The 2017 Food Politics and Cultures Festival in Pictures

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Regulating Food Waste in the City: problematising municipal organic recycling initiatives in Cape Town, South Africa by Suzall Timm

Paper presented at the Seventh International Conference on Food Studies,

For: Theme on Food Production and Sustainability 

27 October 2017, University of Tre, Rome


Approximately 10 million tons of waste which constitute a third of food in South Africa goes to waste every year. Most of the food wastage and loss occur early in the food-supply chain and continues right through to the post-consumer phase. Post-consumer constitutes a large percentage of what into goes into household bins and has major implications for landfills in cities. Like local governments elsewhere, the City of Cape Town plays an important role as the key regulatory agent of post-consumer waste. Waste management regulation is put in place to manage food wastage at the municipal level with an underlying logic to waste less to prevent large amounts of food waste from going to landfills. The City of Cape Town’s innovative and effective waste management system has various organic recycling and composting initiatives in place to divert food waste from landfills. Although innovative and effective, it is merely a temporary technological solution to the broader issue of wastefulness and consumption in an inequitable society. This paper draws on the City of Cape Town, South Africa a case study to examine conceptions of food waste, how waste pickers who interact with food waste are viewed and criminalised in high food waste suburbs, and “food waste” reflects different meanings such as abundance versus scarcity. The paper argues that the regulation of food waste through organic recycling as a solution fails to address broader patterns of consumption and wastage in the city instead waste management regulation reflects a neoliberal politics that normalizes wasteful consumption.

Powerpoint presentation available for download here

Seeking Mielie in Milpa by Zayaan Khan

This article will feature in the Food Politics and Cultures Festival publication, The Daily Gêba

Maize, corn, mielies, food we grew up eating from our morning cereals to our dinners.  It spans a huge range of use within our continent and many cannot even remember a time when maize was not there, maize having Africanised its roots and becoming synonymous with every meal, like rice used to be or before that, millet or sorghum. Maize is the prize crop and often receives the prime real estate with higher allocations of water and the best soils than the other grains in the mixed fields. Soon and up until now, it began to be understood that maize was in fact from Africa and of course, many cannot even remember a time when maize was not there.

Yet maize grew up with thousands of years of familial development with people in Mesoamerica.  Centuries of breeding and selecting cobs and seeds to perpetuate seed stock for infinite years in the future.  Tracing back years into the past, the closest ancestors maize is recognised to have are the wild teosintes, their thin, short ears are closer to what we recognise as grass as opposed to the plump and swollen cobs of maize or sweetcorn we are so accustomed to, yet many seed libraries carry both varieties, ensuring the wild teosinte is never far away to continue crossing natural adaptation and evolution into the bred strains we are so accustomed to. Teosinte growth is wild, bushy, voluptuous, their flower thin and not as pronounced as their foliage. Maize, however, stands tall and erect, focusing energies on producing seed as opposed to lush leaves and green growth.


Taking out the kernels of the word teosinte, we see teo is rooted from the Nahuatl word for god, teotl, and cintli as ‘dried ear of maize’, teocintl which then morphed into teosinte some centuries and colonisations later. Teosinte is also known in some places as abuelo, grandfather, a grandfather grass that continues to pass on infinite lineage.

This ancient grassy maize has been continuously cultivated and has many faces, flint corn, maize corn from central america, sweet corn from the north, popcorn from further south. Short and thin, square and flat, raindrop round, some hooked, all maize in all iterations.  Colours ranging from white, red, black, blue, yellow, orange and in Peru as if someone has taken a toothbrush and flicked purple paint on lilac kernels. Mexico is the home of maize and the heart of Zea family. We know borders are illusory, to say one type of maize originates from one country can be misleading, but as a family, Zea resides in a great distribution, all cousins, some distant, some close.

In Mexico, maize is the people and the people are maize, maize is consumed at every meal in many ways. From cool and sweet atole, an almost milky hot drink which is delicious with oats drunk especially for breakfast, or champurrado which is similar but with chocolate, elotes or esquites with their spices or condiments, tamales with maize as pastry wrapped in corn husk, to maize as bread like tortillas or quesidillas, and fermented into tesgüino as sacred beer further north. Maize is eaten throughout the day, every day for centuries, the ultimate staple food. Maize is the people and the people are maize.

An especially delicious delicacy is huitlacoche, a fungus that inhabits some maize and engorges the kernels transforming their colours completely, morphing them into something that looks almost animalia. The fungus takes on a gray hue and when cooked and darkens as if the maize was cooked with ash. This is a pivotal moment in the relationship of maize and people, in industrially grown maize this would be seen as a huge loss, smut is sprayed and controlled, defeated, killed.  Yet it is so sought after and a speciality as it seems this smut has not caught on and survived in Africa. Corn smut is how it’s known in english. Smut is smut is smut, frowned down upon, kept hidden, mostly suppressed.

It could be that maize was imported into Africa in the 16th Century through Portuguese coloniser movement but this is not certain and it could have come earlier by arab travellers. Maize was quickly adopted and spread throughout southern Africa, with broad linguistic heritage. Yet it was only the seed itself which was shared, or at least the only part of the story that stuck. You see, maize comes with an integral culture in Mesoamerica, it is only because of maize that the creation of humanity was successful, maize is the people and the people are maize. Maize is not in singular guided by a singular god or even binary as masculine or feminine (as its botanical understanding would lead you to believe). Maize is thus grown in the milpa, never alone, never without beans and pumpkin or squash.

Milpa is the field of maize so ubiquitous in Mexico, maize the most obvious plant in the field but never without beans or squash or pumpkin or chayote or avocado or sweet potato. Milpa became known as the Three Sisters, namely maize, squash and beans all able to intergrow, maize as dappling of shade and upright growth for climbing beans or other plants, the squash covering the ground and all plants working with each other.  Maize is hungry, it quickly depletes the soil if left to its own devices and will not succeed past a few generations, the beans and squash ensure constant replenishment, not just nutritionally but within their agroecological environment, the insects, micro-climate or waters.

The milpa is thus the extension of maize, or perhaps seen not as separate, it is not male, it is not female, it is both mother and daughter, father and son, child and guardian. Milpa is an extension of survival, without milpa there is no future and no past. Milpa is part of the resistance of the landscape, the seed has been taken care of for thousands of years and defending the seed becomes about defending the territory. On a recent trip to Oaxaca milpa is everywhere, in the region milpa is still strong and has not been contaminated by the monotony of monoculture and genetic modification like further north where the illusory line lives, fences, guns on patrol, men in uniform, check points and long queues separate Mexico from The United States, even though they reside on the same land mass.


Could it be because of vast uptake of agriculture as seen by the agro-industrial complex and the rapid movement of the Green Revolution in Africa that we don’t often see the milpa in the fields that dot this land? I began to ask farmers about why they farm and where they learnt it from and without prodding, I would begin to hear stories of grandmothers who used to plant these plants together. These same children who grew up to be farmers in the cities with maize rotating in the fields but not grown amongst other seed.

Yet curiously, somehow we missed out on the vital step of nixtamal, the process of cooking the kernels in alkaline solution, kalk, slaked lime or ash. This process pre-digests or softens the kernels to be easier digested like with pozole, a stew or soup using whole nixtamalised kernels, but mostly to allow a glutenesque pliability that makes masa which is the dough used to make tortilla.

In South Africa we suffer a similar maize to the “gringo maize”, maize without milpa, maize without nixtamal, maize without smut, maize without story, maize who is not allowed to grow different to his sister, maize forced into conformity, uniformity, concocted in laboratories and vast tracts of sterile land. This way of maize became a bastardisation of where maize originates and now is the most common form of maize available. Genetic modification of maize is perhaps the height of corporate control, above the state and above government. It is added to most foods processed in its many forms through the agro-industrial complex as thickeners, additives, bulkers, flavourants and so on. So even if you are not eating maize, it is within the foods that come pre-packaged and often cannot be avoided. Yes, it is even often the biggest ingredient in processed breads. Thus a country like South Africa, similar to many southern African countries, consumes maize as a staple too even if you are not eating maize from the cob. Stories of origin often weave their way through us through myth and legend, the inherited stories told through the generations, the story of maize in Africa is no different. As stated, perhaps it traveled with the colonisers, perhaps it travelled with travellers, perhaps it is true that an African variety of Zea mays existed closer to the north and began to be cultivated, and perhaps this was closer to wheat than what we see as maize but these stories have been mostly diluted.

