Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

English

First Advisor

Rita Barnard

Abstract

Consumption drives both global capitalism and the lives of literary texts, which may be consumed in two senses: they are purchased and they are read. Most literally, consumption means ingesting food. To consume is also to use environmental resources. In this dissertation, I scrutinize the entanglement of these several modes of consumption. I focus on food systems in an emergent literary genre, the “global environmental novel”: the contemporary novel that illuminates the intertwining of globalization and the environment. Such fictions come from both global South and North. I discuss contemporary authors from South Africa (Zakes Mda and Zoë Wicomb), South Asia (Amitav Ghosh and Arundhati Roy), and the US (Ruth Ozeki), as well as predecessors from South Asia (Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay) and Ghana (Ama Ata Aidoo). Operating at the intersection of postcolonial studies, environmental humanities, and food studies, I situate novels in relation to social movements that invoke food, globalization, and environment. I also engage with ecofeminism, queer theory, modernist studies, and theories of the contemporary novel. The project explores the multifaceted social and environmental injustices, as well as possibilities for resistance, that are encapsulated or indexed by food.

Food politics, I argue, are key to the global environmental novel: both in the realist sense that environmental justice struggles cluster around food, and in informing novelistic strategies to manage the scalar challenges of globalization and global environment. Such mammoth objects provoke a representational crisis: how can we picture (let alone save) something as large as the globe? To resort to abstraction or generalization is to universalize, to flatten out the unevenness of contributions and vulnerabilities to environmental catastrophe among different populations. To instead keep local particularity present while representing globality, global environmental novels synthesize the polyscalar facility of narrative fiction with the polyscalar nature of food politics. Food is immediate, somatic, quotidian, and intimate. Eating cultures and food access are also key to community and cultural identity. And food systems are expressions of power under global capitalism. Resonating across all these scales, food politics are an avenue to global yet specific narratives of entanglement between globalization and the environment.

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