The Modern/Colonial Food System in a Paradigm of War

By Marcelo Felipe Garzo Montalvo and Haleh Zandi Fall, 2011 Feldman/Glen (first 10 pages of the 28 page paper published below)

“The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements… It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more…Our future security will be in their inability to injure us, the distance to which they are driven, and in their terror.” -Orders by General George Washington, 1779 (La Duke 2005: 154)

“Control oil, you control nations; control food and you control the people.”-Henry Kissinger, 1974 (National Security Study Memorandum 200: Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interest)

“Food is Power. We use it to change behavior. Some may call that bribery. We do not apologize.” -Executive director U.N. World Food Program, U.N. 4th World Conference on Women, Beijing, China, September, 1995

Food is Life: An Opening Meditation
 (For Thich Naht Hanh and the indigenous peoples whose lands we occupy)
Food is Life. And all Life is sacred. We give thanks to the sacred comida that has given us the strength to survive, to live, today. When we eat, we nourish the body, and also, the spirit. Our food reflects our relationships, to the land, to each other, to the ancestors, to ourselves. When we pay attention to Mother Earth, she teaches us, provides instructions on how to be generous, abundant, with Life, giving, receiving, freely, in community. Our bodies feel, with Nature, heaviness, darkness, light, love, emotion, all things that begin and end in the cycles of Life, the sinews and spirals of Creation. Today, let us remember that the nourishment of our bodies first began with the milk of our mothers, and that all food begins in the sacred seed, which sprouts from the rich soil, moistened by the spirit of the water, tended by the hands of the worker. May we receive this energy with humility, with gratitude, and with action, for justice and beauty, in struggle.

This writing project is an effort to re-member the relationship between our bodies and the land. We are concerned with how the disruption of this relationship affects our health and the wellbeing of our families and our communities. Colonialism, both historically and today, dismembers our bodies, from the land, and therefore, from our ancestral foodways. This de-territorialization of the body has resulted in the cultural alienation of our communities, and the unmitigated destruction and violation of the sacred. Frantz Fanon understood colonialism in a similar way, as a perversion of the ‘proper’ order of things, of our most fundamental rights as human beings. He reminds us that “there will be an authentic disalienation only to the degree to which things, in the most materialistic meaning of the word, will have been restored to their proper places (Fanon 1954: 11).” This paper seeks to decolonize the land/body split by healing the dis-order embodied in the modern/colonial food system, a system that defines both our bodies and the land as ‘things’. The decolonial world we are imagining and bringing into being is one that sees both, the brown land and the brown body, as Beings.

As participants in the movement for food justice in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are taking this time to reflect, to question and to record through the written word what it means to work for decolonization at the beginning of the 21st century. The following text is an effort to engage in direct conversation with the many writers, thinkers, and activists working for food justice through social movements, organizations, academic institutions and other sites of political/spiritual struggle. Spiritual activist practice reminds us to interconnect inner work/public acts, to re-member theory/praxis (Anzaldúa 2009). Dialectical humanism teaches us to continuously problematize our methods of struggle, to learn from our mistakes, to think and act towards (r)evolution (Boggs 2011). These moments of activist reflection provide space to continue developing strategies that do not reproduce the very oppressions we are seeking to dismantle, and continue building praxes of decolonization amidst daily realities of colonial presence.

What is the Food System?

As educators in the food justice movement we have designed and facilitated a workshop that unpacks the important question: “What is the Food System?” With the community present for each workshop, we move through the stages in the food system: from production, through processing, distribution, consumption and waste. We emphasize the systemic oppression at each of these stages on “who” performs this labor and “where” it happens. We close by strategizing projects that ask, “how can we make this more sustainable and just?” In this paper, we use the framework provided by this workshop in order to organize and locate a paradigm of war in the modern/colonial food system.

