Growing Stories from India

Growing Stories from India: Religion and the Fate of Agriculture

Foreword by Vandana Shiva
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Growing Stories from India
    Book Description:

    The costs of industrial agriculture are astonishing in terms of damage to the environment, human health, animal suffering, and social equity, and the situation demands that we expand our ecological imagination to meet this crisis. In response to growing dissatisfaction with the existing food system, farmers and consumers are creating alternate models of production and consumption that are both sustainable and equitable. In Growing Stories from India: Religion and the Fate of Agriculture, author A. Whitney Sanford uses the story of the deity Balaram and the Yamuna River as a foundation for discussing the global food crisis and illustrating the Hindu origins of agrarian thought.

    By employing narrative as a means of assessing modern agriculture, Sanford encourages us to reconsider our relationship with the earth. Merely creating new stories is not enough -- she asserts that each story must lead to changed practices. Growing Stories from India demonstrates that conventional agribusiness is only one of many options and engages the work of modern agrarian luminaries to explore how alternative agricultural methods can be implemented.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3413-0
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    Vandana Shiva

    I am writing this foreword in Patna, Bihar. Bihar is where Sir Albert Howard was sent in 1905 by the British Empire to “improve” Indian agriculture.

    When Howard came to Pusa in 1905 as the imperial economic botanist to the government of India, he found that crops grown by cultivators in the neighborhood of Pusa were free of pests and needed no insecticides or fungicides. “I decided that I could not do better than watch the operations of these peasants and acquire their traditional knowledge as rapidly as possible,” he wrote inAn Agricultural Testament([Goa: Other India Press, 1940],...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    In June 2009, producers Robert Kenner and Eric Schlosser released the filmFood, theaters across the United States. That this movie, an indictment of the U.S. food industry, played in mainstream theaters demonstrates that many people believe that we must rethink and rebuild our food system. In October 2008, prior to the presidential election, theNew York Timespublished a letter to the president-elect from Michael Pollan that explained why we need what he called a Farmer in Chief. Pollan detailed the steep social, health, and environmental costs of industrial agriculture and urged that we must “put the...

  6. Chapter 1 The Ecological Imagination: From Paradigm to Practice
    (pp. 12-27)

    In this book, I explore how narrative can be useful in guiding our ways of thinking not only about ourselves in the world within the frame of agriculture but also about how we view the task ahead of us—establishing sustainable relations with the earth and the biotic community, which includes human and nonhuman organisms. As Wendell Berry suggests, learning how to live sustainably is the human predicament, and it has both practical and spiritual dimensions.¹ Revealing the metaphors and narratives that underlie existing and alternative agricultural practices enables us to investigate the consequences of those practices. Only then can...

  7. Chapter 2 Narratives of Agriculture: How Did We Get Here?
    (pp. 28-55)

    Proponents of industrial agriculture justify current practices with claims of high productivity, yet they rarely acknowledge that this system also produces environmental degradation, social instability, and hunger. This chapter examines the stories that have brought us to these crises. My aim in this book is to uncover the metaphors and narrative structures that underlie myth and story and to reveal how these structures shape norms that guide human action with regard to agriculture. Subsequent chapters use the story of the Hindu deities Balaram and the Yamuna River to do this work; this chapter provides the context for a discussion of...

  8. Chapter 3 Balaram and the Yamuna River: Entitlement and Presumptions of Control
    (pp. 56-92)

    The previous chapter, by illuminating the storied nature of food production and industrial agriculture, revealed that these systems are not inevitable but result from human choices. Overloaded restaurant menus and abundantly filled shelves in the grocery store suggest to us in the West that we have more than enough food, an illusion of plenty that assuages any fear that food provision could be a problem. Our clean and colorful supermarkets enact a modern narrative of efficient and abundant food production. As the previous chapter illustrated, however, this cornucopia of packaged foods masks a reality of environmental degradation and rural poverty...

  9. Chapter 4 Borrowing Balaram: Alternative Narratives
    (pp. 93-120)

    The previous chapter explained why devotees view Balaram as a protector and explained the cultural context in which Balaram appears. This chapter moves beyond this context to examine how concepts such as protection are used to justify inequitable practices and social relations. Here I borrow Balaram’s story to show how narrative can legitimate destructive interventions and normalize hierarchical social relations, particularly gender relations. In addition, I ask how concepts such as reciprocity, obligation, and even protection might become the foundation for revised relations in the biotic community. Looking at Western agriculture through Balaram’s story facilitates critique of existing narratives and...

  10. Chapter 5 The Festival of Holi: Celebrating Agricultural and Social Health
    (pp. 121-160)

    The springtime festival of Holi in Braj, the setting for the story of Balaram and the Yamuna River, celebrates the importance of agriculture and fertility in the social realm. The agricultural narrative embedded in Holi has broad religious, social, and cultural implications, and demonstrates that agricultural practice reflects and shapes social practices. Holi rituals confirm that agriculture is central to the social realm in Braj—and, I argue, in the contemporary United States as well. Although both the Braj pastoral narrative and contemporary environmental thought marginalize agriculture, Holi ritual practice, an example of Vaishnava devotion, reveals the inadequacy of this...

  11. Chapter 6 The Land in Between: Constructing Nature, Wilderness, and Agriculture
    (pp. 161-193)

    The convergence of text and practice in Baldeo’s Holi festivities demonstrates how Holi rituals balance and adjudicate tensions arising from the paired issues of fertility and sexuality on the one hand and aggression and protection on the other. The story of Balaram’s return to Braj is the central narrative of the festival, and Balaram’s role as an agriculturalist is reiterated in every ritual. His behavior illustrates human responses to agricultural and gender tensions and provides an opportunity to rethink existing responses to the earth’s—and women’s—agency. The Holi festival, like most springtime fertility festivals, celebrates prosperity and renewal and...

  12. Chapter 7 Restoration, Reciprocity, and Repair: Revising the Ecological Imagination
    (pp. 194-224)

    To this point I have argued that narrative might help us view the task ahead of us: achieving more sustainable relations with the earth and the biotic community and rethinking human roles within that community, particularly with regard to agriculture. Studying the story of Balaram and the Yamuna River helps us understand human behavior in an agricultural context, and reflecting on this story helps us ask, In what ways do we act out our membership or citizenship within the biotic community? Although all members of the biotic community play, or have been assigned, roles in this drama, human choices of...

  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 225-226)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 227-240)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-256)
  16. Index
    (pp. 257-272)