Metabolic (in)justice in rural West Papua is further exacerbated by the settler-colonial context and global capitalist food systems that plantation frontiers such as the ones inhabited by my Marind companions are embedded within. As many of my friends were quick to remind me, plantation proliferation across their lands is driven in large part by growing demand for vegetable oils and renewable energy sources from overseas including the European Union and United States. The palm oil produced from the theft of Indigenous lands ends up in over half
of all supermarket goods across the world, feeding faraway people who are ignorant of the hunger and malnutrition plaguing its sites of cultivation. All of this is happening in turn in an ongoingly settler-colonized world region, where West Papuan movements in pursuit of freedom are violently curbed.
Marind experiences of food insecurity draw into focus a global food production system that is at once profoundly racialized and capitalistic. They speak to the changing lifeways and foodways of an emergent extractive resource frontier, as they connect this frontier to seemingly out-of-the-way places, peoples, and processes to sites and subjects who are also implicated in processes of metabolic (in)justice at national and global scales. In doing so, metabolic (in)justice draws attention to extractive colonial capitalism itself as a form of out-of-control, self-destructive metabolism, driven by the logic of limitless growth and inequitably distributed surplus.
This logic is at once diagnostic and symptomatic of the current Anthropocenic epoch, wherein metabolic processes that sustain life on Earth at a planetary scale are breaking down and generating potentially irremediable metabolic rifts. And yet, still, reified imaginaries of anthropocentrism, compounded with impossibly limitless consumerism, continue to obscure the interdependent webs of relations needed to sustain human and other-than-human life. In the process, we lost sight of the importance of becoming and remaining obligated to, and by, the many beings whose metabolic trajectories intersect with our own.
To consider Marind’s experiences through the lens of metabolic justice thus brings us to reflect on what Jacques Derrida describes as the moral question of how one should eat well
] in an increasingly vulnerable world. Specifically, it invites us to interrogate critically what powerful forces dictate what goes into which bodies, what counts as food, when food means life, and who or what becomes the eater and eaten. It demands that we center impurity and non-innocence as defining factors of contemporary food systems and attendant regimes of nutritional structural violence. And it calls on us to collectively fashion foodways that are grounded in the premise and promise of more-than-human metabolic justice.
is Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Fellow and Lecturer in the Discipline of Anthropology at the University of Sydney. Her research investigates the intersections of Indigeneity, ecology, capitalism, health, and justice in the Pacific. Chao is author of In the Shadow of the Palms: More-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua
and co-editor of The Promise of Multispecies Justice
. Chao is of Sino-French heritage and lives on unceded Gadigal lands in Australia. For more, see www.morethanhumanworlds.com