By emphasizing the “systems” approach to our food justice work, we make visible the limitations of many contemporary food-related movements in North America. These movements have emerged over the past 40 years to change the way we eat and produce food in the Global North. Many of these movements, however, have been led and maintained by white, male or other privileged subjects that prioritize only certain moments in the food system itself. This has led to the obfuscation of many struggles and concerns pertaining to workers, people of color, women, and the land. By emphasizing the food systems approach to organizing our movements we hope to reveal the many spaces within the food system that remain unaddressed by dominant food movement agendas. In this effort, we will locate struggles for food justice from below, from communities of color, particularly native (women’s) struggles, and how they dismantle multiple oppressions through intervening at each stage of the food system.

Theorizing the Modern/Colonial Food System as Problem Space

Our experiences in the struggle for food justice have led us to explore what it means to exist in the modern/colonial food system in a paradigm of war. The term paradigm of war emerges from the decolonial ethico-political philosophy and religious thought of Dr. Nelson Maldonado-Torres. We find this term to be particularly useful to describe the lived experiences of coloniality, that is, the persistence of the colonial context in a world system that thinks itself post-colonial, or after administrative colonialism. Instead, by describing contemporary struggles as decolonial in nature, we are aiming to dismantle the coloniality that persists amidst post-colonialism: both within institutions of power that perpetuate the colonial worldview and within social movements that dream of better worlds. Sometimes these very movements, in their resistingoppressing, re-open the colonial wound itself (Lugones 2005?). Therefore, we use the term “paradigm of war” to refer to the political naturalization and cultural stabilization of settler colonialist ways of being. In this context, war is no longer a state of exception but the order of the day, as colonial relations of exploitation, domination and violence become ‘normal’ facets of everyday life. The colonial wound itself, as it were, remains open.

A paradigm of war is a state of endless war, inaugurated through the conquest of the so-called New World and the enslavement of African peoples, and as we will argue, continues through our neoliberal moment of interlocking, late capitalist/corporatized industrial complexes: military, prison, academic, non-profit, food (See Appendix A). War becomes paradigmatic, that is, everywhere and always, in communities of color through institutionalized forms of dehumanization and control by settler colonialist populations. Our usage of a paradigm of war is, at once, an historical and contemporary diagnosis. By articulating the food system in a paradigm of war we are simultaneously pointing to the violations of the land/body connection perpetrated by historical colonialism – as a state of perpetual war – as well as its continuation in the post-modern/late capitalist moment where we find domestic state violence being enacted through the food system itself. In this paper, we argue that the modern/colonial food system has served as an important vehicle to initiate and perpetuate this paradigm of war, maintaining the colonial wound on the body and the land. We seek to expose how the food system shifts away from producing food as Life and instead commits everyday acts of war, performed and naturalized in the intimate spaces of colonialism’s perpetual enemies.

We use the term “modern/colonial” to strategically challenge the linear narrative of modernity as progress. This is a device of decolonial theorist Walter Mignolo, as he reminds us that modernity is not without its underside, its darker side, that is, what he calls “coloniality” (Mignolo 2005). For many in our families, and the world at large, the modernization of the food system has meant displacement from ancestral lands and foodways, resulting in hunger and malnutrition on one hand, and disease and overconsumption on the other. When we shift the geo- and body-politics of knowledge and situate our analysis of the food system from its underside, we point to how the modern has always been enabled by the colonial, how modernization is always already colonization. The linearity of modern history occludes its own coloniality of power through erasure. It rationalizes violence as a necessary part of the forward march of progress that begins and ends in Western Europe. In this paper, we enact the decolonial turn by always articulating the modern/colonial together, reminding us of the dual nature of modernization, and therefore unearthing and re-centering colonial violence in our understanding of the food system.

Native women’s voices and struggles inspire and situate our analysis in this project (Anzaldúa 2009; LaDuke 1999, 2005; ManKiller 2004; Mihesuah 2005; Smith 1999; Smith 2005). These voices are what make up the content of much of our paper. Our theoretical frameworks, however, will be placing these decolonial projects in conversation with critical theoretical interventions articulated inside and outside the dominant, imperial university (Marx 1887; Foucault 2003, 2008; Fanon 1954; Shiva 1997, 2005). Marx provides our understanding of labor and the structures of capital shaping relations of power between those who control the means of production and those who are consigned to exploitative conditions of work for survival. Marx traces how masses of people were legally forced off the land and ushered into urban areas, creating conditions by which labor becomes exploitable and dispensable. The historical processes that Marx traces are important in understanding what has produced the conditions of alienation and dispossession between people and the land, which characterizes the modern/colonial food system.

