I was introduced to the work of Vandana Shiva only a year ago. It was a hot, spring day in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Pro Humanitate Institute’s Shelley Sizemore and I were unwinding with other Wake Alternative Break participants after a day on an urban farm. Needless to say, food justice and food security were already on the brain, making the introduction of Shiva’s work impeccably timed. The introduction, and resulting insatiable intrigue, were facilitated by none other than Shelley herself. She was reading Shiva’s “Staying Alive” at the time, and shared several quotes from the book’s opening pages. Each quote was poignant, unapologetic, and pointed to the various ways in which some human practices have corroded balance, both ecological and otherwise. For me, the handful of quotes demonstrated Shiva’s deep understanding of nuanced need, and prompted my interest in her work. Additionally, and importantly, I desired to better understand my own role in contributing to the sustainable, conscious agricultural and ecological practices our world so desperately needs.
When I learned that Shiva was visiting Wake Forest, I was overjoyed. The opportunity to attend her keynote, and engage further with her writing through book clubs hosted on Wake’s campus, was immensely appealing. In truth, neither engagement disappointed. At the “Staying Alive” book club, I was surrounded by members of the Wake Forest community and of the broader, all-encompassing Winston-Salem community. My book club co-host was a former member of Forsyth Local Food, a local consortium that works to further program development and food policy within the existing Forsyth community food system. Another group participant was a student like myself, whose work developing local food related entrepreneurial ventures opened his eyes to matters of accessibility and convenience in the world of local food. Yet another participant was the owner of a local composting center, and thus provided interesting insights with regard to waste, costs, and sustainability. Surrounded by a myriad of rich perspectives, my understanding of Shiva’s text, and of the needs of our community, deepened. Each book club participant hailed from a different place and had experienced different things where food and agriculture were concerned. Despite these differences, we all agreed on the importance of looking to the future, and prioritizing the various facets of food justice and food security.
Like the book club, Shiva’s keynote was enriching. Her fiery support of local, diverse, sustainable agriculture, and equally fiery denouncement of genetically modified foods and destructive industrial practices, probed me. As an audience member, I was forced to, again, reexamine my own practices in honest ways, and think holistically about the impacts I create, both long and short term. I found myself agreeing with Shiva’s words in some areas, and pushing back in others. I thought about the ways in which her proposed policies would impact those whose hunger needs were satiated by industrially produced aid, and what support these communities might require during transitions from larger scale production to smaller scale, sustainable practices. My ruminations were many, but importantly, my gratitude and appreciation for Vandana Shiva were reinforced. Her work is renowned for its emphasis on sustainability, consciousness, and demonstrated appreciation of local knowledge—a practice all but forgotten in many corners of the world. As a student, I am encouraged and inspired to do my part, daily. As a community, we should all be inspired.
Contributed by Elizabeth Busby (’15)