I first heard the name Vandana Shiva as the name of a chocolate. Lagusta’s Luscious chocolate shop in New Paltz has a series of candies named after feminist icons. The one called Vandana Shiva is a piece of bittersweet chocolate with bits of vanilla bean, cinnamon and chilies. Its unique gritty texture is the result of omitting the surface-scraping “conching” process. Conching is what produces the familiar smooth texture of European chocolate. Instead, Vandana Shivas are stone ground which produces a granular chocolate.
The real Vandana Shiva is a world-renowned environmental leader, activist and eco-feminist. Born in India in 1952 to a farmer mother, she has spent decades defending indigenous knowledge and biodiversity. Campaigned against corporate patents in seeds, received the Right Livelihood Award in 1993, and serves as an advisor to governments on issues including women, food justice, and third world countries.
Vandana Shiva was in the Hudson Valley for Omega Center’s Making Peace with the Earth retreat on July 6-8. She spoke about colonization, the process of establishing control over an indigenous population, and the ensuing clash of not just cultures but economies as well. She brought up the famines in India after the country was overtaken by British rule. When war was brought to an end by treaty in 1765, the British East India Company claimed lands in the Ganges river valley. The effects of scarce rainfall were compounded by British practices of charging rent for land people were already on, war levies, and export crops replacing food. During the Bengal famine of 1770 almost a third of the country’s population starved to death. Colonization caused native populations to lose control of their independence. British rule took what didn’t belong to them and turned it into a source of rentals. Taxation increased and forced people to sell food stores meant for protection against famine.
The 3-day event at Omega focused on a move toward earth-centered politics. Other topics included inner colonization, food justice, sustainable agriculture, and mindful approaches to social change. The weekend featured lectures, panels, Q&A sessions, a seed exchange, and an in-depth tour of the Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL)’s EcoMachine, an on-site sustainable water reclamation center.