Maize arrived before the Dutch colonised the Cape and was cultivated freely, already with name mielie most likely from the Portuguese milho, travelling through from the east via Mozambique.[1] From milho to mielie, mielie is a creole word that has endured. It seems impossible that maize arrived incognito, of course it came with story, maize is people. And perhaps it arrived with nixtamal, it’s a process that existed here too, perhaps it did arrive in milpa as a mixture of seeds. Maybe this practice was killed during the genocides that are carried out during colonisation, because maize is people and severing knowledge from being passed out is a sure way to ensure extinction of knowing.

Maize is the ultimate Mexican food of resistance, the saying, sin maíz no hay país literally means “without maize there is no country”, the country symbolising the people of the land who continuously work for months to ensure there is nutritious food for families emerging from nutritious lands, using methods that are not written down or documented for something that is so entrenched within the community.  Mexico, like South Africa, has suffered greatly at the introduction of neoliberal policies that govern the government’s and trade within and out of the lands. These policies have come at great sacrifice to many peasant farmers, recognised custodians of land and sea, where local systems of economy were devastated as multinationals and larger corporates were able to control the trade of maize and other crops. cof

This change also happened at the seed level where maize became conformed to fit industrialised methods of farming, highly mechanised with seeds only able to grow with additional chemical input like herbicides, fertilisers, fungicide on huge tracts of land owned by older white men. Generally these seeds are highly hybridised and genetically modified to be able to survive herbicide, spray designed to kill plants.

This seed was forced to trade out its inherent nutrition in order to become conformed in this way. Speaking of thousands of years of breeding means seeds bred to adapt to hyperlocal conditions, seeds grown with specific recipes in mind, seeds cultivated for feeding families nutritional meals that satiate for hours. Stories of maize drinks drunk in the field while harvesting that is enough to keep tummies full for the day. This is not the story we hear in South Africa, the maize bought and consumed does not have the nutritional bioavailability it once had. Hunger is worsened and no longer felt by the rural poor but very much within urban spaces, where even those who are obese experience hunger and malnutrition.

There is more than enough food, more than enough maize, it is the story of how it is grown, where it comes from, its preparation and consumption that creates a completely different paradigm than maize simply to fill the gap. Indeed this gap is no longer able to be filled if we rely on this contemporary maize which has become the dominant maize.

Maize is the people and the people are maize, this is not just true in Mexico but has global repercussions and implications. Seeing it from an African perspective grants us new commonality with the land from which maize originates, the land and her people. Reclaiming maize from conformity, homogeneity and industry to be freely adapting like it calls to be, is a reclaiming of knowledge and ways of being, working from the seed and land to begin connecting nutrition, family, narratives, grounding for solidarity and enough fertile ground for new seeds of hope.

[1] Jeffreys, M. D. W. (1967). Who introduced maize into Southern Africa? South African Journal of Science. Vol 63. P23-40.


The Fish System: A Poem by Jolyn Phillips

The Fish System

by Jolyn Phillips

 Step one:  my father takes a piece of fish

and hooks it on the line, feeds it to the sea

hoping a twakkie, harder or redroman would bite

as he becomes a piece of poisonous bokkoms

shrivelling in the sun feeding the fish themselves,

trusting they would bite he understands that fish

eat fish that eat the ocean that eats us, and

while my father tricks the fish to eat themselves

we eat ourselves when we eat the fish.

Step two: father brings the fish home

we do not cook the head of the twakkie or the harder

there is no brain to chew, it crunches better

when fried in white maize

even the eye chews like a bubblegum

chewed out, out of flavour

when we see it on our plates

we know fish can kill even when they are dead

so we remove the bones

we chew cautiously, afraid of the death bone

of the fish flesh, white and soft like fur

we have dry bread on standby if the bone

makes it to your throat and chokes you

inside your throat

even when gargling we instinctively reach for the bread

so it can blanket

the bone, push it down to die in our stomach.

Step three: we need money, we need food

we are running out of electricity but we have fire

the winter is not cold enough to freeze the fish

therefore, the fish can only be braaied

can only be frozen in our bodies

cannot be wasted even if the memory of fish and bread

reminds you that yesterday you died

even if you cannot buy life with a fish

even if the rotten fish is the reproach

that my father has failed us

even if the memory of fish and bread

reminds me that I died yesterday

I will put the leftover fish on my bread

and eat it in stages.

Jolyn Phillips is one of the contributors to Cutting Carrots the Wrong Way: An Anthology of Poetry and Prose about Food edited by Kobus Moolman. Cutting Carrots the Wrong Way will be launched at the Food Politics and Cultures Festival this Friday, 10 November 2017.


Food Studies and the Pitfalls of Interdisciplinarity by Desiree Lewis

Paper presented at the Seventh International Conference on Food Studies,

For: Theme on Food Politics, Policies and Cultures

27 October 2017, University of Tre, Rome


Much of my work on food has focused on how it is spoken about and discursively constructed – both in everyday discourses as well as in specialised knowledge in the academy. This paper critically focuses on the conceptual and theoretical frames that dominate influential strands in food studies. It goes on to make a case for neglected areas within critical transdisciplinary (rather than “interdisciplinary”) food studies that emerge out of humanities work.

Three questions will be explored:

  • Despite claims about interdisciplinarity, how do dominant models of food studies reinforce familiar sites and forms of research?
  • Which disciplines are privileged and how does this buttress a global neoliberal knowledge economy and dominant western-centric epistemologies?
  • How can attention to “affect” and transdisciplinarity enrich food studies?


Much has been said (including statements and discussions at this conference) about the value of interdisciplinarity in food studies. Food studies are often seen to straddle disciplines in ways that encourage epistemological innovation; in other words, the interdisciplinarity of food studies is believed to generate fresh perspectives on our everyday world and broader social and political issues.  Interdisciplinary food studies often involve connections among disciplines. But much of it does not really generate new epistemological work.

In the contexts whose work I am familiar with – Africa, India, the United States, cross-disciplinary research and writing often involves consolidating neoliberal paradigms and reinforcing post-enlightenment ideas about logic and reason that privilege, amongst other things, western-centric science, positivist arguments and methodologies, and singular and linear explanations and solutions.

I’m presenting my overall argument very bluntly here, so bear with me as I outline my reasons for saying this.

Download full article here

“Eating the Other”: the “Red Indian” Motif and Eating in Rome by Thembelihle Bongwana and Desiree Lewis

This is the second post in the series of Reflections on Food, Fun, and Culture in Rome. The purpose of these posts is to capture conversations, experiences, and reflections of exploring the food and culture in Rome.

Food court cultures in malls tend to be homogenous. In both the North and the South, McDonalds, Wimpy Bars, steakhouses, Kentucky Fried Chicken and various other food outlets dominate mall spaces in ways that make one forget which city one is in: the same food brand names, items and symbolism can be found in mall food courts in Kampala, Cape Town, New York, Atlanta, Dusseldorf, Bangalore, Gaborone, Johannesburg or Rome, while the malls themselves are even more terrifyingly uniform. Malls function in our political economy in very much the same way that big dams – as Arundhati Roy says – have been institutionalized as indices of global modernity. But while the mall culture in the North has started to shrink (in the same way that big dams, as Roy argues, have begun to disappear), mall cultures in the South steadily expand. Governments, in collusion with national and global capital continue to milk the resources and consumer potential of the South to create ever-increasingly large malls with their attendant food courts and mall food cultures.

One aspect of mall food culture that is of special interest to us both is the prominence of the “wild west” motif in restaurants and food outlets, especially through the stereotyping of Native Americans. This is starkly evident in the case of the Spur, the South African franchise whose brand image draws heavily on the imagery of the Wild West in fast food outlets and low-end restaurants in the US. The symbolic marking of these public eating sites establishes a connection between eating on one hand, and cultural appropriation, the imagining of extended frontiers, and fantasies of violent colonial conquest on the other. In the Spur, for example eating is often synonymous with the act of cultural misrepresentation, appropriation and satiation.

As a well-known South African steakhouse franchise, the Spur draws on globalized stereotypes for its advertising and décor. Its promotion of “authenticity” includes clichéd cultural artifacts, the logo of a Native American chief, and Native American tribe names to identify individual restaurants. In different ways, we have both observed the crude appropriation of Native American-ness, what certain critical race and postcolonial critics have called cultural appropriation or “eating the other”. While these critics have used the phrase as a metaphor, it is alarming how “eating the other” functions both symbolically and literally in the marketing and consumption of food in relation to the Spur.

