- The Geopolitics of Food and the Environmental Humanities.A review of Allison Carruth, Global Appetites: American Power and the Literature of Food
In October 2004, the first Terra Madre conference, an international network of food communities, was held in Turin, Italy, bringing together 5,000 small-scale food producers, chefs, academics, NGOs, and representatives of local societies from 130 countries. This meeting helped to initiate the Slow Food movement around the world by successfully synthesizing national and regional organizations not limited to the global North (e.g. Canada, Ireland, Sweden) but also including the global South (e.g. Brazil, India, Tanzania) and the Asia-Pacific region (e.g. Japan and South Korea). Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva argues that the main purpose of Terra Madre is to “provide an opportunity and platform to articulate another paradigm for food” opposed to the globalized industrial food system that threatens “diversity of species and cultures, small producers, local economics, and indigenous knowledge” (3-4). Similarly, Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement, contends that the production of “good, clean, and fair food” is only possible through the local economy because “food quality depends on consumers who respect agricultural labor and educate their senses” (17-19). What these two environmental activists suggest, then, is that a local food production system rooted in small-scale farming can be a powerful channel to promote sustainable agriculture in order to preserve cultural and biological diversity in an increasingly globalized world. Yet this does not mean that they reject all forms of globalization. Rather, they propose a new model of what Petrini terms “virtuous globalization,” which considers the value and meaning of the local while being critical of one-dimensional economic globalization that reinforces corporate agriculture, monoculture, and genetically modified food all over the planet in the name of “efficiency” (or economic profit).
Allison Carruth’s Global Appetites: American Power and the Literature of Food contributes to the call for “a new account of globalization” by using the cultural archives of food to explain the inseparable connections between “U.S. food power” and the rise of decolonializing movements such as environmental justice (8, 4). Through the lens of environmental literary and cultural studies, she examines how the divide between food production (farming) and consumption (eating) was tied to globalization and U.S. national hegemony throughout the twentieth century. For Carruth, this divide stems from the rapid development of American agribusiness in which food security has become a synonym for national security, that is, a component of the “military-industrial complex” (13). Carruth argues that “literature provides a powerful medium” that illuminates “both the historical continuities and cultural ruptures” in the making of global appetites and American ideology (5). Carruth develops her argument by first scrutinizing food writing in the context of war during the first half of the twentieth century then turning to contemporary food writing (fiction and non-fiction) and its interest in transnational corporations, cosmopolitan consumers, and countercultural food practices in relation to the globalization of agribusiness. Global Appetites offers a panoramic view of interdisciplinary food studies and environmental criticism; Carruth’s examples range from literary modernism, experimental poetry, and postmodern fiction to culinary writing, food memoirs, and bioart (an art practice that incorporates biotechnology into the creative arts).
Carruth’s methodological framework draws on theories of globalization (Arjun Appadurai, David Harvey, Fredric Jameson, and Saskia Sassen) as well as structuralist theories of cuisine (Roland Barthes, Mary Douglas, and Claude Lévi-Strauss) and studies of the agricultural (Terry Gifford, Leo Marx, and Raymond Williams). At the same time, we can situate Global Appetites within recent work on what Ursula Heise calls the “transnational turn” in American studies and ecocriticism (381-83). In “Ecoglobalist Affects: The Emergence of U.S. Environmental Imagination on a Planetary Scale,” Lawrence Buell argues that environmental criticism often tends to focus exclusively on U.S. literary studies and so risks reinforcing the national imaginary despite the field’s commitment to a holistic view of nature because “the value traditionally set on ‘nature’ and ‘wilderness’” served as “definers of US cultural...