Indian scientist and international environmental activist Vandana Shiva has argued that Indian traditions, including the foundational Hindu belief in the unity of all matter, provide a model for an alternative to the global industrial food system. In these traditions, Shiva argues, people throughout the world can reorient their approaches to food and nature, and thereby improve their health and wellbeing. This paper draws out the implications of Shiva’s argument, which presents Hindu philosophy as the foundation for an environmentalist ethics conducive to local food systems and the host of social, personal, and environmental benefits that local food advocates associate with those systems. Drawing primarily on work by U.S.-based social scientists, the paper highlights parallels between work on food localization and ethnographic accounts of Tamil Hindus to explore the possibility that metaphysical beliefs in Hindu traditions are highly compatible with ecologically sustainable human behaviors. Finally, the paper discusses avenues for future research that will allow environmental advocates to effectively trade on the strengths of Indian traditions in pursuit of environmentalist projects, while remaining wary of unsubstantiated assumptions about the past.
I received the David Bidney Graduate Student Paper Prize from the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University Bloomington in 2013 for a version of this article.
I shared a version of this paper at the Solutions to Ecological Challenges: Multidimensional Perspectives Conference at Fatima College in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India, in Dec. 2014.
Chera, Madeline. 2014. “Environmentalist Food Localization and Ethnographic Accounts of Tamil Hindu Place-Based Identities.” In Solutions to Ecological Challenges: Multidimensional Perspectives, edited by S. Geetha. Madurai, India: Reflection Books.