In Rome, we found that both the Del West Steak House and The Wild West draw on this Wild West theme, with the interiors of both leaning towards a violent “cow-boy –encountering-Indians-and-vast-expanses-of-land” culture. To us, the Italian based outlets displayed especially disturbing symbols of violence: from dead animals, to skeletons, bow and arrows, chains, ropes, and guns engraved on the walls. Yet the images below reveal strong similarities between the symbolism in Spurs in South Africa and the imagery in outlets in Rome.

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Michael Taylor remarks on the stereotyping of Native Americans in the North American context, where the “manipulated body of the Indian mascot reinforces stereotypes grounded in historical experiences based on power” (2015:119) [1]. Some of the imagery above confirms Taylor’s allusions to the glorification and romanticizing of trauma and torture: handcuffs, barbed wire, rope, and skeletons are fetishized as sources of some imagined source of gratification and satiation.

Thembelihle, ever eager to discover traces of Spur imagery and culture around the world, found intriguing examples in a country which, paradoxically prides itself on its long tradition of national cuisine that seems totally unlike the cuisine marketed in wild-west food branding. One such restaurant was situated between the Via Vito Volterra area of Rome and the Termini station; not far from where we were staying. The second, almost a replication of the South African Spur steakhouses, was found at the Euroma shopping centre in the Viale dell’Oceano Pacifico area.

Generally, brand images of “typical” Italian cuisine convey moods ranging from gustatory serenity to pleasure. The images below convey this:

Pasta, bread and bolognese seem to have very little connection to bleeding steaks or pseudo -Mexican tortillas. But in Rome, at least one fast food outlet in one of the biggest malls, Euroma, most definitely makes the connection. Here you can enjoy the usual homogenized food such as steaks, chips, burgers, nachos or choose various incarnations of Italian pastas. This is typical of the way that globalized food court outlets combine the “universalism” of “wild west” foods with contextually specific and  “nationally” inflected cuisine such as pap with your steak at certain steakhouses in South Africa

On the day we visited, the mall was packed with Italian families doing what global consumers have been persuaded to do on Saturday mornings around the world,  which has turned into buying unnecessary and overpriced commodities, and eat unnecessary and overpriced foods. Before the arrival of our meal, Desiree had two tasteless cappuccinos, while Thembi wandered about photographing the décor.


One reason why we found this setting so shocking is of course because it is de-familiarized. We have become quite passé about the brutalized images of native American-ness in South African Spur because we have grown up with these images as part of our ideas about everyday public eating.

Travelling inevitably involves repositioning oneself being a bit different, seeing the world differently and of course seeing different things. Seeing Italians in Rome participate in the fantasy of colonial conquest through eating ways, to say the least, an eye-opener into the fantasies that inevitably accompany everyday eating in public spaces.

[1] Taylor, M. (2015). Indian-styled mascots, masculinity, and the manipulated Indian body: Chief Illiniwek and the embodiment of tradition. Ethnohistory, 62(1), 119-143.

To download the article click here


AVAILABLE NOW: Food Politics and Cultures Festival Draft Programme

The Food Politics and Cultures Festival draft programme is available for download. Please note this is a draft programme and it will be updated, so please make sure to check back regularly.

Download draft programme here


Food and “Excess” in Rome by Desiree Lewis

This is the first post in the Reflections on Food, Fun and Culture in Rome where we will do a series of blog posts over the next few days. The purpose of these posts is to capture conversations, experiences, and reflections of exploring the food and culture in Rome.  It will also cover other critical reflections on key issues that emerged during the food studies conference. 

On the day of our arrival, we were driven to our hotel by a taxi driver who consistently crossed invisible behavioural boundaries. He laughed really loudly; he was excessively sociable; his shoes were over-the-top; he flirted outrageously. But he was very likeable. An uninhibited person who really didn’t seem to care much about what he should do, and who chose, in the way he wore his flamboyant socks without shoes, to do what he wanted to do.

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Arriving at hotel in Rome


One of the neglected aspects of current thinking about “decolonization” is the extent to which our cognitive and conceptual world is shaped by destructive dualisms: dualisms that dichotomize, for example, moderation and excess (very malleable standards), so that “excess” comes to connote lack of civility, crudeness etc.

It’s been instructive to think this through in Rome, where a long national food culture, (comprising several complex regional and class-based cuisine), has shaped distinct ideas about food, eating, and pleasure. No doubt, various social historians, and foodies have explored this historically and rigorously. But a blunt historical perspective involves thinking about how the ancient Romans are habitually caricatured as excessive revelers, especially excessive food consumers. There are indisputable political dimensions to this, and excessive food consumption then, as is the case today, was linked to the inhuman treatment of others – slaves, underclasses, inferior nations and so on.

rome pic
Roman food and eating

But maybe the caricaturing is also driven by a deep-seated Calvinist and rationalist anxiety about venturing into the territory of “excess”. The small restaurant not far from our hotel, La Trottaria is run by a family who have for years made and served delicious food. It’s frequented by Italians and not tourists, and people go there for serious eating: full meals in-between or after work of lunch (bread, starter, main, wine, and dessert) and for dinner (more bread, starter, main, wine, and dessert). The owner’s daughter who served me chastised me for “rushing” and not eating the jam tart she specializes in for dessert – even though I spent far longer at the restaurant than the average time I’d spend with a group at a Cape Town restaurant having lunch. On the walls of the restaurant are pictures of various celebrities reveling in what can only be described as sheer gustatory pleasure (what some of us might call “guzzling”): spaghetti spills out of one person’s mouth; another’s eyes bulge as he opens his mouth wide to accommodate the mound of gnocchi and bolognaise on his fork. For many of us, this is a strange and unsettling dimension to eating, an aspect that we often feel discomfort and anxiety about, and that we are taught to mock, ridicule or condemn. Conspicuously enjoying food – we have learnt – is dubious, disturbing, vulgar, being out of control. And only food outlets like the Spur or Kentucky Fried Chicken advertise food with images of people binge-eating.

Maybe this is the case. But the fact of the matter is that eating food opens up similar moral, ethical and sensory dilemmas that sex does. For example, what is excess, really? Who defines excess in terms of pleasure? Is excess sometimes important, what the feeling human body craves and has a right to? Or is excess inherently wrong?

It’s no coincidence that the Italians are not Calvinists, since Calvinism clamps down ruthless on the “excessive” and “immoderate” body – whether this body is seen to be eating, having sex, crossing behavioural boundaries like our taxi driver, sleeping immoderately….

Close observation of the everyday often tells us much more than vast amounts of talk at conferences, in lecture theatres, or through reading. And the everyday in Rome most definitely does.


Food Politics and Cultures Project Team attending 7th International Conference on Food Studies in Rome

Members of the food politics and cultures project team are in Rome for the 2017 Seventh International Conference on Food Studies. This conference takes place in the same month as World Food Day. October in Rome is the month of food fairs and festivals including the Giuseppe Arcimboldo exhibition at the Palazzo Barberini that is running from 19 October 2017 – 11 February 2018.

Advertisement of Arcimboldo Exhibition at Colosseo (Rome) Metro

The FPC team members submitted abstracts focusing on the following three themes (1) Food production and sustainability; (2) Food, Nutrition, and Health; (3) Food Politics, Policies and Cultures. The conference runs over 2 days, 26th to 27th October and we will attend the pre-conference activity of the 25th at Gustolab International. The following are the titles of our abstracts accepted for the conference:


Foodscapes, Hybrid Identities and Revolutionary Food Systems from the Margins in Bellville, Cape Town

Politicizing Public Eating Spaces: The South African Spur Family Restaurant Franchise

Food Sovereignty and Food Justice Discourses from the Perspective of Indigenous Knowledge Systems in the Western Cape, South Africa

Fish as Food: Beyond Sustenance, Livelihoods and Climate Change

Regulating Food Waste in the City: Problematising Municipal Organic Recycling Initiatives in Cape Town, South Africa

Food Studies and the Pitfalls of Interdisciplinarity

This is the first time for project members to attend an international conference as a group but also a first for most to experience a non-African country and travel to Europe.


