NEW BOOK: Unsettling Food Politics

UPDATE: There were some teething issues regarding the cost of postage to Australia, I believe these have been resolved.

Also, in addition to the 60% discount for hardback there is a 30% discount code for e-book – UFP30.

60% off discount Unsettling Food Politics

I had the initial idea for this book in 2013. In December 2014 I pitched it to the series editors during the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. Almost five years later, my book – Unsettling Food Politics: Agriculture, Dispossession and Sovereignty in Australia – is being released by Rowman & Littlefield.

During that five years, there were many changes to the scope and direction of the book. I could probably spend another five years making further changes. Fortunately deadlines meant that was not possible. I’ll post more on the back story later. For the moment here is the synopsis and some very kind endorsements.

UFP_Twitterpost_McMichael

Synopsis

This book uses social and political theory to critically examine the historical constitution of contemporary alternative food discourses. While alternative food activists appeal to food sovereignty and agrarian discourses to counter the influence of neoliberal agricultural policies, these discourses remain entangled with colonial logics of sovereignty and dispossession of indigenous peoples. In particular, this book addresses the influence of Enlightenment ideas of improvement, the use of agriculture to establish ownership, and the production of a white population in Australia. In combination with this critical history, this book brings continental political philosophy into conversation with Indigenous theories of sovereignty and alternative food discourses in order to open new spaces for thinking about food and politics in contemporary Australia.

Endorsements

The inter-disciplinary nature of the work is reflected in the generous endorsements from a variety of scholars from different disciplines.

Mayes’ book is an important and, yes, unsettling reminder that in the Australian context, too, a return to smallholder farming as an antidote to the world’s food woes, is a return to an imaginary thick with dispossession and unfree labour.

Julie Guthman, Professor of Social Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz

Too often debates around food focus on the individual consumer and consumer choice without acknowleding the way in which those choices are determined by the culture of possibilities in which the consumer is situated. The impact of current food practices on health, the environment, and social inequity cannot be addressed merely by changing individual habits; rather, food justice will require fundamental changes in the systems of production and distribution that determine what and how we eat.

This important and timely book exposes the complicity of commodity agriculture not only in the global obesity crisis and environmental injustice, but also in the food insecurity of vulnerable populations. Drawing on the resources of Foucault, Mayes demonstrates convincingly the role of agriculture in the project of colonialism and its historic injustices. Though he focuses primarily on Australia, his analysis of the way in which contemporary agricultural practices reflect racism and the dispossesion of indigenous peoples has a global reach.

Mayes does not only offer a critique of the provision of food as a biopolitical act that privileges some bodies over others; he also offers positive strategies for transforming our current food culture in order to address the injustices inherent in it. As he argues, by recovering the knowledges of indigenous peoples and by giving the marginalized a place at the table where decisions are made, we may be able to revolutionize current food practices in ways that will not only address inequity, but also improve the well-being of each and all.

Mary C. Rawlinson, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Philosophy, Stony Brook University

Unsettling Food Politics is an extraordinary rethinking of food sovereignty politics beyond formal sovereignty structures and discriminatory discourses of settler-colonial states. Fashioning a reflexive historical method to construct a substantive sovereignty of indigeneity, Mayes raises profound ethical questions for food sovereignty movements and practices within states and farming systems founded on indigenous subjugation. This is powerful food for thought.

Philip David McMichael, Professor, Department of Development Sociology, Cornell University

This is the book we have been waiting for. Unsettling Food Politics finally provides the critical study of settler-colonial food regimes that we so desperately need today. Historically grounded and well argued, this book is essential reading.

