SOMETHING FROM NOTHING: Women, Space, and Resistance

Posted on 13 April 2012


Saint Cloud State University
Gender & Society 2011 25: 689

In her book Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriqueñas, Levins Morales (1998) reflects on how tostones became a central part of Puerto Rican cuisine. She imagines how enslaved women, given nothing to eat by slave masters but plantains, used their collective
knowledge, resources, and ingenuity to transform these empty calories into a delicious dish to sustain themselves, their families, and their community.
Such acts of resistance are not uncommon among those facing systems of oppression and domination. In fact, such acts have enabled them to not merely to survive such conditions but to create thriving communities and cultures.

As I write this article, our country and our world are facing a food crisis. In the United States, 14.7 percent of households face food insecurity (Nord et al. 2010). Worldwide, nearly one billion people experience hunger daily (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations 2011). Government
and corporate “solutions” to this crisis often render invisible the role of women in agriculture and as the world’s food providers (Shiva 2010). In addition, these solutions often take the form of the provision of empty calories to those facing hunger, placing communities at risk of additional peril. For
example, as the United States coordinates the reconstruction of Iraq following our illegal invasion, government agencies have collaborated with biotechnical and agribusiness corporations such as Cargill and Monsanto to ensure the protection of corporate intellectual property rights at the expense of the destruction of ancient agricultural methods that have long sustained the people of that region. As a result, the traditional Iraqi farming system has collapsed and the people now rely on imports, primarily from the United States, to replace the food the country once grew for itself (Smith 2005). The world food crisis has been particularly highlighted of late by news and images of the devastating famine in Somalia. Though the mainstream media has largely blamed the famine on drought and warfare, little attention has been
given to the ways in which U.S. food aid policy is linked to expectations that recipients alter their traditional agriculture systems to focus on growing food for export. These expectations, particularly when tied to new growing practices that rely on seeds patented by agribusiness, not only place people at further risk of food insecurity, they also “steal centuries of collective knowledge and innovation from Third World women” (Shiva 2010, xix).

Such relationships of domination and dependence, rather than self-reliance,
can also be found in the United States…

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