Gnanum: A Short Story by Pralini Naidoo

On the day of the funeral, the mango tree in the back yard hung low with yellow fruit. That spring, there had been no green mango picking. And Amma had not made her legendary mango pickle.

Mango pickle on a banana leaf (Photo Cred: Nevanya Nydoo)

It seemed as though hundreds of people had come to bid farewell to Appa. Their embraces were wet and Gnanum idly wondered if they were crying or perspiring. Only Appa looked cool, suited in his time-to-shine blue two piece. He looked as though he had just been to a wedding and had decided to take a nap. There was even a little smile on his face.

The Sangam group from the temple were singing thavarams in a whiny, slightly off-pitch way. Every now and then there would be a crescendo of wailing.

Gnanum looked over to the heaving group of women. In the centre was Amma, silent.  Her forehead was bare. No customary, big, red bhottu. Her sari was white and her neck without her gold thali. Amma, without Appa, seemed pale and colourless.

Gnanum watched as a ripe mango fell off the tree and split softly at the feet of the mourners. Little flies hovered around the fruit. Appa had planted the tree long before Gnanum was born. It had stood there for over half a century, almost as long as he had been married to Amma.

Aunty Saras had once told Gnanum that when Amma was pregnant with her, Appa would feed Amma pieces of mango under the umbrella of the tree. Appa had that special way of slicing fruit. With his little pen knife he would finely score the skin, carefully peeling them back like petals around the base of the fruit. He would then carve diamond shapes into the flesh, and pry out the little jewels of fruit with the tip of his knife. Gnanum had not inherited Appa’s patience. She ate her mango whole, peel and flesh, and suck on the husk until it was white. She would then spend another hour trying to tease out the fine threads from between her teeth, while Appa shook his head and laughed.

Gnanum looked up and remembered the very first time she had climbed the tree. Every spring had been pickle season. Appa and Gnanum would wait for the tree to fill up with green fruit. Then Appa would say, “Gnanum, come, it’s time.” Timing was everything. Amma needed the mango still tart and crunchy for her mango pickle.

Green coastal mangoes – harvested for pickles and sugar mango curry

Appa had a long broom stick and on one end was a thick piece of wire bent twice over to form a hook. Under the hook was a bag made of hessian. Armed with his ‘mango catcher’ Appa would march off into the backyard. Gnanum would follow with a big enamel bowl. They would stand together, necks hinged back and hands shielding their brows from the sun, surveying the premature fruit.

That afternoon, Appa had looked down at his assistant, raised his eyebrow and said thoughtfully “You know, I spy some really fine specimens at the very top of the tree. I’m afraid the old mango catcher is not going to reach all the way up there.” Gnanum felt a little tingle of excitement. “My dear, I think you’re going to have to go up.” Gnanum suppressed a shriek of delight, looked up at Appa and with a little salute, said “Yes sir!”

From the top of the tree, Gnanum could see all the way to the sea. She could see the big houses and green lawns which belonged to the white people. When she looked down, she could see Appa, watching her closely.

Appa and Gnanum entered the kitchen together with their harvest and poured them into the basket next to Amma. Freshly boiled glass jars glimmered on the counter. Gnanum had to stifle a sneeze as the pickle spices travelled up her nostrils. Amma looked up and asked, “Thumba, were those monkeys on the tree?” “Only this little monkey here.”  Appa replied. “Today she got just a little bit closer to the sky.”

After the mourners had left, Gnanum found Amma leaning against the solid trunk of the mango tree. Gnanum approached her, reached up and loosened a plump mango from the branch above. Sitting silently next to Amma, she began to slowly score the skin.

This short story was submitted by Pralini Naidoo. She is a PhD student at the University of the Western Cape. Pralini will present some of her creative work at the Food Politics and Cultures Festival.



The ‘Futures of Food,’ a communiqué by Lynn Mafofo

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Together with the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), the Food Politics and Culture Project (FPCP) convened an interactive knowledge-sharing platform, which attracted a sizeable audience of academics, students, intellectual activists and members of the general. The event was initiated as an outcome of conversations among Professor John II Stanfield, a distinguished Research Fellow at the HSRC, Professor Desiree Lewis, the principal researcher of the FPCP and Dr. Lynn Mafofo, a postdoctoral researcher on the project who shared their interests in collaborative spaces and sites for thinking through the interdisciplinary and intersectorial meanings of food in our current political economy and cultural context. The theme of the “futures of food” seemed suited to inputs from intellectuals from very diverse backgrounds. The panelists were (1). Donna Andrews, a feminist intellectual activist with years of research experience in NGOs and women’s organisations such as the Rita Edwards Collective, Rural Women’s Assembly, Feminist Table, WoMin and in academic institutions.  (2). Angelo Fick, a resident current affairs and news analyst with several years of academic teaching and research experience on the South African media, the politics of cooking and cuisine; and popular culture. (3). Ben Cousins a SARCHI chair at the School of Government at the University of the Western Cape and a leading scholar on land struggles and agrarian politics. (4). Stephen Greenberg who has had many years of involvement in NGOs, with his research focusing on food, agriculture, land and agrarian studies. With such diverse backgrounds, these selected panelists divulged different but eye opening points ranging from land to issues pertaining to distribution of food, ecology, marketing and consumption practices.


The panel discussion aimed to mark the beginning of food related conversations that bring together academics, policy makers, activists and many others. This vibrant discussion was, as termed by Stanfield, “an appetizer” for the possible upcoming discussions around food. Audience and followers interacted with the discussants during and after the discussion on both physical and virtual communication spaces in which this website was the main vehicle disseminating the information.

As senior researcher in the Food Politics and Culture Project, Donna Andrews, had this to say: “… food is life” in which “women and nature are the source …” She discussed the importance of demystifying women’s imposed “labours of love” and care of household work as an important contribution in understanding food politics. She argued that “problematizing the kitchen and the home as private and off-bound, brings unequal social class reproductions and relations to the centre of [food] study.” In making the audience aware of the gendered ideology underlying food production, transportation, cooking and consumption, she drew attention to power struggles that are often ignored by “experts” who focus on masculine realms. Her style of delivery was also significant. By incorporating poetry and biographical fragments into her talk, she enlisted registers that often convey a great deal about how marginalized groups (especially women) experience food as politics. She drew attention to the way that food is often spoken about by experts – both on the left and the right in ways that remove knowledge about food from the hands of the women who have traditionally been the appropriate traditional custodians of food production and consumption. Bemoaning the cunning industrialization controlling ideologies that marginalise women when it comes to innovative food production, distribution and consumption practices, she highlights how regardless of being left out, women in the rural areas are still striving in showing that food is part of the “body, nature and community” and taking it away in disguise of global management of food is just a capitalist agenda that creates inequalities in the society.

Read full article here

View our gallery for pictures from the panel discussion

*Dr Lynn Mafofo is a Post -Doctoral Fellow in the Food Politics and Cultures  Project. Her research broadly engages with issues of food branding, advertising, positioning, and consumption in the formal and informal sector particularly in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

A Poem by Gabeba Badaroon: My Tongue Softens on The Other Name



In my mother’s back yard washing snaps
above chillies and wild rosemary.
Kapokbos, cottonwool bush, my tongue softens
on the rosemary’s other name.
Aubergine, red peppers and paw-paw grow
in the narrow channel between
the kitchen and the wall that divides
our house from the Severos. At the edge
of the grass by the bedrooms, a witolyf tree reaches
ecstatically for the power lines.

In a corner in the lee of the house,
nothing grows.
Sound falls here.
Early in the day shadows wash
over old tiles stacked
against the cement wall.
In the cold and silence
my brother is making a garden.

He clears gravel from the soil
and lays it against the back wall.
Bright spokes of pincushion proteas puncture a rockery.
For hours he scrapes into a large stone a hollow to catch
water from a tap that has dripped all my life.
Around it, botterblom slowly reddens the grey sand.
A fence made of reed filters
the wind between the wall and the house.
Ice-daisies dip their tufted heads
toward its shadows.

At night, on an upturned paint tin, he sits
in the presence of growing things.
Light wells over the rim of the stone basin
and collects itself into the moon
Everything is finding its place.

from Gabeba Baderoon, The Dream in the Next Body (Kwela/Snailpress, 2005)

Gabeba Baderoon is an Associate Professor in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Department and African Studies. She holds numerous positions including being a Fellow of the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study. Her recent publication, Regarding Muslims: from Slavery to Post-apartheid was the winner of the 2017 National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences Best Non-Fiction Monograph Prize and won the Book of 2014 Africasacountry. It was also long-listed for the 2015 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award for Non-fiction and the 2016 Academy of Science in South Africa Humanities Book Award.

