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"Collapse, Food Sovereignty, and Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide."

Conference presentation at the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE) Biannual Convention, Wayne State University, Detroit

Amitav Ghosh’s 2004 novel The Hungry Tide ends by neatly reconciling bourgeois conservation to subaltern resource access. The protagonist Piya Roy, a Seattleite studying dolphins in the Sundarbans, learns to look beyond megafauna and incorporate marginalized humans in her sense of ecology. The novel hastily sublimates that her insight necessitates the death of Fokir, a local fisherman whose foodways are threatened by Piya’s conservation interests. At the novel’s outset, Piya refuses to eat Bengali food, traveling with a “carefully hoarded stock of nutrition bars” which she shares to prevent Fokir from fishing near dolphins (115). Reading the novel in relation to interdisciplinary scholarship on food politics, I take this gesture as allegorizing the Global North’s imposition of food aid, then fertilizers, then patented GM seeds. Such products bolster corporate power by collapsing autonomous foodways, as Raj Patel, Vandana Shiva, and others discuss. I thus use Fokir and Piya’s relationship to metonymically explore conflicts over land access and food sovereignty. These issues scale up to Ghosh’s evocation of Marichjhapi, a conservation area where squatting refugees were starved and massacred, and finally to an apocalyptic flood that betokens global ecological collapse.

Pulled across such scalar leaps by the concept of collapse, I ask how reading Ghosh in terms of food sovereignty might unsettle perceived relations among subaltern food politics and postcolonial environmentalisms. I also query the facility of the global Anglophone novel for representing food futures. What forms of resistance or resilience does food sovereignty offer? And are these legible amidst narratives of environmental collapse, such as the flood that drives Ghosh’s narrative arc? Can we think food futures beyond such disaster scenarios, and beyond the sacrifice of the subaltern? Can the global Anglophone novel help? Or do its generic constraints foreclose the reimagination of food and futurity?