For people living in the present-day Americas, colonialism can be traced back to a fateful journey in 1492 when Christopher Columbus, sailing westward from Spain in hopes of finding Asia, came into contact with what is now the Caribbean. A cultural cataclysm ensued that gave way to the decimation of Indigenous groups across the Western hemisphere, the enslavement of Africans and their descendants, and the indentured servitude of Chinese and Indian populations. European colonizers used the next four to five centuries to impose their languages, values, and overall belief systems onto marginalized groups. In some cases, such as Martinique and Guadeloupe, the colonizers are still there. In others, such as Puerto Rico, the emperor’s garbs may have changed to red, white, and blue, and the island’s status from colony to that of Associated State, but the vertical flow of power is still evident.
The demands on these marginalized groups to behave and speak a certain way reflected the colonizer’s contradictory goal that they assimilate to mainstream culture and leave their own cultural practices behind, but continue to maintain their societal apartness. However, assimilation is not just “the social process of absorbing one cultural group into harmony with another” but also “the process of absorbing nutrients into the body after digestion” (Merriam-Webster). This second definition, often overlooked, reconsiders the old adage that “you are what you eat.” As food is a part of one’s cultural identity, deciding what to eat, and what not to eat, can play a major role in their resistance to the colonial legacies found in mainstream American culture. Using contemporary U.S. Latinx Zines, I argue that zinesters are articulating decolonial thinking through the recovery of autochthonous sustenance, the move towards veganism as a means to support an intersectional speciesism, and the promotion of body positivity. By decoloniality, I refer to Walter Mignolo’s definition of “decolonial options confronting and delinking from coloniality, or the colonial matrix of power” (xxvii). To be sure, this colonial matrix of power refers to systems that have shaped economy, religion, education, labor, societal constructs like race and gender, and even food.
The increasing interest in Food Studies in Academia suggests that food propelled what Mignolo identifies as the colonial matrix of power. Columbus sailed west in hopes of finding spices. On his second journey to the Americas in 1493, he brought sugar cane seeds with him, sowing the beginning of the plantation system that would dominate Caribbean society for centuries (Benítez Rojo, p. 80). In 1519, Spanish conquistadores in Mexico banned amaranth, a nutritious and staple grain of Indigenous peoples because they used it in ceremony (Levetin and McMahon, p. 244). In summarizing colonial thought regarding food and evangelization in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Rebecca Earle writes:
"Overall, many colonists and advocates of colonialism were certain that Amerindians had either already benefited, or would do so, from adopting a European diet, which would reverse the destructive effects of centuries of bad food, and help restore the old-world complexion once enjoyed by their ancestors. The introduction of old-world foods into the Indies thus was not only essential to Spaniards who needed such foods to stay healthy, but was also one of the palpable benefits that Amerindians derived from the conquest, along with Christianity. Europeans could justly pride themselves on planting not only the faith, but also wheat, grapevines and other Spanish crops, whose fruits were enjoyed by Spaniard and Amerindian alike (p. 167)."
Indeed, we owe the popularity of the flour tortilla to early successful wheat harvests in present-day Northern Mexico and the U.S. Southwest (Pilcher, 1998, p. 31). While one might relegate these examples to the past, their legacies continue today through multinational organizations like Monsanto that corner the world market’s food production. For instance, 90% of the United States’ corn comes from a genetically-modified seed put out by Monsanto. This means that at a local level, other corn varieties disappear. At a transnational level, the yellow corn is being imported into other nations where it is dominating the market, causing their local varieties to disappear as well, effectively reducing the varieties of corn worldwide.