Food, Anxiety, Freedom: Essay published in ‘Chimurenga Chronic’

A Draft Essay by Desiree Lewis in the April 2017, ‘Chimurenga Chronic’

Politics and scholarship about food in the global South are invariably linked to ideas about deprivation, suffering and political oppression. The emphasis is understandable given the obscenity of our current global food regime: agribusiness destroys local food production; global food suppliers coerce marginalized groups’ reliance on exorbitantly priced processed foods and supermarkets; and the dominant food system effectively creates starvation among many peasants, the urban poor and growing economically vulnerable populations in peri-urban areas.

Yet the political and scholarly attention to food only as an index of injustice and exploitation, and never as a source of agency and pleasure, is disturbing The visceral and cognitive freedom, pleasure and creativity in relation to cooking, eating and growing food has somehow become suspect to the left – evidence of some incomplete radical commitment, or of capitulating to escapist dreams. Considering that food, cooking and eating are often profoundly creative and pleasurable, the compulsive anxiety, despair and sense of victimization around food is astonishing. Where does this one-sided attitude towards food come from?

In many ways, it derives from an industry fueled by massive material resources and expert knowledge aimed ostensibly at managing the world’s food crisis. The name of this industry is “food security”, a set of hugely funded practices, expert views and institutions that came into existence alongside development discourses in the mid-1900s, but that have been reactivated by the twenty-first century obsession with “security”. Conventionally, “food security” is deployed in addressing the needs of the poor and obviously “food insecure”, although in what follows I’d like to expand on the conventional meanings of food insecurity.

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