There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the climate crisis | The Gastropocene, Chapter 3
From monocrop plantations to monocultures of the mind- we must abolish the colonizer in our head
“Biodiversity is autopoietic. Autopoiesis is derived from Greek: “auto” means “self” and “poiesis” means “production” or “creation.” Biodiversity is life in all of its self-organized complexity, collective agency, and evolutionary unfolding…We are interconnected. When we poison the Earth, we poison our bodies. When we pollute the atmosphere, we create climate chaos. When we destroy biodiversity, we create hunger, disease, and climate imbalance… Biodiversity is not an object, a thing, a number, or a resource to be exploited. Biodiversity is not a genetic mine to be exploited as raw material. Biodiversity is not a financial asset to be traded in the global financial casino. Biodiversity is the interconnectedness through which all life flows: food and nutrition, water, oxygen and breath, endosomatic energy, the energy of living systems.” - Vandana Shiva
In Part I of our Gastropocene series, we made a simple but surprisingly controversial claim that green capitalism is in fact still capitalism. Part II exposed how green ‘eco-friendly’ corporations manipulate reductive climate change metrics & cause further ecological destruction under the guise of ‘sustainability’ & ‘cruelty-free’ products. Today, we want to:
Breakdown monocultures: the backbone of colonialism still destroying our planet that implanted the colonizer in our heads to impede solidarity building.
Share a personal note from Ayesha: on the ancient, traditional food systems of their two distinct communities in South Asia AND
Shed light on how Hindu ethno-nationalists frame minority communities as “cow-eating savages” to justify genocide & ethnic cleansing
Before- small farmers around the world cultivated thousands of diverse, native crops native by caring for their land and passing down heirloom seeds over generations. Today- capitalism/ colonialism forced industrialized agriculture onto the world with massive farms operated by global corporations to maximize productivity & profits by any means necessary.
In the 1800s, European empires forced their colonies to become monocrop plantations tasked with producing only one or a few crops or raw materials for the empire’s capital instead of growing food for their own community’s sustenance. Instead of harmonizing with their local ecology as they did for eons, hunter/ gatherer & farming communities were violently torn away from their sacred lands and forced to mass produce ‘products’ to meet the Empire’s endless wealth accumulation goals. Plantation owners merely saw food as a commodity to be sold and mocked Black, Brown, Indigenous communities for their loving, communal, slow, nurturing, traditional food systems. The deep relationships we had with our native flora, fauna & microbes were dismissed as “useless” since they didn’t extract the most possible from the land. Brutal systems like slavery were invented by importing labor to scale up monocrop plantations to increase their yield or “productivity”. These plantations are where our food today still comes from.
What are colonial monocultures?
Colonialism is defined by monocultures- as colonial empires invaded, forcefully dominated and controlled lands & communities, they also erased local cultural traditions, communal systems & knowledge while asserting a single, hegemonic oppressive, individualistic system where the elite 1% exploit the 99% of people. This has led to global “westernization” where all dominant systems we think of today are borne out of European colonialism which was reformed into capitalism to be more palatable. This erasure of cultural diversity including our traditional food systems directly causes the loss of global biodiversity. Instead of diverse ways of living & building community- one global hegemonic model is violently enforced worldwide which prevents us from sustaining our unique ecological niches and harmonizing with our distinct environments.
But, we want you to think about how monocultures are NORMALIZED as a result of us all being raised under these colonial systems. From binaries of right/ wrong, good/ bad to capitalism telling us to chase superiority & personal success at the expense of our peers, to the idea that there is 1 superior or more ‘moral’ way to exist, we have a colonizer in our heads & it’s time to abolish it.
Vandana continues— “The monoculture of the mind is blind to biodiversity, looks at the world through uniformity. The monoculture of the mind cannot coexist with biodiversity. A biodiversity of the mind is needed to care for biodiversity, to regenerate it for the sustenance of all beings. Two hundred species are going extinct every day. One million are threatened. Without a biodiversity of cultures, biodiversity will not be protected… Nature does not work on the principle of sameness, uniformity, and monocultures. The natural world is a constant striving for a diversity of expression. Diverse ecosystems give rise to diverse life-forms and to diverse cultures. Cultural diversity and biodiversity coevolve when societies and communities are free to take care of their ecosystems and resources, share them in the commons, and use them sustainably for the common good… The domination of industrial agriculture was the forgetting of biodiversity, the erasure of diversity in our minds and on the Earth—the monoculture of the mind.”
