, when and how much we pay for it.