Facing Hawaiʻiʻs Future (Book Review)

Craig Santos Perez
July 10, 2013
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Gastrocolonialism is structural force-feeding.

When the US military occupies native lands and waters, there are fewer opportunities to grow and catch food. Multinational corporations in various industries (tourism, real estate, processed foods, and GMOs) have further alienated native peoples from access to agri- and aqua- cultural opportunities. US educational systems have severed native peoples from agricultural knowledge and experience. In turn, US media has “refined” our tastes through the predatory marketing of invasive fast foods. With fewer and fewer choices, most native peoples are forced to survive on (and become addicted to) cheap, imported foods from the US. These colonial foods are often injected with dangerous levels of unhealthy salts, sugars, fats, and GMOs—which has led to an epidemic of chronic diseases linked to poor diet (such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease) across the Pacific.

The more I learn about food colonialism, the more insecure I feel about the future of our food. Every time I eat something grown locally, my stomach aches with the dread that this may be the last bite. A vanishing native eating vanishing foods.

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It is within this context that I read the collection of essays, Facing Hawai’i's Future: Essential Information About GMOs (2nd Edition), published by Hawai’i SEED, a nonprofit coalition working to “educate the public about the risks posed by genetically engineered organisms and to promote diverse, local, healthy and ecological food and farming” (84).

The anthology is divided into five sections: Science, Policy, Farming, Community, and Resources. Each essay is accessible and relatively short (ranging from two to ten pages). The authors include a wide range of scholars, farmers, policy makers, lawyers, and activists. The “Resources” section offers practical advice on how to avoid eating GMOs, how to take action against the GMO industry, and how to include GMO literacy into your curriculum. There is even a list of various websites and books for further reading.

I recommend this book for anyone concerned about our food security, especially to those who live in the “strategic laboratories” of the tropical Pacific. Hawai’i has the highest recorded number of open-air GMO experiments in the world. Companies like Monsanto, Dow, Dupont/Pioneer, and Syngenta use over 70 different kinds of pesticides throughout the islands for GMO breeding, research, and production. The unregulated extent to which GMO companies are poisoning the lands, waters, and peoples of Hawai’i is truly terrifying.

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In addition to general information on GMOs, Facing Hawai’i's Future also includes essays on the specific history of the rise and fall of the GMO papaya industry in Hawai’i, as well as attempts to genetically modify and patent taro. As Mililani Trask put it in her contribution to the anthology:

“For Hawai’i's indigenous peoples, the concepts underlying genetic manipulation of life forms is offensive and contrary to the cultural values of aloha ‘āina (love for the land). Most importantly, Hawaiians view the current efforts of the Unviersity of Hawaiʻi, the United States, the State of Hawaiʻi, and pharmaceutical and transnational corporations to modify, patent and commercialize life forms as hewa (a wrongful act, an act of desecration of the sacred) which will bring imbalance and negativity into our lives and our environment” (76).

Many sovereign nations have already banned GMO agriculture in their lands, required labeling for imported GMO products, and even rejected patents filed by GMO companies. Unfortunately, Hawaiʻi does not have this sovereign power. Thus, anti-GMO activism has emerged from the grassroots level, making its creativity and resilience truly inspiring.

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An important part of this movement asks us to imagine a different future. Here is one articulation of this new vision from an essay by Nancy Redfeather and Melanie Bondera:

“There is another vision. Land reform at the state and county level can create affordable opportunities for interested farmers to live and farm long-term on a piece of land. We need to keep our best agricultural lands zoned for agriculture and continue to develop water infrastructure. Our institutions can develop educational programs that actually train young people and mid-career changers to farm in the tropics. Counties can work with farmers to recycle the communities’ organic waste, which will increase soil health and farm profitability. The University of Hawai’i can develop open-pollinated seed varieties of both fruits and vegetables adapted to our tropical environment. Our Rural Economic Development Boards can support direct marketing of agricultural products such as farmers markets and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). Farmers in the community can form cooperative businesses to market wholesale. Schools can purchase fresh produce from local farms. Supermarkets can buy local produce, and restaurants can feature fresh foods from area farms for the visitor and local alike” (64).

I appreciate this vision of a reformed US food system; however, I wonder how does decolonization and native land reclamation fit into this vision? As long as we are colonized by the United States, will it ever be possible to stop US colonial force-feeding?

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Reading Facing Hawai’i's Future has renewed my hope. I am inspired by all the amazing people growing food, saving seeds, buying local, lobbying legislators, protesting Monsanto, testifying at public hearing, marching in the streets, and much more. Getting involved in the food movement, even in small ways, is very empowering. I learned from this book that it is important for all us to find our own ways to “seed” (both as embryonic plant and poetic metaphor):

“The seeds of knowledge are the seeds of our ancestors. We honor them by knowing them and living their legacy within our everyday life…The time has come for a renewal of agriculture. Seeding the future with the wisdom and knowledge of the past combined with the best of the new ecological and sustainable agricultural techniques available today will allow a healthy food and farming future to unfold for our children” (5).

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