The fertile lands that were once loved & cared for by thousands of years of collectivist, ecological practices were pillaged and destroyed by colonial corporations pumping toxic fertilizers & pesticides to get the highest genetically-modified crop yield while putting the least amount of effort to nurture the land itself. Local farmers were coerced to abandon their traditional land-based food practices & diverse rotational crops and grow single crops on large industrial farms. The economies of countries in the Global South till this day rely on production of monocrops like grains, coffee, tea, oil, spices, minerals or cheap labor (slavery) for wealthy colonial countries who control the global economy.
Today, people everywhere are unable to grow their own food because they have been separated from their land. We are turned into consumers desperately reliant on corporations run by the rich who control production and sell survival necessities like food or shelter as “products”. This is how the rich get rich.
What are the consequences of monocultures?
Loss of biodiversity: Monocrop plantation farms erase biodiversity, driving ecological collapse, make us vulnerable to food scarcity & ultimately, drive extinction. ~10,000 diverse plants once cultivated have been replaced by corn, soy, wheat & rice that today make up the vast majority of global crops. To make any profit from monocultures, poor farmers need to scale up- for example, from 50 acres to 5000 acres, requiring large machinery. The tilling of soil for nutrient hungry crops destroys soil fertility & integrity making local communities susceptible to famine & climate disasters like flooding. Capitalism only cares about short-term profit. Synthetic fertilizers & poisonous pesticides are overused to maximize crop yield. However, these crops lack critical micronutrients which can only be provided by a diverse & healthy soil that is home to diverse flora & fauna.
Nature has no monocultures. Even on a log of decaying wood, there is macro & micro level diversity with many inter-dependent life forms. Large ecosystems like a coral reef or savanna, have innumerable life forms growing together in one place. Each plant, insect, fungal or bacterial species serve a critical purpose. Biodiversity is what makes our ecosystems resilient & adaptable to stressors. A more diverse microbiome (the microbes that live in & on us) defends us from a variety of diseases & is critical for our health. A decrease in microbiome diversity makes us susceptible to many diseases and similarly, decreasing biodiversity makes us vulnerable to ecological disasters & diseases on a population scale.
Monocultures disrupt ecological balance & equilibrium. Diversity in a complex food web allows for each life form to be maintained at numbers that are ecologically sustainable. Living beings eat what they need for sustenance. Animals eat plants, microbes & animals; plants eat plants, microbes & animals and so on. These complex interactions maintain an intricate balance that is disrupted by capitalism. Building of large industrial farms requires habitat destruction and the associated death of many animals/ plants/ microbes. Eliminating natural biodiversity to only grow excessive amounts of a single crop leads to overpopulation of pests & pathogens which take over and destroy the ecosystem. Capitalism does not value systems of collective care and tries to “control” this problem by pumping poisonous pesticides, antimicrobials & countless toxins into the soil or by genetically altering crops to yet again attempt to dominate nature. Biodiversity is not “profitable” but it is the fabric of sustainable life on Earth. These capitalist interventions have led to a domino effect of exponentially disastrous problems hurling us all towards extinction.
An example: Fusarium is a fungal plant pathogen which is destroying the global capitalist banana industry. There is 1 genetic clone of banana mass produced on industrial farms around the world and it happens to be susceptible to Fusarium infections. Diverse bananas with seeds in the wild are resistant to these infections but this resilience has been erased & replaced with monocultures. When there is a diversity of strains of even a single plant species, a plant pathogen may target some strains while others adapt & increasingly disseminate resilience. This is an eternally evolving ecological balance- an intricate dance that is disrupted by monocultures which has led to the extinction of countless species.
Industrial farming leads to global hunger and malnutrition. The amount of care put into growing food is directly proportional to its nutritional value. A profit-driven food model is incompatible with ethics & sustainability. Capitalism, including the vegan industry, focuses on increasing product yield to maximize profits and not on increasing nutritional value or quality of food which shapes overall human & ecological health.
