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Food and the occupation, repression and exploitation of inner geographies

By Gregg Newsom
Special to the Michigan Citizen

This is the third in a series of columns on the 15th Environmental Justice principle. Environmental Justice Principle 15 opposes military occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, peoples and cultures, and other life forms.

As we tune into this week’s EJ principle, we’re considering our food system and its relationship to military occupation. To enter into this discussion, I have to express that I recognize the United States’ government and the majority of the U.S. population as an occupying force in North America. The United States’ very existence is dependent upon continuous military/police occupation of land, the repression of indigenous peoples and culture and the perpetuation of social divisions based upon race, gender, class, etc. With this firmly in mind, it is vital to note that military occupation, trade and agriculture have intimate relationships that span centuries and that greatly inform the scale and scope of our current food system.

Historically, the standard operating procedures of imperialism and colonialism utilize occupying armies to enforce and defend the establishment of plantations. In the 17th century, chartered companies begin to emerge. Hired to colonize lands, and in many cases, granted monopolies over their jurisdiction by the state, these occupying companies/armies, through the cultivation of the land, are not only able to feed themselves, but also reign in local populations as workers and slaves, privatize land and other natural resources, and fund expansion of their efforts through unregulated trade. In our current geopolitical situation, the state-chartered companies of the 17th century are recast as massive global corporations, but their practices, procedures and sadly, the massive injustice they propagate, remain the same.

Whether it is Roman expansion across continents, the Dutch East India Company 400 years ago, or the current exploitation of lands, resources and people by Big Ag to supposedly “feed the world” while propagating patented seeds and biotechnology, it appears that these practices and procedures are extremely consistent. Through meditation I began to consider just how prolific these practices and procedures that deeply co-implicate military occupation, agriculture and trade, are. I began to consider them as being at play, not only at the global level, but on an inner-personal, even biological level.

This is quite a leap, but I reference a movie that frequented Detroit’s UHF channels in the 1970s called “Fantastic Voyage.” This 1966 Cold War-influenced science fiction film finds a miniaturized submarine and crew injected into a human body on a mission to repair a blood clot. Looking at our personal relationship to food at this miniaturized, microscopic level, I began to consider agricultural and food system biotechnology in a very different light. If we could shrink ourselves to the point where we could witness how our bodies process the various toxic chemicals we subject them to daily, through our own choices and through our environment, what exactly would we see?

The wisdom “you are what you eat” has emerged from cultures across the globe and, given the scale and scope of our current food system and its direct ties to occupation, repression and exploitation, how does the food we put into our bodies impact our inner geographies? I often consider that our consumption of highly processed and/or genetically modified foods, at some levels, opens doors for potential occupation of our internal landscape. I posit that if we could all take a “Fantastic Voyage” within our own bodies, we would bear witness to attempted occupation of our inner “land” by pathological cells, repression of life-giving systems by refined sugars and saturated fats, and the potential exploitation/extraction of resources through the creation of imbalances that lead to costly healthcare.

As we oppose military occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, peoples and cultures, and other life forms, it is also vital that we strive to oppose the occupation of our physical bodies and our internal landscapes.

Gregg Newsom serves as the communications coordinator for the Detroit Food Justice Task Force (detroitfoodjustice.com), People’s Kitchen Detroit (peopleskitchendetroit.org) and other grassroots organizations.

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