Thomas Nail, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Denver

Unsettling Food Politics models a radically different conception of political responsibility. He achieves this by means of a brilliant, and wholly convincing, double movement. One the one hand, Mayes widens the net of our complicity in Indigenous dispossession beyond what many are likely to find comfortable – as he puts it, unforgettably, “If you eat, you are involved in settler-colonialism”. On the other, he insists that any credible response must proceed from the acknowledgement of the moral primacy of the First Peoples of this land, their claim on the soil, their food practices. Mayes’s book is, in effect, a startling demonstration of what it would mean to accept the invitation extended by the framers of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, for non-indigenous Australians to join the First Peoples at a table they have set, to discover what it might mean, finally, to become political companions (in the original sense of the word). And perhaps that is the best description of what Mayes sets out in this remarkable book: a politics of companionability. Unsettling Food Politics is an extraordinary achievement.

Scott Stephens, Religion & Ethics editor, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and Co-host of The Minefield, on ABC Radio National

Agri-Food XXV – CFP

For full details regarding special sessions, keynotes, deadlines, etc click here Agri-FoodXXV Call for Abstracts

I am organising the following session:

Towards a postcolonial conception and practice of food sovereignty

The history of agriculture is deeply enmeshed with the history, and continuing legacy, of violence and dispossession inAustralia and most of other settler-colonial societies. While mining only lasts as long as minerals remain to be extracted, agriculture has a permanence that enables the establishment and reproduction of a population, which expands at the expense of Indigenous lands and livelihoods. This dynamic forced Indigenous peoples to either enter the new economy, usually in the form of unfree labour, or raid farms for food, which was often used as grounds for official and unofficial death squads. Consideringthe role of agriculture in denying Indigenous sovereignty, this session asks whether food sovereignty is an appropriate or useful concept to be used in Australia and other settler-colonial societies.

Food sovereignty is commonly defined as the right of people to control their own food and agricultural systems. The concept originated with peasant movements in South and Central America during their political struggles for land reform. In recent years it has been adopted by proponents of alternative food practices in settler-colonial societies such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. In these contexts, it serves as an organizing idea in the struggle for a more democratic, sustainable, and just food system. However, the vast majority of these advocates are neither Indigenous to the lands they occupy or landless peasants. It is therefore important to ask if food sovereignty is an appropriate concept in settler-colonial societies? Can food justice be established without acknowledging and addressing the injustices done to Indigenous peoples wrought by agriculture? This session will explore these and other questions in order to determine whether a postcolonial conception and practice of food sovereignty is possible.

Christopher Mayes (Deakin University) cmayes@deakin.edu.au

If you have any questions about being part of this session please send me an email.

Small ‘l’ liberals, White Australia & Citizenship

Last Thursday Leigh Sales “grilled” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over proposed changes to Australia’s citizenship laws. Changes include a more stringent English language test, proof of integration into Australian society, and a four-year waiting period for permanent residents to apply for citizenship.

Sales considered these proposed changes to be an aberration of Australian liberalism and out of step with Turnbull’s own political philosophy.

Towards the end of the interview she asked:

LEIGH SALES: Before you became Prime Minister, your image was that your values put you in the small ‘l’ liberal tradition of Alfred Deakin and Malcolm Fraser.

Can you today name one policy position that you hold that aligns with that tradition rather than with the conservative wing of your party?

Ironically, the policy that Turnbull could name is the very policy under discussion. The tightening of citizenship laws, especially using racialised notions of cultural values, English-proficiency, and religious belief is deeply entwined with the legacy of Deakin.

Historian Joanna Cruickshank, quoted Alfred Deakin in an article on the enduring power of white supremacy in Australia. Speaking in 1903, Deakin said:

“A white Australia is not a surface, but it is a reasoned policy which goes down to the roots of national life, and by which the whole of our social, industrial, and political organisations is governed.”

Another Australian historian, Stuart Macintyre, quotes Deakin during a debate on the Immigration Restriction Act (1901) saying:

The unity of Australia is nothing, if that does not imply a united race. A united race means not only that its members can intermix, intermarry and associate without degradation on either side, but implies one inspired by the same ideas, an aspiration towards the same ideals, of a people possessing the same general cast of character, tone of thought…

Turnbull is careful to avoid explicit appeals to race in the ethno-biological sense. However, his emphasis on the “unique” Australian values – “freedom, equality of men and women, mutual respect, the rule of law, democracy, a fair go” – serve as markers, shibboleths and “tone of thought” for indicating who is “in” and who is “out”.

