When I went to see Vandana Shiva speak last fall at the Grand Rapids Community College Diversity Lecture Series, I was excited, but I was also nervous that I would have no idea what she was talking about. Shiva is one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever studied. But the evening of her lecture she proved her brilliance to me, while also demonstrating that she could be funny and down to earth, or as down to earth as someone as wildly intelligent as she is can be. During the question and answer session of this lecture more, a girl asked whether or not it would be better to only eat organic or only eat locally if she could not do both. Shiva responded with a wide smile saying, “Listen, I have a PhD in quantum physics and I can tell you, there is no either/or. There is only both/and in one way or another.” Of course, the girl asking the question was a little miffed, since her issue was that in Grand Rapids, Michigan it’s difficult to find both locally grown and organic foods. However, Shiva’s cool confidence in making a goofy science joke at a diversity series lecture made me even more appreciative of her work.
Vandana Shiva’s resume and qualifications are approximately one mile long on paper, but she certainly has a lot to show for it. Shiva has degrees in physics and the philosophy of science and is described by The United Nations Environment Program as an “ecofeminist, philosopher, and author of many books.” She has studied in different countries, but most of her time studying is spent in her home country, India.
But why is she one tough broad? Shiva is practically spearheading the fight against seed patents and issues facing the future of farming across the planet, fighting large seed corporations, namely Monsanto. Monsanto is a company that generally makes it difficult for small farmers to have success for themselves by genetically modifying seeds that only live for one season, so none can be saved for future years of planting, which farmers could do with non-modified seeds. Shiva left behind the field of academics to found the Research Foundation of Science, Technology, and Ecology, or RFSTE.
Shiva’s title is environmental activist, but she really is the voice for those who cannot stand up for themselves in the agricultural industry all over the world. Food security and biodiversity may not seem like a large issue, or a particularly feminist issue. However, while food security is a human rights issue first and foremost, it is certainly a feminist issue as well. Shiva herself writes about the connection of ecology and feminism: “For me, ecology and feminism have been inseparable. And Diverse Women for Diversity [one of the groups within RFSTE] is one expression of combining women’s rights and nature’s rights, celebrating our cultural diversity and biological diversity.” Clearly, at the heart of any of Shiva’s groups within RFSTE is the celebration of diversity within people, women specifically, and diversity within food. This may not sound important, but within the wake of genetically modified foods and seeds, seeds have lost their diversity. Most of the food eaten across the world is shockingly similar because of seed patenting. Mass produced seeds make for food that is not necessarily healthful and at times inappropriate for the cultures in which those foods are grown. Its not that farmers are unaware of this inappropriateness, it’s that corporations like Monsanto have such a monopoly on the seed market that farmers cannot grow anything else.
That is where Shiva steps in: she has fearlessly stepped up against Monsanto’s presence and seed sales in countries worldwide. She’s brought their injustices against farmers up to the World Trade Organization.
Vandana Shiva is not only a voice for her nation, but for the earth nation as she might call it.
I’ve only begun to scratch the surface at all of the important things that Shiva does. For more background on Shiva and her work visit www.navdanya.org or read any of her numerous articles or books, particularly Earth Democracy or Stolen Harvest.
—By Sam Howard