- The Ecology of Power: Queerness and Food Studies
From two increasingly popular fields of scholarship—food studies and queer ecocriticism—come Allison Carruth’s Global Appetites and Nicole Seymour’s Strange Natures, respectively. Food studies and queer ecocriticism presumably have little in common, as they emerge from different subsets of academia. True, we could say food and sex are characterized by appetites or that queer ecocriticism’s emphasis on questions of naturalness resonates with ongoing debates about the food supply and our health. However, what brings together Carruth’s and Seymour’s approaches is a pervasive and insidious force in all of our lives: how discourses of power are produced in order to justify violence and exploitation. Carruth’s main subject is power “as an organizing concept for the modern food system” (2), while Seymour emphasizes how “oppressed humans” and “oppressed non-humans” are “deeply interconnected,” and how both “promote politicized advocacy” [End Page 168] (1). This question of advocacy reflects some of the larger questions of both texts: How do everyday, lived experiences and encounters with food systems and sexualities reflect larger cultural discourses? How often do we examine these dominant discourses and their relationship to configurations of naturalness? How does dominance over others, both human and nonhuman, figure into how we imagine the legitimation of power? And how is power characterized by the way in which it impairs the welfare of nature or the nonhuman world as well as non-normative individuals? Seymour’s and Carruth’s archives effectively underscore their collective interest in challenging dominant paradigms of power by shifting their analyses to the extensive critical possibilities of their chosen texts. Delving into various genres of literature and other arts, Seymour and Carruth demonstrate the efficacy of and need for rereading: Seymour resituates queer literature and film within a new ecocritical framework, and Carruth uses novels and memoirs about food to scrutinize American global hegemony.
Seymour’s book joins Robert Azzarello’s Queer Environmentality: Ecology, Evolution, and Sexuality in American Literature (2012) as only the second book exclusively devoted to reading texts through a queer ecocritical lens. While the publication of Bruce Erikson and Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands’s edited collection, Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire, in 2010 signals an important moment of legitimation for queer ecocriticism, the application of this framework as critical theory is still nascent. Seymour’s work is pertinent, and she expertly enlightens her potential audiences—queer theorists and ecocritics—on the legitimacy of interrogating the intersection of sex and nature. Consequently, she spends some much-needed time in her introduction probing the main questions of a queer-ecology paradigm.
In the spirit of queer studies, she initiates what she calls a fully queer way of reading contemporary fictions by engaging in a capacious, interdisciplinary approach: critical race studies, transgender studies, feminist theory, and social justice. Additionally, Seymour adeptly recasts more traditional ecocritical and queer approaches to aid her interdisciplinary readings. She also adds a contrarian reading practice, not just in her methodology but also in her setup: taking issue with queer theory’s skepticism of the meanings of the term natural, she illustrate that queer theory actually depends on ideas of nature in defining the parameters of its field. She explains, “at times ‘nature’ or ‘natural’ function in queer theory as synonyms for heteronormativity or political conservatism, while at other times they are benign synonyms for something like ‘character’ or ‘status’” (4). These definitions, Seymour argues, foreclose the wide-ranging possibilities of the ecocritical view of nature or the nonhuman world, [End Page 169] either through a poststructuralist lens or one that includes “interest in dissolving the nature-culture boundary, or registering its already-extant dissolution, and in the interest in attending to social problems such as racism and poverty” (16). Seymour insists that these two critical frameworks are not as much at odds as each would have it, and a large part of that has to do with power as...