Thursday, February 28, 2013

An excerpt from Another Way of Doing Health: Lessons From the Zapatista Autonomous Communities in Chiapas, Mexico (In forthcoming edited publication by Ashgate Press, Doing Nutrition Differently) by Chris Rodriguez

"Black Panther Party-Zapatista Foodways: Lessons from Home"         
          In the radical history of the United States we can see the potential of social movements that were able to feed their communities and challenge the corporate food regime and a racist political system. For example, the Black Panther Party was feeding almost a quarter of million youth across the United States per day through the Free Breakfast for Children Program (Patel 2011). This eventually placed them as the greatest threat to U.S. “internal security” which ultimately served as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s scare tactic to dismantle the movement through COINTELPRO. While the Free Breakfast for Children Program put men in the kitchens and in so doing attempted to confront the gender hierarchy and patriarchy within the Party, the Zapatista experience challenges us to think beyond a food system controlled by corporations. In Survival Pending Revolution: What the Black Panthers Can Teach the U.S. Food Movement Raj Patel provides some details as to what the “universal aspiration” of the Free Breakfast for Children Program “for a balanced diet” consisted of: “fresh fruit twice a week, and always a starch of toast or grits, protein of sausage, bacon or eggs, and a beverage of milk, juice, or hot chocolate […]” (Holt-Jimenez 2011, 123). While we can easily fall into dialectic debates over good/bad foods in mainstream science, I’d rather see the BPP Free Breakfast for Children Program as a critical and practical lesson that teaches us how autonomous control over a localized food system go hand in hand with the self-defense and self-determination of our communities in the U.S. The Standard American Diet (SAD), which is greatly processed and meat-based, is a patriarchal-capitalist food system that dates back to colonization. You see, just as rape came with conquest, so did the idea that the brown female body we call the land and everything that inhabits her dwellings like the (feminized) animals are for the taking. Since colonization, people of color have been under colonial occupation through the foods we have been forced to produce and consume. Trapped in this colonial food matrix of power, the land and all of our relations are equally part of the same labor force that drives production and consumption of a Eurocentric Standard American Diet—a SAD diet.

With roots in a heavily meat and processed food based paradigm like the SAD, the U.S.-led corporate food regime has attempted to displace plant-based consumption within native and indigenous communities of Mesoamerica. Yet, whether plant-based or meat-based (as with some Native Alaskan and Canadian communities) health-giving Indigenous foodways that are ecologically sustainable continue to exist outside of the colonial food matrix of power. Certainly, a major lesson from the Zapatistas is one of self-determination (Alfred 1999), and how to move beyond resistance  (El Kilombo Intergalactico 2007) towards decolonial autonomous movement building by remembering our traditional ways of healing and eating without dependency on the current systems of education, politics, food and health. In line with the Zapatista focus on self-determination, People of color (POC) movements in the U.S. are creating alterNative ways of doing health, food and nutrition by remembering the ways of our ancestors. Such POC movements are carrying on the ancestral guidance and answers we need to solve the problems we face today. Crucial here is any attempt to “do” health, food and nutrition differently must include the other segments of that broader braid – la trenza – with which health and nutrition are interwoven; so, “doing nutrition differently” also entails community self-defense and cultural-ecological revitalization, health and nutrition, autonomous food systems and governance. The Zapatistas’ everyday reality exemplifies such a broadened understanding of health nutrition. There are communities of color in the U.S. that have been inspired by the Zapatistas and the Black Panther Party movement among many other to do the same. Our familias of youth, elders, students, garment workers, resilient migrant workers and street-food vendors make up the bases of support for such movements in the U.S. 


  1. The best way to improve your health is eating more vegetables and fruits. However it seem to be difficult to make your child eating vegetables and fruits. That why I have to use a juice extractor to make juice because drinking is always easier than eating.

  2. Nia:wenko:wa for sharing this excerpt! I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading the whole piece. I notice that we share very similar lines of work and beliefs about the power of food (and its connections) to our communities and autonomy. I hope we can keep in touch and perhaps sit down sometime to discuss these crucial issues. -Laticia-

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