JOLIET -- Vandana Shiva is giving new meaning to the old metaphor, "You reap what you sow."
Shiva, a world-renowned environmental thinker and activist, urged more than 225 people to consider the food and ecological crisis as one in the same during her speech at the University of St. Francis.
"We have mastered the art of wasting the planet," she said. "Land and water are being misused, polluted and disintegrated by nonsustainable agriculture. We need to reclaim the ethics of the gift of food."
Examining a crisis
Shiva, a leader in the International Forum on Globalization (IFG) along with Ralph Nader and Jeremy Rifkin, has spent more than 20 years examining agriculture and the environment and advocating on behalf farmers and the hungry around the world.
Less than 50 percent of crops harvested around the world are for human consumption, Shiva said. Of that food, 50 percent is wasted, which results in just over 12 percent of all the food produced on the planet actually being consumed.
"Couldn't we make sure that no one was hungry if that food wasn't wasted?" she asked.
Saving, sharing seeds
Shiva, who won of the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize (the Right Livelihood Award) in 1993, is the founder and director of Navdanya, India's network of seed keepers and organic producers.
Shiva said she has dedicated her life to saving and sharing seeds and nonviolent farming.
"For every seed sold or planted anywhere, there's a royalty collected," she said. "If a farmer saves seeds or shares seeds, he's a thief. I think it's our duty to pass them on and share them with a neighbor who needs seeds."
When farming became a big business, the average local farmer was pushed out of the market by costs or even forced off his land by his government, Shiva said.
"Farmers should be producers, but they're forced to be consumers," she said. "The input is more than the output, and it cannot be sustained."
Shiva opposes genetically modifying food, as well, and said pesticides and herbicides do nothing more than attack the food itself.
"Pesticides don't just kill the pests they're supposed to kill," she said, remarking how the names of common pesticides alone sound violent.
"We don't have to destroy the planet pretending we're doing what's best."
Shiva said the shift back to small-scale farming and bio-diverse farms is occurring.
"Across the world, bio-diverse farms based on ecological systems produce more," she said. "The small-scale farm is better because crops are grown with care."
Shiva said she believes that food should be viewed as life.
"The giver of food is the giver of life," she said.
Before becoming an activist, Shiva was one of India's leading physicists.
She has authored or edited more than 10 books and her most recent, "Soil Not Oil," examines international issues with food security, peak oil and climate change.
Shiva signed copies of her book following her speech.