Women, who are the primary growers and providers of food, nutrition, and nourishment in societies across the world, have evolved agriculture. Most farmers in the world are women, and most girls are future farmers: they learn the skills and knowledge of farming in fields and in farms. Women-centered food systems are based on sharing and caring, and on conservation and well-being. What is grown on farms determines whose livelihoods are secured, what is eaten, how much is eaten, and by whom it is eaten. Women’s food is diverse and sustaining, and when women control the food system, everyone gets their fair share to eat. Women are the world’s biodiversity experts, nutritional experts, and the economists who know how to produce more using less. Women make the most significant contributions to food security by producing more than half the world’s food and by providing more than 80 percent of the food needs of food-insecure households and regions.
But corporate globalization driven by a capitalist patriarchy has transformed food: what it contains, how it is produced, and how it is distributed. Corporate-controlled food is no longer food; it is a commodity manufactured for profit. Food—or what corporations call food—can be casually interchanged between biofuel for driving a car, feed for factory farms, and sustenance for the hungry. Today, just a handful of corporations control the global food system, and through this monopoly, food has been displaced and women’s knowledge, work, skills, and creativity have beendestroyed. The control over the entire food chain, from seed to table, is shifting from women’s hands into the greedy hands of global corporations, who are today’s “global patriarchs.”
Women have vast knowledge of seed, biodiversity, and nutrition. The knowledge that governs women’s food is non-mechanistic, nonreductionist, and deeply rooted in the principles of agroecology. Women do more work than anyone else in growing and processing food, and their knowledge of farming is more sophisticated than industries and so-called “experts” promoting industrial agriculture. They are smarter at providing nutrition through biodiversity than the “miracles” being offered by biotechnologists through genetic engineering.
Yet neither women’s knowledge nor their work is taken into account by the structures of patriarchal science and patriarchal economics. Patriarchal science is based on an artificial construction of a fictitious “creation boundary.” This creation boundary erases the creativity and intelligence of nature and women, and renders their knowledge invisible. Patriarchal economics, in turn, renders women invisible as farmers through the creation of an unjust “production boundary,” where the rules of GDP and official “jobs” mean that if you consume what you produce, you do not “count” as a producer. Patriarchal economics constructs a production boundary that excludes women’s work, which is for sustenance, not profiteering at the cost of nature and people.
In agriculture—as in other sciences and areas of economic activity—women’s scientific and economic contribution has been erased. Women’s work in food and agriculture has been made invisible, even though it is the foundation of society. Sustainable food systems shaped by women for sustaining their families, communities, biodiversity, and the Earth are thus reduced to zero in this patriarchal productivity calculus and the patriarchal scientific calculus.
Corporations, on the other hand, exist only to make profit. As they enter the arenas of seed, food, and agriculture, they destroy the nourishing and sustaining qualities of the food system and transform everything into a commodity to be traded for profit. Women’s knowledge and work are destroyed, and with it the health of the planet and its people is also devastated.
Industrial agriculture is rooted in a patriarchal scientific paradigm that privileges violence, fragmentation, and mechanistic thought. Rooted in ideologies of war, this paradigm promotes Monocultures of the Mind and monocultures on our land, denying the knowledge of agroecology and of diversity, which is women’s knowledge. The implementation of this violent paradigm as the dominant lens for understanding our place in the world began with the “fathers of modern science”: Bacon, Newton, and Descartes. As we saw in Chapter One, the Newtonian-Cartesian idea of nature as a fragmented world denies the interconnectedness of nature and has subsequently been proved false by new sciences such as quantum physics and epigenetics.
According to Bacon, the discipline of scientific knowledge and the mechanical inventions it leads to do not “merely exert a gentle guidance over nature’s course; they have the power to conquer and subdue her, to shake her to her foundations.” In The Masculine Birth of Time, Bacon promised to create “a blessed race of heroes and supermen” that would dominate both nature and society. The gendered violence of his words are unmistakable: heroes and supermen will dominate and shake nature to her foundations.
The Royal Society, founded in 1660 in London, is seen as being instrumental in the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The society was inspired by Bacon’s philosophy and seen by its organizers as a masculine project. In 1664 its secretary, Henry Oldenburg, announced that the intention of the society was to “raise a masculine philosophy. whereby the Mind of the Man may be ennobled with the knowledge of solid truths.” Joseph Glanvill, another fellow of the Royal Society, held that the masculine aim of science was to know “the ways of captivating Nature, and making her subserve our purposes, thereby achieving the Empire of Man Over Nature.”
Scientist Robert Boyle, a founding fellow of the Royal Society and governor of the New England Company, saw the rise of mechanical philosophy as an instrument of power: not just over nature, but also over the original inhabitants of America. He explicitly declared his intention of ridding the New England Indians of their “ridiculous” notions about the workings of nature. He attacked their perception of nature “as a kind of goddess” and argued that “the veneration, wherewith men are imbued for what they call nature, has been a discouraging impediment to the empire of man over the inferior creatures of God.”
The death of nature in the mind allows a war to be unleashed against the Earth. After all, if the Earth is merely dead matter, then nothing can be killed. As feminist historian Carolyn Merchant points out, this transformation of nature from a living, nurturing mother to inert, dead, and manipulable matter was eminently suited to the exploitation imperative of growing capitalism. The nurturing Earth image acted as a cultural constraint on the exploitation of nature, and as Merchant writes, “One does not readily slay a mother, dig into her entrails or mutilate her body.” But the images of mastery and domination created by the Baconian program and the masculine thrust of the Scientific Revolution removed all restraint, and functioned as cultural sanctions for the denudation of nature.
Feminine knowledge of agriculture has evolved over five thousand years. While the Scientific Revolution remained blind to this knowledge, it was unable to destroy the foundations of food and agriculture. But now, in less than two decades and with the rise of global corporations, genetic engineering, and patents, a direct assault on women’s knowledge and production is taking place.
Global corporations have used the foundations laid by masculine science to render women’s knowledge and productivity invisible by ignoring the dimension of diversity in agricultural production. As an FAO report entitled “Women Feed the World” mentions, women use more plant diversity—both cultivated and uncultivated—than agricultural scientists know about. In Nigerian home gardens, women plant 18–57 plant species in a single home garden. In sub-Saharan Africa, women cultivate as many as 120 different plants in the spaces left alongside the cash crops managed by men. In Guatemala, home gardens that account for less than 0.1 hectare of land grow more than ten tree and crop species.
In a single African home garden, more than 60 species of food-producing trees were counted. In Indian agriculture, women use 150 different species of plants for vegetables, fodder, and health care. In West Bengal, 124 “weed” species collected from rice fields are shown to have economic and nutritional importance for farmers. In Veracruz, Mexico, peasants utilize approximately 435 wild plant and animal species, of which 229 are eaten. Women are the biodiversity experts of the world. Unfortunately, girls are being denied their potential as food producers and as biodiversity experts under the dual pressure of invisibility and the domination of industrial agriculture.
While women manage and produce diversity, the dominant paradigm of agriculture promotes monocultures under the false tenet that monocultures produce more. But monocultures do not produce more; they simply concentrate control and power in the hands of a few corporations. The systemic erosion of women’s knowledge of agriculture has violated women’s position as experts in agriculture, and since their expertise is related to modeling agriculture on nature’s methods of renewability, the destruction of this knowledge has gone hand in hand with the ecological destruction of nature’s processes, and the destruction of people’s livelihoods and lives.