Just a few minutes in, he projected an image of Christopher Columbus on the screen with a quote, “I believe that there are many herbs and many trees that are worth much in Europe for dyes and for medicines; but I do not know, and this causes me great sorrow.”
Consider that, Patel said. The explorer looked out across the landscape and only lamented profit he could not realize. And this desire for profit has led, in a sense, to a world that consumes 50 billion chickens per year, pays little for agricultural and food preparation work, and subjects laborers to dangerous working conditions. In other words, lives are cheap in this system, he said.
Patel went on to explain that European colonialism and capitalism created our modern food system, and he used an image of a painting, above, to illustrate what he meant: the man stands casually, relaxed in knowing that he owns the land and the woman. The land is plowed, but by whom? The laborers are absent. And because the land was owned, there was no Commons. Without the commons, livestock could not graze freely. Women, who traditionally tended dairy cows, were displaced and devalued.
The local food movement has risen as one reaction to the modern food system. But beware the dangers of local food, Patel said, because an emphasis on the local can easily slip into nationalistic chauvinism and anti-foreign sentiment. Consider India, for example, where a Muslim man suspected of eating beef was beaten to death, possibly related to the recent rise of Hindu nationalists. Or Verona, Italy, where new ethnic restaurants were banned to protect not only “historic and architectural patrimony of the city centre, but also the tradition of typical culture.”
Instead of focusing on local food, Patel urged the audience to have difficult conversations about patriarchy, white supremacy, climate change, and more. And to reimagine a post-colonial, post-capitalistic world.
That’s where “reparation ecology” comes in. Patel explained that we first need to recognize the immensity of the problem, particularly the incredible number of people working under forced labor today. The next steps are reparation, redistribution, reimagination, and recreation.
“Imagine a world with more joy, more fun, and less drudgery,” Patel concluded.
Image credit: Mr and Mrs Andrews By Thomas Gainsborough – The National Gallery, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18572767