When we focus on the product itself without understanding how capitalism produces everything, we miss the big picture. Monocrop plant production cannot be separated from meat production, both happen on capitalist industrial factory farms & both contribute to ecological destruction. Exploitation of all living beings, from animals to farm workers & the land they depend on, is justified as a necessity under capitalism because the goal is profit maximization. Capitalism puts the least in to get the most out. Animals are seen as objects that can be commodified and humans are turned into robots (also objectified), coerced into indentured servitude in the form of “work” to earn the right to live.
Do we actually know where our food comes from when we’re not intimately entangled in the process?
Industrial capitalism is a couple hundred years old and colonialism is a few hundred years old. Many humans societies have existed before WITHOUT abusive or exploitative relationships with animals & plants in their ecosystems AND many still do on the front-lines of our fight against these oppressive systems. As consumers under capitalism, we are ALL by default separated from our food & our kin who we share a local ecological niche with. When we buy food as products on the market- whether it be a Walmart or Trader Joe’s, we are not directly cultivating or intimately connected to our food, the people/ plant/ animals who make it & all the lands that it hails from.
Most of us are unable to forge deep relationships with the people, animals, plants, & microbes who pour labor, love & energy into our food. Most of us are unable to eat in a way that sustains our local ecosystem by being deeply entangled in the process like communities have historically been outside colonialism/ capitalism & this includes omnivorous societies. This doesn’t mean we cannot make a conscious effort today to reconnect to our ecosystem but it means we need to be humble, unlearn, decolonize, transform our whole mindsets & radically shift the way we think about food AND our role as beings who are part of nature. We need to be hyper-aware about our tendency to fallback on capitalist systems or colonial thinking to solve complex problems created by colonialism. It means we have to dismantle the individualistic, holier-than-thou voice in our head that says “I know more. I’m better than them”. It means we fight for a world that is resilient because many diverse worlds co-exist within it.
We will not consume our way to liberation & freedom
Only in a capitalist society, do people frame food choices as a “lifestyle choice” where you may just switch from consuming one product to another overnight. In eco-harmonious Black & Brown communities, food systems are created by building relationships & knowledge systems that learn from the land over hundreds of years. So called “diets” are derived from relating to animal & plant kin in ways that have gradually proven to be sustainable, resilient & adaptable to environmental stressors or community needs. When you cultivate, grow & care for the ecosystem that sustains you, you can’t simply “switch diet choices” or “change lifestyles”. These concepts show a clear disconnect and severance from nature & reality. In a capitalist society, most people are unaware of where their food even comes from. Green corporations capitalize on this by feeding their consumers egos leading to some individuals upholding capitalism/ colonialism while ironically claiming moral superiority, saying they’ve ‘done their part’ simply by consuming plant-based diets without ever being directly responsible for cultivating their food. Meanwhile, communities with different food practices are framed as immoral or in need of “education” so they can abandon their own cultural food traditions & convert to plant-based diets.
Outside of capitalism, the local environment- from the bioregion’s climate, land’s mineral composition to cohabiting flora/ fauna & ancestral traditions, shapes a community’s food practices. A one-size-fits-all diet model makes no sense because our ecological niches are distinct & our cultures are unique. Enforcing a single “lifestyle” that is labeled as superior, ethical & civilized is a form of neocolonialism. It enables capitalism’s covertly violent homogenization of our communities by judging, slandering & eventually aiming to erase traditional, ethnically-contextualized, local food systems.
The fight for biodiversity includes cultural diversity
Decolonizing includes dismantling our moral superiority complexes. Decolonizing includes resisting any form of homogenization by fighting for a diversity & multitude of community practices to exist based on what makes the most ecological sense. A vegan diet, for example, is unsustainable for most parts of the world and would require those communities to depend on imports from external entities which is what colonialism forced onto us. For most global communities, especially in regions lacking the climate & soil conditions for year-round crop farming like hot deserts or cold tundras, sustainable food systems necessitate the integration of animals. The idea that climate change will be averted or the planet will be ‘saved’ by people merely making “better” food choices exposes the following contradictions:
Decolonizing means sustaining diversity between communities so we can all reconnect & experiment with our traditional systems of knowledge outside of capitalism which includes food practices. The concept of a single superior type of global diet is undeniably a form of colonialism which doesn’t allow for a non-hierarchical, multiplicity of communal traditions to exist as equally valuable to the resilience of our planet. The future utopia for mainstream colonial vegans is a world where everyone eats plants or microbes- this concept lacks any ecological logic. It is also terrifying because this utopia involves the erasure of countless communities' traditional food systems which for thousands of years have sustained the planet.