Professor Baderoon will be part of the panel of the opening address of the Food Politics & Cultures Festival: A Festival of the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences that will take place 10-12 November 2016. Her poem below is mostly about South African plants but also speaks to the theme of our intimate relations with food and plants.

EXTENDED: Call for Contributions to an Art Exhibition for the Food Politics and Cultures Festival


“Yearning for Taste” – A Call for Contributions to an Art Exhibition for theFood Politics and Cultures Festival: 

A Festival of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences,

Event Dates: 10-12 November,

Venue: District Six Museum, Cape Town

Drawing on Angelo Fick’s formulation of food as both order and disorder, this exhibition complements the Food Festival and explores individual and collective engagements and representations of food. The visual arts create a vantage point outside of, yet in conversation with other academic, humanities-oriented and social enquiry approaches. They also extend text based work to unravel how see, taste, smell and imagine food. To this end, visual works are able to extend and develop debates and to ‘play’ with the quotidian nature of food. Alongside the larger concerns of the project, the exhibition is prompted by some of the following questions:

  • How are food and the body engaged in similar questions of consumption?
  • What are some the ways that the centrality of food exists and plays out in notions of society and belonging?
  • Is there a relationship between hospitality and hostility exhibited through food and food production?
  • How is foodwork and related concerns made womenswork and how does this still exist in relation to corporatism as masculine and patriarchal?
  • How can we engage with geographical histories of food cultures and politics?
  • What are food struggles?

Alongside artists like Berni Searle and others, the exhibition also wants to invite young, aspirational artists interested in opening up creative conversations and fresh ways of using visuality to experience, explore food and the human in South Africa.

Artists or art collectives interested in being featured in this exhibition are invited to submit (electronic only) samples and short descriptions of their work to by 12 OCTOBER 2017.



PDF document available here





Our call for contributions is still open!!!

Call for Contributions to Panel Discussions, Demos, Musical performances, Workshops, Talks or Other Genres for the upcoming Food Festival: An Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences Event

Event Dates: 10-12 November,

Venue: District Six Museum, Cape Town

Artists, students, academics and musicians interested in contributing to the programme are invited to submit proposals of panels, talks, musical performances, demonstrations or workshops on the following:

  • Organizational and activist responses to food crises;
  • Corporate capitalism and seed/agrarian and food politics;
  • Food in culture;
  • Recipes, cuisine and social identities;
  • Embodiment, the visceral and pleasure;
  • Food struggles, food sovereignty and agrarian transformation;
  • Nature/Society and the ecological crisis;
  • Gender, food and the domestic.

Expressions of interest should include a short paragraph of no longer than 1 page outlining the proposed contribution to the festival, explaining its value or relevance and indicating its form (e.g. Panel Discussions, Demos, Musical performances, Workshops, Talks or Other Genres).


Contact for more information.

Download detailed document here

Read more about our upcoming even here 

Not to be Missed: Food Politics & Cultures Festival: A Festival of the Arts, Humanities & Social Science

Food Politics & Cultures Festival: A Festival of the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences
When: 10 – 12 November 2017
Where: Homecoming Centre (District 6 Museum)


Poster Option Final 22 Sep copy 2


Hosted by the Food Politics and Cultures Project within the Centre of Excellence in Food Security at UWC, the festival brings together intellectual activists, scholars, students and artists to generate interdisciplinary conversations about and responses to the socio-political implications of food items, foodwork and food consumption. The festival will challenge the rigid and technical models that usually frame activism and scholarship about food, land and agrarian studies, and will focus on multidimensional, interdisciplinary and creative responses to and dynamic conversations about the myriad facets of food in our lives.

Food is central to our day-to-day experiences of physical survival, pleasure and work. Yet scholarship rarely confronts this adequately, even though we live at a time when corporate capitalism controls the choices we make about food and how to grow and eat it; when the impact of harmful genetic engineering constantly threatens, what is on our plates; and when groups such as small-scale farmers, domestic cooks and artists are resiliently searching for liberating ways to grow, eat and think about food.

Other patterns related to food in our present include:

  • The regional, national and global land and agrarian struggles that our current food distribution and consumption is based upon;
  • The resilience of forms of food production cooking and eating that testify to the rich networks of food in our lives;
  • The role of South African corporate capitalism and neo-liberalism in shaping food chains on the continent;
  • The centrality of foodwork and cooking in feminised spaces that are often marginalised or trivialised;
  • The centrality of food items, eating and cuisine in cultural representations of pleasure, sociality, conviviality and wellbeing;
  • The pivotal role of food in fictional, dramatic and artistic representations of individual and collective experiences.

Broader themes for the festival include:

  • Food politics, cultures, histories and geographies;
  • Foodways, coloniality, racism and migration;
  • Food and eating: representing social identities and lifestyle;
  • Embodiment, the visceral and pleasure;
  • Food struggles, food sovereignty and agrarian transformation;
  • Nature/Society and the ecological crisis.


Responding to these themes, the festival showcases and celebrates new thinking by students and scholar-activists, as well as knowledge production in several genres including fiction, the visual arts and performance. The festival is also aimed at generating conversations between those working in the academy and specialist areas of cultural production, and the broader public.


The festival will include:

  • Open lectures and panel discussions by eminent public intellectuals and scholar activists including Desiree Lewis; Gabeba Baderoon Donna Andrews; Angelo Fick and many more;
  • A Visual Art Exhibition, drawing on Angelo Fick’s formulation of food as both order and disorder which complements the Food Festival and explores individual and collective engagements and representations of food
  • Talks and Demos
  • Celebrations, Musical performances and poetry
  • Film Screenings: Bitter Grapes and more
  • Showcasing a new Recipe project and exhibition
  • A Book launch of Cutting Carrots the Wrong Way: an Anthology of Poetry and Prose about Food by UWC postgraduate creative writing students Jolyn Phillips, Kerry Hammerton, Musa Khanyile, Sindiwe Magona and others read from their work, edited by Kobus Moolman head of creative writing in the department of English Studies, UWC. (published by uHlanga Press).
  • A new play by Mike van Graan titled Another One’s Bread (A dark comedy about funerals, feeding and faking, featuring Faniswa Yisa, Chuma Sopotela, Awethu Hleli and Motlatji Ditodi, directed by Pamela Nomvete).


For more information, contact


Read more here


Food as a Personal and Political Encounter by Angelo Fick

This post features Angelo Fick talk at The Future (s) of Food panel discussion hosted by Food Politics and Cultures Project within the Centre of Excellence in Food Security in collaboration with Human Science Research Council that took place on 5 July 2017. 

My approach here comes from my own position in the philological disciplines, and so my concerns are with meanings rather than the necessary but political-economic concerns which are often at the centre of work on food.

My concern is with the encounter with food which for me is an individual as well as a political encounter.  Food is about that encounter between the private and the political, the individual and the world, and eating even in communal situations is about the self and the larger group.  Eating food is about the intake of a substance into one’s body: at the same time, the deeply personal act of eating said food as well as communal and political acts of growing, gathering or procuring the food, preparing it or buying it.  So food exists at the intersection of the private and the public. It is about crossing boundaries, in that moment of encountering the world, both at the level of the world coming into one and one engaging with the world through its material production but also its ideological reproductions as Donna Andrews spoke to earlier.

In that sense, I am interested in the individual level at which the larger debates Ben Cousins and Stephen Greenberg invoked.  The larger political economic space in which food is produced, exchanged, traded, denied people, given to people, sold to people, etc. has an impact at the level of something which you hold in your hand or at the end of the utensil and put into your mouth or the mouth of somebody else, whether it is a child or an elderly person.

Food is therefore not just that large political debate but it is actually a deeply intimate and personal and universal human experience.

Food is a human process at the process of gathering for those communities that gather food in the wild, the process of growing food whether for oneself or others near or distant, at the point consumption, at the point of digestion (or indigestion).

