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Growing Stories from India

Religion and the Fate of Agriculture

A. Whitney Sanford

Publication Year: 2011

The costs of industrial agriculture are astonishing in terms of damage to the environment, human health, animal suffering, and social equity, and the situation demands that we expand our ecological imagination to meet this crisis. In response to growing dissatisfaction with the existing food system, farmers and consumers are creating alternate models of production and consumption that are both sustainable and equitable. In Growing Stories from India: Religion and the Fate of Agriculture, author A. Whitney Sanford uses the story of the deity Balaram and the Yamuna River as a foundation for discussing the global food crisis and illustrating the Hindu origins of agrarian thought. By employing narrative as a means of assessing modern agriculture, Sanford encourages us to reconsider our relationship with the earth. Merely creating new stories is not enough—she asserts that each story must lead to changed practices. Growing Stories from India demonstrates that conventional agribusiness is only one of many options and engages the work of modern agrarian luminaries to explore how alternative agricultural methods can be implemented.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Culture of the Land

Front Cover

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Series Page

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p. ii

Title Page

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p. iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv


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p. v


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p. vii


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p. viii

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pp. ix-xv

I am writing this foreword in Patna, Bihar. Bihar is where Sir Albert Howard was sent in 1905 by the British Empire to “improve” Indian agriculture. When Howard came to Pusa in 1905 as the imperial economic botanist to the government of India, he found that crops grown by cultivators in the neighborhood of Pusa were free of pests and needed no insecticides or fungicides. ...

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pp. 1-11

In June 2009, producers Robert Kenner and Eric Schlosser released the film Food, Inc. in theaters across the United States. That this movie, an indictment of the U.S. food industry, played in mainstream theaters demonstrates that many people believe that we must rethink and rebuild our food system. ...

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Chapter 1. The Ecological Imagination: From Paradigm to Practice

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pp. 12-27

In this book, I explore how narrative can be useful in guiding our ways of thinking not only about ourselves in the world within the frame of agriculture but also about how we view the task ahead of us—establishing sustainable relations with the earth and the biotic community, which includes human and nonhuman organisms. ...

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Chapter 2. Narratives of Agriculture: How Did We Get Here?

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pp. 28-55

Proponents of industrial agriculture justify current practices with claims of high productivity, yet they rarely acknowledge that this system also produces environmental degradation, social instability, and hunger. This chapter examines the stories that have brought us to these crises. ...

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Chapter 3. Balaram and the Yamuna River: Entitlement and Presumptions of Control

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pp. 56-92

The previous chapter, by illuminating the storied nature of food production and industrial agriculture, revealed that these systems are not inevitable but result from human choices. Overloaded restaurant menus and abundantly filled shelves in the grocery store suggest to us in the West that we have more than enough food...

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Chapter 4. Borrowing Balaram: Alternative Narratives

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pp. 93-120

The previous chapter explained why devotees view Balaram as a protector and explained the cultural context in which Balaram appears. This chapter moves beyond this context to examine how concepts such as protection are used to justify inequitable practices and social relations. ...

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Chapter 5. The Festival of Holi: Celebrating Agricultural and Social Health

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pp. 121-160

The springtime festival of Holi in Braj, the setting for the story of Balaram and the Yamuna River, celebrates the importance of agriculture and fertility in the social realm. The agricultural narrative embedded in Holi has broad religious, social, and cultural implications, and demonstrates that agricultural practice reflects and shapes social practices. ...

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Chapter 6. The Land in Between: Constructing Nature, Wilderness, and Agriculture

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pp. 161-193

The convergence of text and practice in Baldeo’s Holi festivities demonstrates how Holi rituals balance and adjudicate tensions arising from the paired issues of fertility and sexuality on the one hand and aggression and protection on the other. The story of Balaram’s return to Braj is the central narrative of the festival...

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Chapter 7. Restoration, Reciprocity, and Repair: Revising the Ecological Imagination

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pp. 194-224

To this point I have argued that narrative might help us view the task ahead of us: achieving more sustainable relations with the earth and the biotic community and rethinking human roles within that community, particularly with regard to agriculture. Studying the story of Balaram and the Yamuna River helps us understand human behavior in an agricultural context...

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pp. 225-226

In 1996, when Alan Entwistle, now deceased, first planted the seeds of a Balaram project in my mind, neither one of us could have imagined how Growing Stories from India would take shape. Nevertheless, over many years this project grew, and I am profoundly grateful to the many people who have nourished it and me. ...


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pp. 227-239


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pp. 241-256


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pp. 257-269

E-ISBN-13: 9780813134130
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813134123

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 11 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Culture of the Land
Series Editor Byline: Norman Wirzba See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 785775727
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Growing Stories from India

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Food supply -- Philosophy.
  • Agriculture -- India -- Religious aspects.
  • Alternative agriculture -- Philosophy.
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