Decolonizing our minds might be the only detox we need

Nishita Jha



Last week, we launched the first print issue of our series Complicating Colonialism at ZEG Storytelling Festival in Tbilisi. There were as many stories as there were storytellers, and the conversations on stage and at dinners ranged widely, from art as resistance, AI, food, to finding family across borders and losing them to war (we can’t wait to share some of those stories on our channel soon). At its heart, a story is a window into the world or a way out of the echo chamber one may find oneself trapped in. This is why journalism must read the label — pay attention to how stories are made, who consumes them and how, whose stories make it to the conveyor belt of the news industry and how they are packaged when sold.

Two recent examples from the news I’ve been reading come to mind: a study conducted by Oxford’s History of Science Museum will examine the links between milk and colonialism, something that has soured more conservative members of the UK press, and through news aggregation websites, found similar incredulous coverage in India. But milk, as one of the study’s lead scientists shared, is a fascinating lens for exploring colonial processes of acquiring land, understanding hygiene, motherhood and health. The dairy industry, as this chilling series from ProPublica reminds us, has long been fertile ground for stories of immigrant and animal abuse.

Before lactose intolerance there was plain old-fashioned intolerance, and much of it was directed at philosophers like Socrates who asked too many questions. This month, undergraduates and academic philosophers at SOAS put together a toolkit for decolonising their philosophy curriculum, and found that shaking things up is never easy, whether it’s in ancient Greece or present-day UK. This piece by India and Japan historian, Christopher Harding, adds useful perspective: “One of the challenges for the decolonization agenda is to avoid conflating a healthy inquiry into the conditions of our knowledge — historical, political, racial — with the pushing of a particular political agenda…much of the culture-war hand-wringing over decolonization stems from a sense that the other side is speaking or acting in bad faith.”

Treat yourself to writer Julia Watson’s piece on Georgian cuisine for this much-needed reminder that a two-minute microwave meal will actually cost you and the planet more than a quick piece of fruit or salad. This is why food will always have a place at the table of culture wars: “In the Soviet era, Georgia’s food was the favorite of loyal comrades across the Union. When Russians wanted to celebrate, they headed for Moscow’s most popular restaurant, the Aragvi, for its Georgian menu that was a whole world not just a republic away from Russia’s plodding fare. Georgia’s local farms, predominantly organic, grow some of the world’s most succulent food. Even Persian mini cucumbers don’t come close in flavor to those of Georgia, somehow nutty and sweet and tight in bite. Georgians rejoice in tomatoes incomparably more sumptuous than those of Italy. Meanwhile in the industrial world, Big Food Biz is mulling over how it can develop the sector of the processed food market dubbed, with zero irony, ‘Better-For-You-Snacks’. Thing is, as any Georgian – or Greek or Turk, or Middle Eastern or Spanish or Portuguese individual will tell you, to snack can’t be “better for you”. Unless they’re a fruit or raw vegetable, snacks, being eaten between meals, are not essential fare. They’re treats.” 

Take a bite out of journalist Yaroslav Trofimov’s book, Our Enemies Will Vanish, which begins on day 1 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and documents the first year of Ukraine’s resistance with painstaking and granular detail. But apart from Trofimov’s incredible war reporting, a skill he has honed over decades of covering conflict across the world for the Wall Street Journal, what makes this book special is the inclusion of many small acts of hope, like this moment: a supermarket in a Russian-occupied territory is transformed overnight once Ukraine regains control of it. The shelves are emptied of Russian food which is donated to a food bank, and restocked with food that the Ukrainian people haven’t been able to access in months. “Ukrainian food at Ukrainian prices, plus we accept Apple Pay.” 

Chew on this:Booker prize winner and now, winner of the PEN Pinter prize, writer Arundhati Roy is likely to be prosecuted by the Indian government in coming months, and this is as good a time as any to understand why. Roy spoke about the exploitation of India’s poor, the violent colonial legacy of the Indian state and the need for solidarity in 2010, much before Prime Minister Modi’s government ever came to power. “Think about justice and don’t pick and choose your injustices, don’t say that “I want justice but it’s ok if the next guy doesn’t have it, or the next woman doesn’t have it”. Because justice is the keystone to integrity and integrity is the key stone to real resistance.” You can read the full text of her speech here.