Unsettling the table

Harsha Walia’s “Anti-Oppressive Feminisms and Solidarities” keynote that she presented as part of this year’s ATLIS conference was among the most impactful lectures I have attended during my undergrad. The feminism of which Walia spoke stood only preliminarily alongside other feminisms and anti-feminisms, whose exclusivity to some, but not all, women – or whose complicity to Western democratic institutions – only exaggerates the accumulation of differences upon which oppressive society is built. Anti-oppressive feminisms, rather, are transversal, slicing through the tangencies of violence against women: against women of colour, women in poverty, indigenous women, migrant women, and women under siege by our state and by our society.

Anti-oppressive feminisms, as ethical orientations, valorize relationships of care as antitheses to currency. Walia’s argument observed that these relationships of teaching, child-rearing, nursing, cooking – reproductive labour, “women’s work” – had to be devalued in order for Western capitalist systems to solidify. These acts of love and kinship, beyond functioning as the conditions for the reproduction of humankind itself, are impervious to commoditization. Their valorization is not only a gesture of gender equality, but a revolutionary disaccumulation of power from the hands of the working men, the settler colonists, the Thatchers and Hillary Clintons.

It is not my duty, as a food colum-nist, to rewrite Walia’s arguments; the case for anti-oppressive feminisms is made by each act of violence against the women at the margins of our social order. My mission, in deconstructing the food we eat and the table at which we gather, is not to reveal, but to unsettle—to incite the reader to form their own questions. As an ethical orientation, then, the valorization of human relationship is a means of healing (or minimizing, at least) the damage rent by the alienating logic of colonization.

To some extent, I believe that every column should attempt to challenge the systemic violence and contradictions of our society. In other words, I don’t think it is necessary to write about food with a limiting, disciplinary ignorance of social injustice. If something is worth writing about, then write. Yet, that cooking can be both an act of unpaid, devalued reproductive labour and, concurrently, an industry, suggests the presence of a social feature to which this column is fitted to respond. Then, to unsettle the table – to query the simultaneous enclosure of the table by domestic privacy and by the private sector – is my small way of recognizing the value of and the need for Walia’s activism. This will be my subject in the following column.

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