The subtly of these dynamics was demonstrated when asked about who can integrate into Australian society. Turnbull gives a quick – “of course they are” – in response to Sales’ question “Are Jews who celebrate Hanukkah integrated into Australian cultures and values?” In contrast, he gives a bumbling non-response to the question about whether a woman who wears a headscarf is also integrated.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, people are free to wear whatever item of clothing they like. I mean, bear in mind, I say again and again, whenever I talk about Australian citizenship and Australian values, I say that the foundation of our success, our extraordinary success, is mutual respect.

And that means… It’s a two-way thing. You respect others in their diversity and they respect you. It’s also about respecting the equal rights of men and women. And that is vitally important.

This and other tortured debates about the right and wrong way of applying Australia values of a “fair go” and “mutual respect” reveals the implicit way some forms of life are accepted and others are rejected.

Turnbull’s proposed changes to the citizenship laws do not stray far from those who went before him. From Deakin to Abbott, Australian liberalism (spelled with a small or large ‘l’) has tied itself in knots to restrict the entry and freedom of racialised others. Despite his progressive shtick and love of public transport, Turnbull is no different.

‘Nothing to Lose’ – Judging My Book By Its Cover

My first book – The Biopolitics of Lifestyle: Foucault, Ethics and Health Choices – is being published this month. Perhaps not the most scholarly concern, especially as I had little to do with its creation, but I am particularly pleased with the cover.

Cover

Cover image: Toby Burrows (image) and Michael Cutrupi (dancer). From ‘nothing to Lose’ by Force Majeure. From The Biopolitics of Lifestyle, Routledge (2015).

 

I suggested the image after seeing Force Majeure‘s dance production ‘Nothing to Lose‘ at the 2015 Sydney Festival. This production was billed as exploring ‘fat’ – ‘the powerful little word, full of baggage and judgement’.

At the time I was finishing off the final draft of my book, which was also exploring aspects of this word and its medicalized cousin – obesity.

While I was not able to discuss ‘Nothing to Lose’ in my book, I remember that it reminded my of Chantal Mouffe’s remarks on public art as,

‘bringing to the fore the existence of alternatives to the current post-political order…[and] making visible what the dominant consensus tends to obscure and obliterate’.

The production powerfully challenged the commonsense ways of seeing bodies and the ways that they are obscured. This was most clear in a performance where half a dozen dancers moved towards, and into, the audience while relentlessly repeating condescending cliches: “have you tried dieting?”, “such a pretty face”, “have you looked in the mirror?”, “have you considered some exercise?”, “do you really need that?” and on, and on.

The ‘Nothing to Lose’ dance performance is an important way of highlighting and confronting the social and political imperatives surrounding bodies, notions of health, and what types of bodies are allowed to be seen and under what conditions.

I hope that my book is able to live up to its cover and do something similar, even if in a more turgid form.

I would particularly like to thank Michael Cutrupi (dancer) and Toby Burrows (image) for giving their permission to use the image.

Australia Claimed: White Possession & the Redundancy of Reclaim Australia

Despite the rallies and Channel 7’s broadcast of an “in-depth” interview with the founders of Reclaim Australia, the disintegration of the far-right populist movement appears imminent. Unlike their American cousins, The Tea Party, they do not have significant financial backing and the poor showing of “patriots” at the Parramatta rally last month suggests that this grass-roots movement lacks organisation and/or a critical mass of people willing to get out on the streets to call for “non-patriots” to get out of the country. However, the devolution of this movement is not a victory of Australian multi-culturalism or common-sense.