Decolonizing requires us to dismantle colonial hierarchies including the idea that there is one “right” way to exist or that one group can dictate how billions of people should live. Colonialism’s violence included missionaries spreading Catholicism to communities they deemed backward, uncivilized & savage and similarly, any system cannot be globally perpetuated without violence. Judgment passed on omnivorous Black & Brown communities who integrate plants, animals & microbes into their food systems as stewards of their land– is colonialism. Labeling thousand year old cultural, ethnic, food traditions that incorporate animals as “savage” is colonialism because it advocates for erasure in the same vein as genocide & ethnic cleansing. So yes, green capitalism is capitalism. Rainbow capitalism is capitalism and any monoculture including universal/ global veganism is still colonialism.
“Veganism is not just a personal diet choice, it is a lifestyle, a way of life, a religion” commented someone on part I of our series before they proceeded to call me a murderer, rapist, slave-owner & savage for not being vegan and advocating for my communities traditional, indigenous food systems’ right to exist without yet again being erased by green capitalism/ reformed colonialism.
I actually think this is an important comment that further reinforces all our points. Remember what happened the last time people leveraged their “burden” to spread a self-labeled superior religion to the rest of the world? Remember the violence and global destruction that manifested from this savior complex? We don’t even need to lookback to 20th century European colonialism because capitalism is 21st century colonialism- a globally enforced system operated by the 1%. Furthermore, religious supremacy leads to the systematic genocide of many communties today. Any belief system can be a religion. Even the absence of religion like atheism can be leveraged to erase alternative belief systems. One should be able to practice veganism without deeming everyone who doesn’t partake as “sinners” who metaphorically deserve hellfire. Veganism, like any religion or ideology, shouldn’t be condescendingly disseminated as an effort to “convert” or save people from their “wrong” & backward alternative food systems. Furthermore, other traditional systems which are mostly practiced by Black, Brown, Indigenous communities shouldn’t merely be tolerated but actively preserved, sustained, fought for, protected AND learned from.
A personal note on Hindu ethno-nationalism & the oppression of “savage meat-eating” communities
I (Ayesha) want to take a moment to specifically shed light on the suffering of my communities under Hindu Nationalism. In India, the “meat-eating is immoral” argument is one of many tactics leveraged to justify genocide of religious, ethnic & tribal minorities like Muslims or Dalits (labeled as “lower caste” Hindus) who do not strictly subscribe to vegetarianism. The holy stature of cows is somehow used to promote everything from state-sanctioned lynchings to internment camps to mob acid attacks with minorities being dragged out & lit on fire in the streets as family members are forced to watch. Capitalism, of course, is not addressed by the capitalist, ethno-nationalist government financed by an alliance of the local sellouts & global 1%. I’ve observed that many folks living in the west who advocate for a social justice cause are largely ignorant of issues impacting the Global South and refuse to truly decolonize or dismantle their internalized colonialism/ capitalism/ individualism.
2 of the distinct South Asian communities that I come from- 1) Karnatak South Indian Muslims who steward tropical lands & were hunter/ gatherers in the Western Ghats prior to forced urbanization and 2) Afro-Indian Hindu tribal fisherman, also known as the Siddi, living in a remote & geographically isolated South Western coastal village called Bengre stewarding the Indian Ocean.
