Friday, July 18, 2008

The Gift of Food

Dr. Vandana Shiva, (pictured above giving her acceptance speech for the Right Livelihood Award, she received in 1993, ”..for placing women and ecology at the heart of modern development discourse.”) is today an internationally acclaimed environmental activist. She trained in quantum physics and philosophy of science, in her speech she traces her journey and motivations that led her from physics to grassroots activism in the fields of eco-feminism, bio-piracy, biodiversity and intellectual property rights combined with research and advocacy in these areas.

In 1982, she founded an independent institute, the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in Dehra Dun dedicated to high quality and independent research relating to important ecological and social issues of our times. In 1991, Dr. Shiva set up the Navdanya movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seeds.

She makes the argument that ''Patenting assumes life in all its diversity to be a human creation. It also allows Western arrogance to loot indigenous knowledge, as in the case of neem or turmeric or ashwagandha, and then charge royalties on it. It reminds me of the Salt Laws imposed during the British Raj where Indians could not make salt so that the British could charge royalties. Mahatma Gandhi stood up and said: "Why should I pay for something that the sea gives me for free?" Today, we have to realize that the seed is free, the neem is free.''

Through her activism, research and writing, Dr. Shiva continues her persisitent campaign to empower people and put pressure on the powers that be. Her books include Water Wars, Monoculture of the Mind, Staying Alive, Protect or Plunder?, Globalisation and Terrorism, and she is co-author of An Ecological History of Food and Farming in India. She is also the author of several articles, many of which are available online.

In one of her articles - Gift of Food she explains the traditional Indian concept of 'Annadana' -
''One of my favourite images in India is the kolam, a design which a woman makes in front of her house. In the days of Pongal, which is the rice harvest festival in South India, I have seen women get up before dawn to make the most beautiful art work outside their houses, and it is always made with rice. The real reason is to feed the ants, but it is also a beautiful art form that has gone on from mother to daughter.
The indica rice variety's homeland is a tribal area called Chattisgarh in India. It must be about fifteen years ago that I first went there. The people there weave beautiful designs of paddy, which they then hang outside their houses. I thought that this must be related to a particular festival, and I asked, "What festival is it for?" They said, "No, no, this is for the season when the birds cannot get rice grain in the fields." They were putting rice out for other species, in very beautiful offerings.
Because we owe the conditions of our life to all other beings and all other creatures, giving - to humans and to non-human species - has inspired annadana, the gift of food. All other ethical arrangements in society get looked after if everyone is engaging in annadana on a daily basis. According to an ancient Indian saying: "There is no gift greater than annadana, the giving of food." Or again, in the words of the sacred texts: "Do not send away anyone who comes to your door without offering him or her food and hospitality. This is the inviolable discipline of humankind; therefore have a great abundance of food and exert all your efforts towards ensuring such abundance, and announce to the world that this abundance of food is ready to be partaken by all."

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