Reclaim Australia gets small numbers to their rallies because they are unnecessary. Why spend a Sunday afternoon shouting in the streets when the political and economic system is silently re-asserting the normal order of things?

The normal order of things is maintained through symbolic and systemic modes of violence. Unlike physical violence directed at specific subjects, the symbolic and systemic violence operates in the background. For example, the violence inherent in the production cheap consumer goods that benefit the lives of some while exposing factory workers to physical harm when making our flat-screen TVs in Mexcio or iPhone’s in China.

Most of us do not see this violence because it isn’t directed at us. We only see the subjective violence of shootings or physical aggression. The subjective form of violence overshadows the systemic and symbolic forms of violence that allow the normal order of things to continue smoothly (for some). This is the violence inherent in fierce border protection policies or laws that target racial and religious minorities. It is the violence embodied in language that strips subjects of their humanness (e.g. illegal maritime arrivals) and makes the violence that they suffer either excusable or somehow deserving.

SystDuck-Rabbit_illusionemic and symbolic violence tends to be invisible to those who benefit from the normal order of things that those modes of violence sustain. It is like a trompe l’oeil or the duck-rabbit illusion. For those who benefit these policies and arrangements look like caring necessity – “we need to protect ourselves” or “It is prudent to monitor Muslim boys because they are prone to radicalization”. However, to those on the other side, these policies and arrangements are experienced as exclusion and brutality.

In this context, Reclaim Australia will wither away, not because there is insufficient support for their message, but because Australia is already well and truly claimed. This claim is sustained by the long history of violent colonisation and occupation, the effects of which persist today. However, it is a claim that needs to be continually reasserted on the bodies and lives of non-white migrants.

In her recent book The White Possessive, Aileen Moreton-Robinson describes this “claim” as a white possession. White Australia’s existence as sovereign possessor is derived from the dispossession of Indigenous lands. As Moreton-Robinson notes, there is a deep anxiety that ‘racial others’ will in turn dispossess white Australia. The main utility of Reclaim Australia is as a warning that the normal order of things is being challenged. It is like a “flare-up” of the appendix in the body of white Australia, or to use another metaphor, a canary in a mine. Reclaim Australia is an expression of the anxiety that white Australia’s sovereignty is challenged.

The fear associated with a challenge to white sovereignty is seen in Native Title disputes. There is a deep fear that Indigenous claims will dispossess white Australian sovereignty over cities, suburbs, parks, beaches, arable lands, and natural resources (see Kerr and Cox’s ‘Setting Up the Nyoongar Tent Embassy‘). Yet, the reality does not lend credence to the anxieties and fears of white Australia – ‘the majority of Indigenous people in Australia do not have land rights, nor do they have legal ownership of their sacred sites.’

In the case of Islam, the fear of dispossession is also unfounded. According to the 2011 census, 2.2 % of the Australian population indicated they were affiliated with Islam. Of course the debates over Australia, radicalization, extremism, Islam, citizenship, borders and all the other nodes connected to this assemblage are not about evidence or facts. But control over who is admitted into white Australia, and the form that admittance takes. Some are wholly absorbed, while others remain in permanent parenthesis (asylum seekers).

While those attending Reclaim Australia rallies (and those sympathetic to their narrative) may feel that Islam is an existential threat to the white claim to Australia, the terms and conditions of political and social reality are established by and for a white Australia. The challenge is not to reclaim Australia, but to place the current claim in the context of historical and contemporary forms of violence that privilege those who possess whiteness and its associated symbols and markers.

In the words of Stan Grant, we need to challenge that violence and our own attachment and benefit from it.

Australians who so laudably challenge the bigots among them need also challenge themselves. What are they prepared to give up? Land, history, flag, anthem, myth or identity – all of it is on the table if we are truly serious. Other countries fight wars over these things: we can do it in peace.