Food is political precisely because of conceptions of ‘race, class, gender, nationality, sexuality and economics,’ and how these impact on how we view, consume, talk about and don’t talk about it, whether in or about the moment of gathering growing, consumption, digestion or indigestion. Who eats, how do they eat? When do they eat? What do they eat? And whom do they eat for? Children eat because we force them to. There is that moment where you have to play a little game and make a little mouth and play the ‘choo-choo’ train game for the child because you don’t want to be that bourgeois person whose child is underfed or overfed because policing happens on how we feed children, when we feed children and whether we feed children or the elderly or ourselves. Think about the policing and the political and personal ease and unease around breastfeeding.

This is not just about invoking that scene from Luis Buñuel’s Le Fantôme de la libertée (1974), where food is the private moment to be had in the cubical, its intake a moment of shameful delight and delightful shame, and the evacuation of your bowels is what you do in communal spaces around the living room table. However, the inversion of taboos in the film is instructive of the rituals around this universal phenomenon.  We have invented the most elaborate codes which make up the policing regimes around food for ourselves for others. People who eat as we do, and people who do not, familiars and strangers: along such axes of difference politics and power determine the fully human from its others.

Food also functions as location: is food local or do we import it, and then from next door or from far away?  Everyone, of course, consumes food at a local level wherever that locality or location happens to be, and sometimes at the point of growth or production, or something some distance away.  I have for a long time held that location is also locution, and as such mediation of food and its paraphernalia is important, given how we figure consumption, for ourselves, and for others.  This is not just about the advertising industry and the gastro-porn it creates, or the iteration of such in recipe books. People using Instagram or social media like Twitter and Facebook to communicate what food they are eating, what food they are not eating, what food is distasteful to them, whose food is disgusting, and whose food makes them feel envious. Perhaps an eleventh commandment in this post-millennial period should be about something like not coveting your neighbour’s food.

Food is also a metaphor for politics precisely through that policing in public, whether it is pleasurable policing or punitive policing. The generational politics of food is also significant: is what our immediate ancestors ate, the food we eat, and how is this related to that international political economy of food, its trade and mediation, its figuration in the products of the cultural and entertainment industrial complexes, whether in film and television, or in magazines and recipe books. People think of specific food items today as staples of contemporary South African diets, but actually, they are imported. Here I think of Felipe Fernando-Armestes whose work on the history of how maize comes to be a global staple when actually it is a meso-American product which has gone through extensive genetic engineering over centuries in situ before the genocidal European colonial conquest half a millennium ago. Today people will insist that the ‘mealie’ and its varieties are South African and if you don’t eat maize as a staple then you not being particularly South African.  It is as if the maize product is misunderstood as so deeply and falsely precolonial South African that there the real political economy of the food is ignored.

Here I think of Felipe Fernando-Armestes whose work on the history of how maize comes to be a global staple when actually it is a meso-American product which has gone through extensive genetic engineering over centuries in situ before the genocidal European colonial conquest half a millennium ago. Today people will insist that the ‘mealie’ and its varieties are South African and if you don’t eat maize as a staple then you not being particularly South African.  It is as if the maize product is misunderstood as so deeply and falsely precolonial South African that there the real political economy of the food is ignored.

Maize also becomes the sign of South Africanity, pace Roland Barthes.  It becomes the sign for a kind of nostalgia, as if ‘what went before’ is untainted and free from any pollution of material history. You eat the food that your immediate ancestors ate to show your authenticity whether it is curry, pickled fish or mopani worms. The moment of your performing and displaying such food consumption as a link to a past is often uncoupled from the material and political histories of food.  In The Boondocks’s “The Itis”, this is perfectly allegorised and satirised around the slavery origins of what is considered ‘soul food’.

Food is also a metaphor for economics. Antonadia Borges, a social anthropologist from Brazil doing fieldwork in KwaZulu-Natal, recalled that the people who ate the puffed up corn snacks on sale at roadsides actually called them ‘poverty’ because they were not the brand name crisps which came in sealed packages. These subjects were clearly aware that they were consuming these cheap sugar puffed corn snacks because they were poor and used that as a metaphor for the politics of consumption, and read that as a symptom of their position in the South African political economy.  Multiple levels of mediation and self-analysis explain how what looks at a superficial level like low comedy is actually a sophisticated understanding of the symbolic value and significance (in the semiotic sense) of food in the larger social and political economy of the country.

Food also functions as metonym for nationality, and nationalism. This idea that multinational corporations can sell you your ‘national’ food becomes a Lacanian-Žižekian event, where the consumer is asked to enjoy your symptom as yourself; you are the food, the food is you, because of the context and content of consumption, all of it constituting an uncanny psychiatric cabaret. In South Africa, think of the refiguration of Heritage Day – itself a problematic concern – as ‘National Braai Day’ by a construction calling itself ‘Jan Braai’.  What is the bathetic process by which human beings are asked to allow themselves to be fully interpellated into such a regime of consumption that the ‘braai’ (between campfire cosiness and Vlakplaas horror, between hypermasculine overcompensation and the re-imagined idyll celebrating the ordinary which requires the extirpation of life forms as ritual to mark camaraderie) becomes the metaphor for the social cohesion longed for but unachieved in post-millennial post-apartheid South Africa?  Is this culture as cannibalism, consumption as abnegation?

angelo fick talk
Source: Nando’s

Food also functions as political metaphor. ‘They have eaten for twenty years’ says Julius Malema, ‘it is our turn to eat’.  This phrase has recurred in South Africa many times. When we see politicians with their unfortunately enlarged stomachs and people say ‘that one has the politics of the stomach’, the conflation of obesity with corruption works through the use of food as a metaphor for overconsumption, under consumption, deprivation and wasteful and fruitless expenditure in this most unequal society in the world.  The language itself is revealing.

And then there is food as sustenance, and we have to ask ourselves whether our current notion of food is sustainable. The dominant conception of food in this culture is that it is about consumption, whether it is grown or bought, sold or gathered. The notion that we have as the UN found only 12% of arable land in this country with 55 million people to feed ought to influence the way in which food is conceived of by us as individuals and as communities. Here I am not just talking about the over packaging of supermarket food or the individual, political and ecological significance and consequences of meat based diets, or potato based diets, or rice based diets.  Are these sustainable in the longer term because making them more affordable in the shorter term might be sustainable at an economic level inside the capitalist regime, but it certainly not sustainable at a production level for a planet under very huge climate change challenges.

The synchronic and diachronic questions which we need to ask ourselves about food and its symbolic and material histories are important for me.  Where did the maize really come from before it becomes a staple and a sign of Africanity in South Africa?  How did it get here?  And what does it mean to have two seasons of a bumper crop of maize in South Africa?  What does it mean when genetically modified organisms as food have had the consequences we have seen in the Nile Delta, for example, and the longer term political instability that follows from non-reproducing seed as the new kind of food? What relations of dependence and deprivation are we engendering under the new transnational, supranational, and multi-national corporate regimes determining food production, consumption, and social reproduction?  What are its current and future trajectories where food is seen as integrally related to only profit and survival so we are not willing to take pleasure in the food you eat and whether you enjoy the food that you make but simply are you fed enough to operate as a functional digit in the current economic system and how sustainable is that over the next couple of decades?

For me, that leads into a discussion about food as order and disorder. Here both as political order and disorder, as well as psychological order and disorder. The idea of food wastage is not only what the very progressive people see as the dumping of large amounts of food in European spaces that could come through to the ‘Third World’ or developing world or the dumping of food out of our own kitchens. But we forget that leaving tea at the bottom of our cup is also a kind of wastage particularly in places like Cape Town which have water challenges that prefigure the rest of the world across the rest of this century if we take the research of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change findings and recommendations seriously.

So the disorder is both political and psychological and it is often that psychological disorder required in contemporary food production and food consumption by individual subjects however progressive we may think of ourselves because we can’t possibly deal with the fact that our own food consumption levels are actually deeply wasteful.

We have this cognitive dissonance where we deny that we produce this waste and we have this over-consumption in the local which leads to deprivation elsewhere.

The taste of food and its pleasures and the discussions of food as taste which we see in television programmes and the endless reproduction of pornographic images of food (‘gastro-porn’) in a country of food insecurity in a society where food deprivation which has become a new norm is a political obscenity.  In South Africa, we are surrounded by images of food as luxury on billboards on the side of the road, in newspapers and magazines, on television. It is the semiotic praxis of food as abundance that is everywhere and yet nowhere and so we are living in an age where Buñuel has much to teach us because it is tastelessness as a critique of taste.  The tastelessness of a billboard advertising an American fast food chain placed on a school ground in Samora Machel in Cape Town comes to mind.  It is placed in a space where people are going to sleep at night hungry and have to spend their evening in the golden glow of a chain advertising junk food as largesse in a space of nutritional and food insecurity.

