food as geopolitical subjugation*

*Post series commissioned by Nicola Twilley (edible geography /foodprintproject / GOOD Magazine) as part of FOOD FOR THINKERS – An online festival on Food and Writing (18-23/01/2011)

Can a grotesque portrait be revering and sarcastic at the same time? Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s whimsical works – depicting faces out of fruits, vegetables and roots – are still replete with ambiguity. Did this 16th century Court portraitist for the Habsburg dynasty love or hate his imperial employer? Could his food collage trigger any hidden skills for domination? A graphic enigma…

Geopolitics describes the phenomenon of taking advantage of political power to control a given territory. The case of Nauru Island, halfway between Australia and Hawaii, represents an extreme where economic exploitation has led to a decadent nutritive landscape. Nauru is the world’s third smallest nation, and used to experience golden decades of economic development, thanks to its soil rich in phosphates. But foreign interests pierced this Pacific paradise to extract them all. Four fifths of the island have been mined out and there is “no arable land, no permanent crop, no permanent pastures and no forests. Practically everything is imported from cans of spam to fruit and vegetables, cars, fuel and building materials. Even water was imported before a desalination plant was set up.” [source> janeresture]

97% of men and 93% of women are overweight or obese on the island, due to a complete dependence on a stereotyped Western lifestyle provoked by Western mining companies; intentionally or not.

A convalescent territory, whose most valued treasure nowadays is a series of internationally successful weightlifters.

People who once subsisted on fish, coconuts and root vegetables now eat imported processed foods that are high in sugar and fat; […] it is proving difficult to wean people off processed foods such as tinned beef and mutton; […] in Nauru, a popular snack is a whole fried chicken, washed down with a bucket-sized beaker of Coke. [source> Independent]

Paradoxically, fast food can also generate social development on the other side of the globe. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel cuts small pieces of the Turkish fast-delicacy par excellence. Döner Kebab in Berlin is a remake of Istanbul’s variety, more appropriate for the German taste. Highly beloved and highly widespread. The city reinvented this course, and it has progressively led to a symbolic reunification between both communities. Thus, Merkel needs to perform a political rapprochement that proves the relevance of coexistence. Döner Imbisses are like strategic urban colonies that have replaced traditional Berlin Corner-bars as meeting places.

In Nauru Island, a destroyed landscape led to a dreadful diet. In Berlin, a dreadful diet has generated a new cityscape. Can also a diet boost the invention of a rural landscape? El Ejido (South Spain) was detected as an ideal production site for the healthy Mediterranean diet. Or maybe, it was actually the reinvention of an extremely deserted territory what boosted the consumption of fresh vegetables?

Anyhow, the resulting fact is that El Ejido Plastic City learnt how to profit from its huge reservoirs of underground water in the 1960s. Today, 36,000 hectares are endlessly covered with greenhouses, configuring the world largest surface under plastics. By introducing optimal Israeli methods of drip-irrigation and by covering the soil with sand to keep humidity and avoid erosion (Enarenado technique), the desert was eventually reclaimed.

But El Ejido phenomenon also has its side effects, apart from aquifers vanishing. Recent studies are trying to measure the scope of neuropsychological damage on greenhouse workers because of long periods of exposure to pesticides inside these capsuled environments. Revering, sarcastic or simply grotesque?

[1> Arcimboldo’s portrait of Emperor Rudolf II via jack rusher][2, 3, 4, 5> Nauru Island via everyculture, janeresture, independent, the first post][6> Merkel at a Döner Kebab Imbiss via derSpiegel][7,8,9,10> El Ejido Plastic Greenhouses via carabassi, alpujarra sostenible, Victor Castelo]

One Comment

  1. Nauru & El Ejido’s greenhouses are both topics in Keller Easterling’s 2005 book Enduring Innocence.

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