Foucault’s notion of a biopolitical order — in which modern nation-states regulate their subjects through numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugation of bodies and the control of populations — evidences how oppression shifts within the modern/colonial food system, becomes invisibilized within structures of liberal governmentality and the discourse of the state of exception. This shift, from dominant power that seeks to “make die, and let live” to a biopower that “makes live, and lets die” is one that the modern/colonial food system mobilizes in order to perform a paradigm of war. We also draw on Foucault’s genealogical method to locate the history of the present in institutions of power and the matrix of industrial complexes that interlock within the modern/colonial food system.

We take up Fanon’s sociogenic principle as a theoretico-praxis of decolonization. For Fanon, sociogeny is the relation between the individual and the social structure, between the colonial subject and the colonial world itself. We mobilize Fanon’s understanding of how, “in the colonial context what happens at the level of the private and the intimate is fundamentally linked to social structures and to colonial cultural formations and forms of value (Maldonado-Torres 2008: 127).” The social movements for food justice/food sovereignty echo this decolonial critique, as they reclaim the spaces of the garden, the farm, the kitchen, and ultimately, the body and the land. Food justice enacts this Fanonian decolonial praxis and interfaces with our understandings of spiritual activism, as a mobilizing political agency through inner work/public acts (Anzaldúa 2009).

Vandana Shiva’s activist research is concerned with processes of colonial violence at work from seed to body, from Columbus to Monsanto. We extend her observations regarding genetic modification and ‘biopiracy’ to frame our genealogy of the modern/colonial food system in a paradigm of war. As she states:

…five hundred years after Columbus, a more secular version of the same project of colonization continues…The principle of effective occupation by Christian principles has been replaced by effective occupation by the transnational corporations supported by modern-day rulers. The vacancy of targeted lands has been replaced by the vacancy of targeted life forms and species manipulated by the new biotechnologies. The duty to incorporate savages into Christianity has been replaced by the duty to incorporate local and national economies into the global marketplace, and to incorporate non- Western systems of knowledge into the reductionism of commercialized Western science and technology (Shiva 1997: 2).

This group of theories regarding power, oppression and liberation frame the stories we share throughout this paper. The story of amaranth begins our journey, illustrating the paradoxes and plunders of production and processing. Following this sacred grain’s history of conquest, commodification, and resistance allows us to map the contours of production and processing in the modern/colonial food system. As this grain enters the market, we enter with it, to shift our gaze towards understanding the ways in which distribution centralizes power and control through colonizing economic relations of exchange. The result of this inequitable distribution of food and Life is dis-ease, the symptom of consuming a diet of genocide, bought and sold at a price. From Life in Nature, comes food, seeds, as reproduction. From products, in the market, comes Waste, as premature death. All along this journey are dynamics and relations of oppressing, resisting, movements and moments that we trace together, now.

The Story of Amaranth: Ceremony, ‘Lost Seed’, ‘Super Weed’

Spilling over with rich grain, deep hues of red and purple, flat green leaves, red veins, matching in taste and color with the red flint corn, sacred crops imitating each others beauty (Nabham, Food Traditions). The soil is wise, remembers its seeds, its crops, old friends, meeting again, in warm embrace. Amaranth is ancestor, teacher, conscientious objector to the war on the land and seed. Amaranto has fed the peoples of this land for over 8,000 years, native, deep, staple crop of the Mexica-Nahua, huiuhtli, sister of maiz, frijól, symbol of strength, power, royal, ritual object and cosmic offering. What the Europeans saw as cannibalism, a key marker of savagery, was in fact sacrifice, ritual offering and honoring of the body for the sun, for the earth. In Tenochtitlan, women mixed the grain with honey and human blood, boiled over open flame, mixed with the toasted semillas to make cakes, galletas taking the form of Huitzilopozchli, sometimes called the god of war, embodied in father sun, born fully grown and ready for battle, ready to defend his goddess mother Coatlicue. When amaranth took this form of sacred object, a source of spiritual power, perceived as cannibalism, it became a key target of conquest. As one healing food encyclopedia illustrates,

