Intersectional Talks: Environmental Equality #2
On the 3rd of December, Wonda Women hosted the second dinner of the season. We approached the intersectionality of gender, global relations and environmental justice, yet this dinner had a different format. Our honorary guest was Fernanda Franco, a Mexican professional dancer and choreological scholar who focuses on traditional dances and rituals that preserve non-colonial ideas. During the last months, Fernanda has been collaborating with the Amsterdam-based artist collective Weaving Realities in a series of participative performances addressing our relationship with food, its production, and the environment in a global context.
We started the evening with a participative performance in which the avocado plant had a central role. As a starter, participants introduced themselves by relating not to their professions or studies, but to something that is considered ‘natural’. Some mentioned foods like coffee, others fabrics like wool or elements like water. While doing so, avocados were peeled, cut, and shared around the table. Fernanda closed the introduction round by presenting herself through the avocado, her love for it, and how this love has been overshadowed by the way land and people are exploited in the avocado production for Western consumption - the Netherlands being one of the main consumers. Consequences are serious at both the ecological and social level. While monocultures endanger flora and fauna species and their ecosystem, the wealth related to avocado production remains in few hands and deepens inequality for women, and low-income and indigenous communities. As we watched and listened to a Mexican folk dance that uses a plant in risk of extinction due to avocado plantations, and that expresses a non-utilitarian relationship with the environment, we were asked to take the time to really look, smell, touch, and taste the avocado. And while the flavours were familiar, it left a bitter taste in our mouths.
After the participative performance we enjoyed a delicious vegan Surinamese meal prepared by our location host, the fair trade space Vereniging AANEEN. While eating, we shared experiences and discussed the topics of gender, (neo)colonialism and environmental justice. Here are some things we would like to share with you from that discussion:
People(s), lands, and ecosystems are being exploited in order to fulfil our Western consumption desires, deepening old inequalities as well as creating new ones. Avocado monoculture, for example, is draining Chili’s hydric resources, forcing local communities to rely on private companies to supply them with potable water. Another example is quinoa, one of the traditional foods of indigenous, often low-income communities in Peru. Having become a heavily commercialised food due to the vegan/gluten-free/super-food hype, it has become inaccessible for those Peruvian communities, who instead have to rely on processed foods. Similar stories can be told for almost any food we consume. To name some: chocolate, coffee, bananas, oranges...
There often exists a duality between love for a product and the pain and frustration for the inequalities behind it. Echoing Fernanda’s relationship with avocados, one of our participants shared her experience: cornflour has become difficult to find in Venezuela, yet you can buy Venezuelan cornflour at Albert Heijn. On the one hand there is a cultural memory attached to the product which makes that she wants to buy it, but on the other hand she hates that it is sold here while unavailable for her people in Venezuela.
What can we do? First, we need to keep being self-reflective and look critically at the idea of ‘good life’ as it is constructed in the West. What is a good life for each of us? Where does that idea come from? And how is that (Western) idea of what a good life is affecting other parts of the world? In deciding for ourselves what a good life means to us, we have to be aware of the power relations that are embedded in the system of our society, and our standards of success, progress, happiness, and satisfaction need to be reassessed. Secondly, we can support and join environmental justice activism, including indigenous communities, that are addressing the responsible dynamics and heavy-weight actors - mostly transnational corporations and governments in a context of neoliberal economic rationality. When discussing what a good life means to us, where it comes from and what it produces, the suggestion is to become involved in something different than what we would usually do, instead of uncritically engaging in other activities. We can investigate in our area for urban vegetable gardens or similar initiatives, spending time (not just money) and being physically present. We can also find different ways and solutions by coming together and sharing in a safer space, like we did during this dinner.
We would like to thank our honorary guest Fernanda and all our participants for sharing their thoughts and experiences with us. And we are again very thankful to Vereniging AANEEN for hosting the dinner in their marvellous fair trade space and preparing a delicious meal for us!