 

 

 

 

Public Health has a Tobacco Problem

Image taken from page 855 of '[A series of original Portraits and Caricature Etchings by ... J. Kay; ... with biographical sketches and illustrative anecdotes. [Edited by H. P.]]'The widely circulating media reports that compare bacon to tobacco in terms of its capacity to cause cancer reveals the “tobacco problem” with public health communication.

By “tobacco problem” I don’t mean that researchers or communicators are on the take from “Big Tobacco” or that they have got the facts wrong about its association with cancer. The tobacco problem is that the success of tobacco control has produced a conceptual and political myopia. Or what I call a “tobacco control style of thought”.

Ian Hacking describes a “style of thought” as a particular way of seeing the world or problem that allows some ideas to be thinkable and actionable, while rendering other ideas as unthinkable. The success in linking smoking with cancer and the implementation of controls to regulate its use have contributed to a tobacco control style of thought.

The effect is that all public health issues are shoe-horned to fit the tobacco control model.

Eating bacon and red meat, drinking soda or frequenting fast-food restaurants, or sitting in a chair for too long are all equated with smoking. Why? Because saying bacon is like tobacco means that the problem and corresponding solution is well understood by the public and policy-makers.

Except it isn’t. All of these activities are extremely different from smoking. Eating bacon is not the same as smoking cigarettes. Everyone outside the tobacco control style of thought can see this.

The Australian Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said it is a “farce to compare sausages with cigarettes“. Does Barnaby have financial and political interests in saying that? Yes. Is he wrong in saying that? No.

Sure, saying “bacon causes cancer” generates headlines, but it also distracts from focusing on the actual research on the health effects of processed meats. Public health Image taken from page 277 of 'Lilliput Lyrics ... Edited by R. Brimley Johnson. Illustrated by Chas. Robinson'communicators and researchers need to break out of the tobacco control style of thought that makes bacon or soda look like tobacco.

Public health is currently in a battle with libertarians who cry “Nanny” every time they are told that an activity or behaviour should be regulated. However, in equating activities like eating processed meat or sitting at a desk with smoking, public health communicators give the appearance of legitimacy to the “Nanny State” cry. This does real damage to the credibility of public health research and erodes public understanding of risk factors and epidemiology.

Like the boy who cried wolf, if public health communicators continue to compare everything to smoking, soon people will stop listening.

The Three Stages of Malcolm Turnbull’s Empathy

Mal Empathy

Stage One: Be Generous & Wear Other People’s Shoes

Monday 21st September, 730 Report:

So, the truth is, we don’t really deserve our good fortune. And that’s why, if you are – if you do well, you’ve got to give something back. That’s why I encourage people to be generous…

The important thing is to have the emotional – emotional intelligence and the empathy and the imagination that enables you to walk in somebody else’s shoes, to be able to sit down with them on a train or on a – in the street, hear their story and have the imagination to understand how they feel. Emotional intelligence is probably the most important asset for – certainly for anyone in my line of work.

Stage Two: You, Me, & Maybe Them Get “It” – But Gee Things are Tough

Wednesday (morning) 23rd September, Sky News:

I understand the issue. I have same concerns about it, about the situation of people on Manus and Nauru as you do, and as I would think almost all Australians – all Australians do. As the Minister Mr Dutton does. But what I’m not going to do is make changes to our border protection policy sitting here with you. Our policies will change, all policies change, but when we do make changes we will do so in a considered way.

Stage Three: Real Politik with a Merchant Banker’s Face

Wednesday (evening) 23rd September, RN Drive:

Patricia Karvelas: First, on border protection, you told Sky News earlier today you were concerned about the plight of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru. What does that concern mean for what happens to the policy? Will we re-settle these people in Australia?

Malcolm Turnbull: No. That is absolutely clear that there will be no resettlement of the people in Manus and Nauru in Australia. They will never come to Australia. Now, I know that’s tough. We do have a tough border protection policy. You could say it is a harsh policy. But it has worked.

There is a protest at Sydney Town Hall on Sunday October 11, 2pm. “Stand Up For Refugees – End all detention