Anti-Colonial Food Politics: A Case Study In Action From Mexico
The theory of intersectionality, whose basic insight is the interconnectedness of all systems of violence, swept over activist movements and academic departments (especially Women’s Studies, English, Race and Ethnic Studies, History, and Political Science) in the 1980s. At some point in the 1980s, this insight matured into a wholesale framework under which activists and academics could situate themselves and engage one another in dialogue. The concept of intersectionality was born primarily (but not exclusively) out of the work of feminists of color who were critical of the monotonous nature of feminist discussion of patriarchal oppression in the 1960s and 1970s. Intersectionality invited people fighting against different types of dominance to see each other as partners in a struggle for a common goal.
In its initial formulation, the theory and practice of intersectionality focused on exposing the complex ways in which three forces overlap with one another: racism, classism, and sexism. While significant progress was made by what one could call “first-generation” theories of intersectionality (especially surrounding issues of misogynoir), a second wave of intersectional thinkers soon pointed out that the mission of intersectional thinking could not stop at this “trifecta” since other forms of systemic violence—xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, colonialism, disability, and fatphobia, to name some—are always already part of the equation and merge with race, class, and gender. In the process, they produce a multifaceted framework of oppression that cannot be reduced to three, four, or even ten “main” variables.
In recent years, intersectional thought has expanded tremendously. It has, for example, made room for animal rights and food politics. Out of this expansion has come a new and exciting conversation among previously isolated individuals and groups, including those committed to dietary health, animal justice, environmental sustainability, and anti-colonial praxis. Although this conversation is still in the process of taking form, one can already see its outline and get a sense of its value and promise.
For people of color, especially those who bear the weight of colonial histories (which is the vast majority), it’s impossible to separate questions concerning their personal, lived experience from the history of colonialism. This is because one of the ways colonialism functions: by changing, by brute force, even the most mundane habits of the colonialized—including how they speak, what they believe, how they live, and even what they eat. The everyday life of a post-colonial subject, then, is a life that often re-plays the logic of its own colonial origins, a life that cannot move forward in time without carrying a past it perhaps would rather leave behind.
This is what anti-colonial philosophers and activists, such as Frantz Fanon, wanted to remind us of: that we will never succeed at separating the historical fact of colonialism from the effects it continues to have on the hearts and minds of post-colonial subjects. We can never separate, in other words, our colonial past from our postcolonial present, like the skeleton our body carries within.
But where do we see colonialism still ongoing?
We see it, according to Xicana feminists, in the machismo that continues to shape Mexican culture and that was imposed on indigenas by a conquering Spanish force. We see it, according to jotería theorists, in the homophobia that make walking in public a possible death sentence for queer Mexicans who refuse to abide by outdated and colonial codes of gender and sexuality (let us not forget that gender was more fluid for the Aztecs than for the Spaniards). And we see it, according to theorists de la comida, in the diets of modern day Mexicans who regularly opt for the food of the colonizers, be it the food of the first colonizers (the rice, beef, and pork of the Spanish) or the second (the McDonalds, Burger Kings, and Starbucks of the Americans).
Our very eating habits, then, are reflections of a colonial event that very much still is a living force in our present. In how we eat and what we eat, we play and replay the very source of our collective trauma. The dinner table as colonial and neo-colonial reenactment.
It is here that the value of a specifically intersectionalist approach to postcolonial food politics proves its value. If we want to combat the colonialism that many of us still suffer from and often carry within us, we need to take a hard look in the mirror and confront the possibility that we cannot do so without altering some of our most seemingly natural habits—including our habits concerning food, around which so much of our own cultural identity depends.
Combating colonialism in the way we eat requires us to act on several levels: by reflecting on the ways in which many of our contemporary dietary practices are not really “ours” but have instead been forced on us by external actors too diffuse to name; by reclaiming the foods of our ancestors, those pre-Colombian staples that so many of us know about in the abstract but haven’t woven into our everyday life; and by facing up to the fact that our modern-day eating habits perpetuate the violence of which colonialism is only one expression—by sacrificing living beings for the sake of human gusto. We cannot, then, look in the mirror without asking three different, but ultimately related questions, which are: “What do we eat?”, “Whom do we eat?”, and “Why?”.
One of the core tenets of intersectional thinking is that it’s not enough to identify the many ways in which systems of oppression overlap and intersect with one another. To merely describe intersections is to misunderstand the mission, which has always been to find ways to combat the violence that, in the end, creates the nodes we see in the intersectional web. In relation to the food politics of the postcolonial experience, this means launching individual and collective projects that will help us change the ways in which we eat: projects that will be consciousness-raising exercises will concretely help individuals—living concrete lives in concrete places—to change themselves for the better.
Organizations like Faunacción and its project “El Molcajete” are beginning the hard labor of setting in motion, in this case in Mexico City, an intersectional food politics that begins from the insight that one cannot combat colonialism without combatting what colonialism brings to the table. El Molcajete offers a variety of programs such as cooking classes and demos, presentations on relevant Mexican food issues, a pop-up library on food issues, food samplings, a mural on the history of Mexican food, and more. The programs they bring are free of charge.
By encouraging us to reimagine Mexican cuisine along the lines of a politically conscious veganism, El Molcajete is challenging us to reimagine ourselves at our deepest core. And what else but this could be the central task of anti-colonialist activism in the 21 century? This project should be notable to all animal advocates, and inspire us to push our own advocacy—and the connections we make with other social justice movements—further and deeper.