The Spanish conquistadors, who were appalled by this practice which they considered a parody of the Holy Communion, forbade its use after conquering Montezuma in 1519. Reasoning that eliminating amaranth would also eliminate human sacrifice, they burned every crop of amaranth they could find and forbade growing the grain. The punishment for possession of amaranth was severe — having even one seed was punishable by chopping off the hands. As a consequence, amaranth quickly became a ‘lost’ seed, a status that lasted for hundreds of years (Murray and Pizzorno 1997: 337).

But amaranth survives, protected by seed savers and brought through the Sierra Madre, and the majority of what is now the American Southwest. A few varieties also made it back to Europe, de-spiritualized, de-politicized, commodified as ornamental flowers, leaves to be admired for their color alone, un-acknowledged as nutritious food for the body, nor the spirit. In its travels, amaranth also found new meanings in India and China, where growing populations honored the crops nutritional benefits as a complete protein, as a medicine, and cosmetically, as a deep red dye.

An enemy of Christendom, a false idol, sacrilegious; amaranth was banned for its sacred properties. Not just to starve the body, but to kill the Indian, to disrupt the spiritual realm of Native life, destroy cosmovisions of sustenance and nourishment directly from the land. Later however, following WWII, the grain becomes an enemy of another epistemic/political order: Western Scientific, Capitalist biopower, where we locate the paradigm of war’s neoliberal turn (Foucault 2008, Shiva 1997, Marx 1887). From the colonial/capitalist gaze, amaranth’s resilience and fertility as a crop (with up to 500,000 seed from a single mature plant) is not seen as strength, but as a danger to monocultural production, and therefore profits. In the latter half of the 20th century, as the modern/colonial food system is rapidly industrializing through the so-called Green Revolution, late capitalist US Empire is simultaneously re-arranging the global war machine. The enactment and conquest of the Green Revolution is a story of explicit attack on the land, through obstructing waterways, saturating the soil through heavy irrigation, dumping chemical and petroleum-based inputs, and destroying biodiversity through monocultural designs. These are methods that we understand as a war on food, on Life. Long-time critic and activist against the Green Revolution, Vandana Shiva, reminds us that:

Food production technologies have undergone two generations of change over the last few decades. The first shift was the introduction of chemicals in agriculture under the banner of the Green Revolution. Toxic chemicals used in warfare were deployed in agriculture in times of peace as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Agriculture and food production became dependent on ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (Shiva 2005: 153).

During this period, the genealogy of the modern/colonial food system transmutes to become a key articulation between the military and agricultural industrial complexes of late 20th century U.S. Empire.

The ethnobotanic work of Jonathan Deininger Sauer is illustrative of this turn. While writing his dissertation on the newly problematic amaranth grain through the University of California, Sauer takes a break from graduate studies to work for the Pentagon as a weather and botany specialist. Demonstrating the facility with which one can shift from the military to the agricultural industrial complexes, Sauer identifies how amaranth has “moved uninvited into clearings and fields; with the unintentional help of man they have become aggressive and widespread weeds (Sauer 1950: 561).” In a discourse that bridges military and agricultural lexicons, Sauer sees the amaranth as a genus to be “too massive a problem to be attacked here (Sauer 1950: 561).” “Uninvited guests”, “unintentional help of man”, “aggressive weeds”, “huge problem to be attacked”, Sauer could be speaking of the grain amaranth as easily as he could be talking about the racialized enemy Other, whichever enemy of war was in fashion for Western Man, from the Indian/Savage to the Muslim/Terrorist.

A single golf clap? Or a long standing ovation?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.