It is the presence of food in two-dimensional images which function as a critique of the absence of material food. The fact that on the other side of a horse farm which used to be a dairy lay the Philippi Wetlands, is a source of food for hundreds of thousands of poor people for a long time, becoming a space that is commercialised, commodified, which will lead to the deprivation that is seen as development and as food production provision through cold storage chambers for the bourgeoisie. That tastelessness of cold storage buildings displacing arable land, which itself displaced the natural landscape, and the attendant loss of food production for a whole group of people who could get access to affordable food and no longer do cannot be understated.  It epitomises the physiognomy of bourgeois (dis)taste which is at the centre of my own dysfunctional political and personal relationship with food, and which is the ground from which I am keen to pursue dialogues on food in South Africa and on this tiny blue marble spinning out its insignificance in this lonely neighbourhood in the universe.

Here is the audio version  of the talk:




The Futures of Food: Thinking Through Health Food

For the month of July, we are following “the  Futures of Food” as a theme. We will be featuring works that bring different issues to the table. Our first post features an Essay by Shirmeez Samaai, an Honours student in the Food Politics and Cultures Project.


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“Decolonising Food Systems and Sowing Seeds of Resistance.”

(Revised) Article by Donna Andrews and Desiree Lewis

Published by the African Centre for Biodiversity

Download full article here


It is often observed that neo-liberal capitalism revolves around the knowledge economy, with information and its control now being pivotal to big businesses’ capital expansion. Information, technological expertise and data management currently further enable corporate capture of resources, expertise and markets, so that the efforts of progressives and socially marginalised groups to develop equitable, liberating and healthy ways of producing, obtaining and eating food are ruthlessly outmanoeuvred. At the same time that corporations use knowledge and scientific expertise ruthlessly, they function behind the veneer of being benign, logical and efficient drivers of efforts to address the world’s food crisis. Their logic is that, given the Malthusian crisis of expanding populations in an environment of limited resources, only large-scale, technology-driven and corporate-controlled methods can guarantee steady and reliable supplies of food across the world. Central to this myth are corporate monopolies over the knowledge and prescription of what seeds to grow, how to grow them and where to grow them.

Knowledge management around seed and global capitalism

The power of the knowledge economy that now dominates food production became very evident at a recent seminar, co-organised by the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC) and the Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA). The seminar focused on campaigning against proposed mergers among six of the world’s greatest seed- and food-producing companies. During the keynote speaker, Patrick Mooney’s address on how big data management is used to control food, the ramifications of the surveillance and regimentation of food production through seed became increasingly and horrifically clear. “Data management” ranges from laws that license genetic modification and privilege producers’ monopolies (through countless legal mechanisms, such as patents and plant breeders’ rights) through the actual growth of food (for example, the use of robotic and electronic technology to plant and grow) to the discursive representation and mass marketing of certain food stuffs for consumers . The corporate food industry’s data management and information production, therefore, shape hegemonic meanings about food, and increasingly are determining how we come to encounter, value and discredit certain foods.

Regulating slavery is not good enough: Thoughts on the spiritual in the Cape Winelands and beyond by Haidee Swanby

“The Cape Winelands is vast and filled with events and happenings, so make sure you set enough time aside to enjoy the beautiful surroundings, taste wine, pick strawberries and participate in numerous events hosted by the various regions. … Try donkey and horse-and-carriage rides through the vineyards, picnics next to a dam as ducks and swans float by gracefully, a cheetah outreach programme where you can interact with the fastest big cats, restaurants, gift shops, art galleries, amphitheatres, spa and wellness centres, nature and game reserves, butterfly enclosure, lion park, crocodile park – the list is endless.”

Cape Wineland Tourism


Source: Cape Winelands Tourism


The Cape Winelands is a premium global tourist destination, but scratch behind the opulent, warm and welcoming veneer, and you might find a parallel world – a world where those who labour to keep the fields in order, the kitchens running and the guests in bliss, remain even today, little more than slaves. When Trevor Christians, head of the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU) presents on the plight of farmworkers in the Western Cape and their struggle for the most basic necessities for survival, one feels the pain of a legacy of oppression and cruelty that should have no place in our modern day society. He tells of dirt-poor people who are in many ways captive on their employer’s land, handicapped by generations of alcoholism, lack of access to education and basic services and who are constantly reminded that they are less worthy.

Harrowing stories exposing the lives of some farm workers in the Western Cape have been documented in a booklet called “Farmworkers Speak. Hope. Heroism. Determination.”, which was made available at a recent meeting in Cape Town, organised by the Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE) and the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation, with the aim of linking the struggles of smallholder farmers and farmworkers in a bid to create common ground in the fight for Food Sovereignty.[1]

In one of the stories, farm worker Andy Johannes explains how his family lives on the farm with no access to clean water or electricity and how he worries that his children cannot attend school as there is no transport for them. He is taunted by his boss who refuses to address the problem and instead threatens to have the children removed by the police, due to the lack of parental care. Another story exposes how a 45-year-old woman from Zimbabwe, who is injured in a farm accident, forces herself to return to work in extreme pain or face a loss of income, which is already way below a living wage. The stories paint a picture of grinding poverty passed down from generation to generation, which is disturbingly at odds with the bucolic delight described in the tourism PR. Victimisation of farmworkers who organise, unionise or stand up in other ways for their rights is the norm and it is common for farmers to spread the word amongst themselves who the “trouble makers” are, effectively closing down all avenues of employment for those individuals in an area. Also common is the experience of collusion amongst farmers, police and the local courts against farmworkers. (TCOE, 2016)

CSAAWU was a key organisation in the historic farmworker uprisings in the Western Cape in 2012/13, which saw unprecedented militant strikes and protests by thousands of farmworkers across more than 25 towns demanding an end to slave labour and sub-human living conditions, as well as the more recent strikes against Robertson winery. Significant gains were made through these courageous and sustained actions – the strikes in 2012 succeeded in gaining a 50% increase in the minimum wage, while the 14 week Robertson strikes clinched a backdated increase of 8% or R400 (whichever is greater) and an annual bonus worth a month’s salary in time for the festive season. However, despite these gains, farm workers must deal with the backlash as producers close ranks, and find novel ways to underpay or unfairly evict and retrench workers. (Webster, 2016)

Source: Sies!

While CSAAWU and other allied organisations are demanding and winning urgent basic remedies to the dire material conditions farm workers endure, there is an even stronger call for acknowledgement of their personhood and dignity that is going unheard. In his article, The Universality of Humanity as an African Political Potential, Michael Neocosmos shows that the core ideological feature of global capitalism is manifestly the idea that freedom, equality and justice are applicable only to a so-called enlightened and civilised few who populate what Domenico Losurdo described as a “sacred space”, while the unenlightened majority, who occupy the “profane space” are too indistinct from nature to be accorded such liberty. (Neocosmos, 2016) In other words, they are considered little more than animals. Neocosmos points to Hegel’s notorious notion that slavery was actually the “occasion of the [slaves’] increase in human feelings”. Much more recently we encountered a version of this thinking in a deeply controversial tweet from the Premier of the Western Cape Province, Hellen Zille, in which she held that anyone who believes that colonialism was “all bad” does not recognise that it was responsible for the deliverance of an independent judiciary and modern infrastructure (Cape Argus, 12 April 2017).

It should come as no surprise that the colonialist mentality remains embodied in global capitalism today, which continues to be inherently based on “exploitation, oppression, and racism for its existence” (Neocosmos, 2017). We can identify this worldview in the inhumane treatment of farm workers invisibly tasked with the smooth running of the Cape Wineland Tourist industry, or in the damning reality that 1 in 4 South African children are stunted in a country that is officially food secure (Human Science Research Cou, 2012). We see this mentality in the fact that minimum wage is set at a level that does not even ensure that workers’ families can subsist on a nutritionally complete diet, never mind live in dignity (PACSA, 2017). Even as the gourmet foodie trend booms in Cape Town and environmentally conscious middle and upper classes procure organic, indigenous and artisanal foods, cheap highly processed foods must be good enough for the poor, who are suffering an epidemic of malnutrition, obesity caused by nutrition transition and related diseases such as diabetes and hypertension (Western Cape Government). Our entire agrofood system (globally and in South Africa) is built on this very model.

