Food +

Several people said to me that the recent Presidential election in Brasil was decided over an emotional campaign with Jair Bolsanoro emerging as the candidate who was best able to exploit an electoral desire for political change. Spurred on by corruption scandals involving political elites and economic recession, Bolsonaro mobilised an underlying resentment for PT, the status quo (as Glenn Greenwald discusses above) and frustration with the country’s complex and inflated political system of ‘open-list proportional representation’.  He captured the zeitgeist, by hook or by crook many would argue, winning the election with 55% of the votes. Although as Vincent Bevins notes:

Yet Bolsanoro’s divisive statements and the violence and drama of the electoral campaign has left many fearful and exhausted. In conversations I had soon after the results were confirmed many Brasilians, particularly those from Queer and Black communities, expressed dismay at the voting choices of family members and friends indicative of a fracturing of social and familial bonds as they prepared for an intensification of discrimination and violence. Even before the second election, and perhaps as a consequence of the kinds of violence that the election campaign enabled, I experienced different groups coming together in these conditions of social fragmentation to connect, heal and organise.

Apesar de Você a song written by Chico Buarque in 1970 as a criticism of the military dictatorship was being performed again with renewed vigour in Brasil. Its chorus translates as: ‘In spite of you, tomorrow will be another day.’

A gathering I was fortunate to attend in São Paulo brought together a group of artists, writers and media workers to brainstorm a counter-narrative to that of Bolsanaro’s successful campaign. While I understand why this would be an urgent and imperative task, I wonder about its effectiveness given that such counter-narratives would have to compete against the sheer financial and political power of interests who have established themselves in key social groups (eg evangelical churches) and on popular media platforms.

Instead an alternative strategy, and perhaps our only other option, is to leverage the networks we comprise as artists and activists; to keep people and ideas in circulation and to somehow make things possible. Certainly, this is not an ambitious counter-attack. It is no means to take power, but by enabling alternatives, by connecting and mobilising we can build affinities and strengthen our resilience as Queer, Black and POC identifying people.

I met up with the music producer Maga Bo soon after I arrived in Rio in the midst of the election month in October. Raised in the US, Bo has been living in Brasil for around 20 years and was naturalised in the last year. This was his first election and when I asked him for some insights into the campaign he said something like: ‘The only way I can explain it is that people have been brainwashed en masse by fake news campaigns on WhatsApp and Facebook.’ The maker community at LABxS also discussed the capture of the telecommunications market by telco TIM, who offered the cheapest pre-paid cell phone option with free and unlimited WhatsApp and Facebook messaging, engineering people — and especially those with a low income — into closed circuits of disinformation. With reference to this level of influence and reliance on social media, I was struck by this statement from the artist Tabita Rezaire in a recent interview:

We’re all suffering from disconnection. It’s just ironic that we’re supposed to be in an age of ultra connection. That’s a lie. Because we’re so closed off, to each other, to ourselves, to nature, to the universe, that we have to offshore our potential for communication.

Image from Exotic Trade (2018), Tabeta Rezaire.

In this context of ‘dangerous and even terrifying political phenomena’ (Greenwald above) I’m attempting to think further about an idea of ‘Food +’ elaborating on a notion of ‘Water +’ I raised in a recent post. Food + is not ‘just food’, neither is it an elite form of food knowledge or snobbery. I am not overly concerned with tradition, and indeed for Almoço Contra o Trabalho I often emphasised experimentation and sociability over expertise. It’s not about recipes, or thinking about food in terms of ingredients or resources, but rather about how making food choices and developing ethics around cooking and eating transforms one’s habits and behaviour and draws one towards like-minded people, enabling friendships and alliances.

To generalise, I’d claim that the global food system, reliant on industrial farming practices, weak labour regulations and corporate lobby groups, is neither ecologically or ethically sound (for further information listen to this BBC documentary series). While it may not be practical or even possible to withdraw from this system, we can work within it critically and with intention. I recall a discussion at the conclusion of a conference organised by the Human-Animal Research Network a few years ago in Sydney, where it was said that while it may not be realistic to expect the world to become vegetarian or vegan, it is possible to decrease the level of industrial killing. This leads me to think that the world has been designed in ways that deem certain forms of violence acceptable and enable them to flourish, for example structural economic inequality. If one would rather determine an alternative rather than ‘go with the flow’ in these conditions, then this would imply strategies of non-violence (Ahimsa).

Before I reach for the theory books I want to write from my own experience (incidentally while lunching at a Krishna Bhavan ‘pure vegetarian’ restaurant). There is a kind of sociability and care that comes with cooking with and for other people, especially when bearing in mind the food preferences and needs of vegan and gluten-free people or those with other health or ethical requirements. Thus,‘Food +’ could be understood as a nourishing and spiritual practice; as a means to rekindle relationships in the world, strengthen resilience and foster change. I want to be a little more precise about my use of the word ‘spiritual’ as I am not so concerned with religion, although it is undoubtedly for many a significant spiritual practice. Rather I am interested in food prepared with care, attention and intention. As such, cooking and eating could be understood as a ritual practice, perhaps mysterious — in that one might not know what one is cooking but can be confident that things will be revealed in the process of doing so — and also perplexing like esta samba no escuro! Thus, Food + is sensual, experimental, political and future-orientated.

So in conclusion, and with reference to my insistent vegan friends who would only eat food prepared by people they trust, I will close this post by gesturing towards some theory. In the current issue if e-flux Journal Elizabeth Povinelli emphasises ‘stubbornness’ as an affect other than ‘hope’ that is better suited to describe the actions of those who have for a long time been resisting conditions of inequality. For future reference, it might be interesting to discuss stubbornness in relation to Sara Ahmed’s notion of ‘wilfulness’.

From ‘Stubborn,’ Elizabeth A. Povinelli and Clara Bessijelle Johansson, e-flux journal 95, December 2018.

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