Food is always political- the South Asian context
India has been ruled by Hindu Nationalist governments with the right-wing BJP party currently in power that aims to make India “purely Hindu again”. A certain form of vegetarianism has been insidiously co-opted by nationalists who aim to use food practices as a purity test to separate people not just by religion but along caste lines. Ironically, much of India’s food production even for Hindu communities revolves around dairy products from industrial, capitalist, factory farms. India is the world’s largest dairy producer. India is also the world’s largest meat producer which is a capitalist industry run by “upper caste” Hindus employing many minorities like Dalits/ Bahujans/ Adivasis, Muslims & Christians whose lands and traditional small farms have been stolen, pushing them into poverty. The BJP authoritarian regime, pushing for a nation-wide ban, has managed to criminalize & outlaw the consumption of cows in 20 out of 29 states dictating the food practices and livelihoods of countless communities which has led to widespread ecological destruction. Muslims who participate in any livestock farming can be incarcerated including life sentences. Ironically, traditional Halal food practices that many global Muslims adhere to are fundamentally incompatible with capitalist, industrial, factory farm based mass production of meat which always requires the brutal torture & abuse of animals, plants & all parts of the land they are on. This violates basic guidelines on how we should eat as per both the most orthodox and open interpretations of Islamic scripture.
This issue is leveraged by politicians to breed hatred among the working class so they can misdirect their anger at each other rather than building solidarity to topple the state that is oppressing them all to varying degrees. BJP doesn’t actually give a s**t about animals or working class Hindus and is funded by the country’s dairy & industrial agro-corporations. Ironically, the hierarchical caste system that places humans on a “purity” ladder with dark-skinned folks at the bottom, like my Siddi Hindu family, who are discarded to the fringes of society. Lower caste folks often must work as indentured servants in humiliating conditions from cleaning sewers to maintaining public toilets. There is a reason our communities have the highest mortality and morbidity rates due to infectious diseases or chronic illnesses- similar reasons poor, marginalized communities in the U.S. have the worst health outcomes.
Modi’s ethno-nationalist government has built bridges with settler colonial regimes from the U.S. to Israel who provide financial support including arms to uphold the oppression of Indian minorities and the military occupation of Kashmir. Communal violence targeting and systematic discrimination against religious minorities has been on the rise and was the driving force that displaced my half-Hindu, half-Muslim biological family unit in my childhood which led to us being nomadic migrants in the diaspora since then.
My community & ancestors have developed ethical food practices in context of their local ecology for eons. My Dad’s family in Bengre continues to resist urbanization & industrialization by attempting to provide for each other by avoiding monetary transactions and limiting interactions with capitalist markets as much as possible. But our ability to steward our oceans is decimated as corporations expand. The community is struggling to protect marine life from all the poisonous carcinogenic wastewater run off & tons of industrial garbage that is directed from the cities to our sacred shores & ocean which have become dumping grounds for urban excess or waste.
Diverse local knowledge systems are oppressed and violently erased by authoritarian regimes which are a single unified alliance under capitalism- from the U.S. to the Indian government. If you claim to care about dismantling oppression, then that includes anthropocentric hierarchies that separate humans from nature and arbitrarily dictate which animals are sentient based on their perceived proximity to humans while other animals, plants & microbes are arbitrarily dismissed as “lesser” life forms. My community is not only the humans but the plants, animals- land and marine, and microbial life forms that are entangled in our collectivist ecological web of relationships. We have resisted capitalist destruction of our tropical jungles & Indian Ocean shores. My humans have carefully & respectfully cultivated sacred relationships with our non-human kin who we undoubtedly rely on for survival, medicine, cultural relics, holy sites, spiritual guidance, knowledge and life purpose. Our non-human kin also rely on us. We need them just as much as they need us. We do what makes sense for us locally, historically, culturally & ecologically (all those concepts are one and the same to us). We’ve also constantly adapted to the evolving needs of our communities and to brave new environmental stressors & challenges. We will continue to learn from, grow and adapt with all parts of our sacred land & oceans.
Our food practices cannot be separated from our cultural beliefs, traditions and community itself. Erasure of our food is erasure of our people. Fighting for biodiversity includes fighting for cultural diversity. We need each other.
Ayesha & Andy.
I just finished reading The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson, a Native American writer and organizer collaborating with communities to create sovereign food systems for Native people. It’s a “story of the seeds within the context of actual Dakhóta history, crafted as a blend of fiction and history”. The book describes plants and animals as relatives, seeds and indigenous food being central to cultures, and colonial monocultures devastating Native communities and biodiversity for the earth. Sharing in case this is of interest to anyone looking for a fiction book to read on this topic :)
Thank you for this series.