Settler food as the settler: Sophie Chao, ‘Gastrocolonialism: the intersections of race, food, and development in West Papua’, The International Journal of Human Rights, 2021


Abstract: This paper explores how racial discrimination and agro-industrial development undermine the right to food of Indigenous communities in the West Papuan district of Merauke. Traditional forest foodways express the cultural and territorial identity of Marind and affirm their intimate and ancestral relations with each other and with the sentient forest ecology. Yet these foodways are routinely cast as culturally, evolutionarily, and nutritionally backward by State and corporate actors. Paternalistic development discourses, compounded with the rhetoric of national food security, have legitimated rampant deforestation and agribusiness expansion, with dire impacts on local food availability, access, and quality. Drawing from Chamorro scholar and activist Craig Santos Perez’ concept of ‘gastrocolonialism’, I argue that the contemporary transformation of Marind’s alimentary regimes is rooted in and perpetuates the historically entrenched, racialised violence of settler-colonialism and attendant human rights abuses in West Papua. Gastrocolonialism operates alongside other forms of structural and everyday discrimination enabled by the systemic violation of Indigenous communities’ right to free, prior, and informed consent – from population dilution and settler favouritism, to land appropriation and Indigenous displacement. I conclude by assessing the potential of framing alimentary racism in West Papua through the lens of food as right, security, sovereignty, and justice.

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