South Africa’s agricultural production system remains inextricably tied to apartheid roots and lack of agrarian reform and wholesale adoption of neoliberal policies continues that legacy. We have a duel agricultural system, dominated on the one hand by a highly capitalised, large-scale industrial commercial sector and emerging farmers aspiring to be assimilated into that sector, and on the other, “a large assembly of micro or small-scale producers who are survivalist and produce only a small portion of their household food needs” (African Centre for Biodiversity, 2016). Beyond agricultural production and looking to the South Africa agro-food system as a whole, we also find a “power dynamic where large financial and corporate interests, linked closely to state elites, define the terms of agro-food investment and select technologies that reinforce their power and control over resources” (Greenberg, 2015). The government of the day has provided material support for expanding and entrenching this corporate controlled food system in the form of subsidies drawn from our public purse, access to public technical facilities and expertise, and favourable policies for private investment. Public resources have thus “entrenched a system of production and distribution built on social injustice at the expense of alternatives” (Greenberg, 2015).

Bitter Harvest doccie still

The most marginalised in our country, farmworkers, are stuck in this well-oiled and deeply entrenched system. They are caught in a horrendous paradox – calling at the same time for just enough money to survive and for dignity – to be included in the space of the sacred. Demanding a living wage of R150 per day is arguably asking for regulated slavery, potentially entrenching the established system that separates people into different categories where it is acceptable for some to live in conditions that would not be acceptable for yourself or your family. Clearly South African farm workers need urgent and radical interventions to ensure that basic survival conditions are met and their basic physical suffering is ended, but does this then preclude a demand for the “universality of humanity” (Fannon, 2000), where all are people regardless of any kind of category we may care to ascribe to them, are included in the space of the sacred and accorded freedom and dignity?

As long as political agency is directed toward fighting injustice arising out of a very particular context and seeks remedy for a particular set of people, it risks reproducing the self-same conditions. However, if “particular subjectivities are able to have a universal value, it is because they are not entirely reducible to the conditions of their creation” (Neocosmos, 2017) These subjectivities have the potential to be  an expression of the very thing which the “weight of the world declares impossible” and mark a beginning that could not have been anticipated on the past. What is key here is the emphasis of universal humanity, not particular identity, in the struggle for emancipation. Neocosmos is excited about the potential that Africans – or more accurately some Africans – have historically had in thinking against and beyond the oppressive particularities of interests, place and identity embedded in dominant culture, in some instances due to the reality of their exclusion from that dominant culture and the persistence of their own culture despite “relentless and organised repression” against it.

The eventual adoption of a United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a triumph after a struggle of more than 25 years highlighting the horrors that colonialism has visited on peoples all over the globe, provides an instructive example of embracing the concept of a universal humanity. While the Declaration clearly fights for the rights of a particular group, it does not request to be included in the dominant culture, or regulated or tolerated by the dominant culture. Instead, the Declaration affirms that “all peoples contribute to the diversity and richness of civilizations and cultures, which constitute the common heritage of humankind” and that “all doctrines, policies, and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust” (United Nations, 2007)

However, not only have indigenous struggles been extraordinary in embracing a universality of humanity, but further there has been a clear call to recognise that it is not only humans who are worthy of recognition, that humanity does not occupy a sacred place separate from Nature, and in fact, Nature is seen as primary and humans derivative (Berry, 2015). This turns the liberal conception of the sacred and profane described by Lusordo on its head. For example, the deeply evocative protest against the Dakota Pipeline in the United States since early 2016 is rooted in an indigenous worldview in which people are inextricably embedded in their territory and in Nature. As such, LaDonna Allard, Director of the Sacred Stone Camp – dedicated to “spiritual resistance” of the pipeline is quoted as saying, “I am not negotiating, I am got backing down. I must stand for our grandchildren and for the water” (

In another example closer to home, a pan-African body, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, passed a Resolution on the Protection of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories in May 2017 in a bid to decolonise African jurisprudence and recognise Africa’s plural legal systems. “This means recognising that indigenous and traditional peoples’ customary governance systems are underpinned by a different source of law from the dominant system. They are derived from the laws that govern life, the Earth’s laws, based on generations of acute observation of their ecosystem” (Earthlore Foundation).

Just as global capital runs on oppression and exploitation of those humans not worthy of occupying the sacred place, it similarly ruthlessly exploits all of Nature, since the dawn of the industrial age, considered as subordinate and profane. It is a long journey from the exploitation of farmworkers in the Cape Wineland vineyards in desperate need of basic living wages and decent living conditions to a call for embracing a universal humanity and going even further to recognise that it is not only human beings that should be accorded rights. However, such a call gives us all the potential to participate in transforming a world where exploitation of people and environment is bringing humanity to the brink of disaster.

Buddhist activist and deep ecologist Joanna Macy gives us hope and a possible course of action in the face of despair in a world governed by the “1%” who dominate, exploit and extract with impunity. In what she has termed The Great Turning, she points to a vast global movement that is not necessarily acting in concert but when seen together is already reshaping and consciously evolving a new life-giving way of living through three broad categories of actions:

defend the sacred
Source: Protest at Dakota Pipeline by Dallas Goldtooth

The first is “holding actions” that resist business as usual and protect our remaining natural resources.  The second is the creative redesign of the structures and systems that are the blueprint of our social lives (such as our jurisprudence or agricultural systems) so that they become life-sustaining instead of extractive and exploitative. The last is to rediscover our sense of belonging to and being in the sacred natural world – thereby widening our understanding of the networks and relationships that sustain us and tapping into our deep core of compassion to give us the courage to protect the dignity of our brothers and sisters. Perhaps it is time to radically extend the space of the sacred. Until we can find the sacred in the mundane – those we hold dear and those in our employment, those who we differ from and in the living world around us – we may have to remain with the unsatisfactory remedy of simply regulating slavery.



[1] Food sovereignty supporters consider farmers and producers to be custodians of agricultural land, who should have the right to define what they produce and how they produce it. There are some critiques of this position but it has wide support from forces opposed to industrial-scale commercial agriculture. (Greenberg, 2015).

Corporate Control Over Seeds: Implications of Bayer-Monsanto Merger for Rural Women Farmers

Bayer and Monsanto are two multinational companies that are major global manufacturers of agrochemicals and seeds, including genetically modified seeds. In May 2016 these companies announced a merger that would realise a shared vision of integrated agricultural offerings and creating a leading innovation engine for the next generation of farming.


Source: Stop the Monsanto-Bayer Mega-Merger Petition


The Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA) interviewed Mariam Mayet from African Centre for Biodversity on the implications of this merger for rural women in the region.

Q: Please give us a background to the Bayer-Monsanto Merger

MM: Bayer and Monsanto are major manufacturers of agrochemicals, improved and genetically modified (GM) seed. Bayer, one of the world’s largest agrochemical companies, has an extensive agrochemical portfolio in South Africa, while Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, operates in both seed and agrochemicals, particularly herbicides. Monsanto is also a pioneer of genetic modification of agricultural crops and the largest maize seed company in South Africa by sales. Most importantly, South Africa’s core agricultural markets of maize and soya are dominated by Monsanto’s GM traits which are licensed out to other companies for use.

In May 2016, Bayer started the bidding process for Monsanto. Monsanto shareholders accepted the bid for US$6 billion in December 2016. If the merger is approved by commission authorities in 30 countries, the new Bayer-Monsanto will be the world’s largest seed and agrochemical company. The Bayer-Monsanto merger has been driven by factors which involve:

a) Financial drivers including; the need to reduce the cost of operations, research, and development while maintaining market share and profit levels; large investment funds where institutional investors own shares in the companies and low-interest rates which enable access to cheap capital.

b) The need to own germplasm and traits to remain competitive; where the companies want to access proprietary technologies owned by other companies to be able to generate new products. Control of big data; Bayer notes that one of its prime reasons for acquiring Monsanto is because it owns The Climate Corporation, which has the most powerful data science engine and the most extensive field research network

c) Control of big data; Bayer notes that one of its prime reasons for acquiring Monsanto is because it owns The Climate Corporation, which has the most powerful data science engine and the most extensive field research network

d). The need to find new markets; increased operational, regulatory and research and development costs are forcing seed companies to grow in size to realize economies of scale and the expected return on investment.

To read full interview click here