Why are our bodies, our societies and our planet all on fire?
Activist, filmmaker and best-selling author Raj Patel was disguised as a genetically modified tomato when he encountered Rupa Marya, MD, over ten years ago. They were at a protest organized against the use of pesticides, and Marya, who is both a musician and a doctor, was performing at the event with her band on a world tour. Rupa and April Fools. Patel says the two quickly became friends.
Patel is a widely published author, perhaps best known for his New York Times and international bestseller, The value of nothing. He is also a director as well as teacher-researcher at Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin. Mary is a associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), whose research studies the intersections of social structures and disease, and the impacts of the culture of colonialism on health. She is also Chief Executive Officer and Chair of the Board of Directors of Deep Medicine Circlea women of color, worker-led, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in the San Francisco Bay Area focused on decolonizing agriculture and restoring a relationship with nature through food.
Recently, Marya and Patel co-wrote the book Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injusticepublished in 2021 by Macmillan.
“We had been plotting the book for years, and it was picked up by a publisher just as the pandemic was breaking out in the United States. [in spring 2020]“, says Patel. “Our lives during the pandemic have resonated with writing. Between us, we have experienced wildfires, being climate refugees, a long COVID-19, deaths of loved ones due to COVID- 19, diseases of the food system, racism, and gun violence.We weaved that pain and anger through the book.
Their book sheds light on the connections between health and the structural injustices prevalent in modern societies, and its structure goes through different anatomical systems of the body as a framework for discussing not only the health crises facing society, but also the injustices food, racism, the climate, the medical industry. and beyond.
“The vision was to have a book that subverts the way the body is taught, as separate individual systems within the body,” says Patel. “As you go through the book, it becomes increasingly clear that you can’t understand, say, the gut without understanding the brain and the complexity of systems within systems.”
The common thread throughout the book is inflammation, and the many interconnected ways in which our bodies, our societies, and our planet are all ‘inflamed’.
Patel says the conversation about inflammation started between him and Marya after a “powerful” lecture Marya gave at the University of Texas which he attended.
“As I drove her to the airport, it became clear that my work on food systems and peasant/worker struggles in the Global South resonated with hers on the front lines of struggles for indigenous and racial justice, and [both our works] have been linked by inflammation,” he says.
Patel explains that inflammation is the body’s natural response to the threat of damage, which is a necessary start in the healing process, that is, until the causes of inflammation become a constant.
“When damage – and the threat of it – occurs every day, the body never has a chance to heal,” he says. “The damage and the danger of damage are not evenly distributed. Social injustice – the fear of losing your car, your home or your life to powerful people for any offense, real or perceived – is something that working-class communities, women and communities of people of color can feel on a daily basis. . This threat does as much real harm as the exposures to pollution, extreme weather and daily physical harm in the workplace that these people face. The resulting inflammation puts the bodies of people in these communities into a life of worse health than the wealthiest white men on Earth could ever conceive.
As the book’s subtitle suggests, the book delves into the idea of ”deep medicine,” which Marya says is a way of seeing and understanding how larger social structures contribute to disease, and then working. with this understanding to rethink these structures.
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The concept of deep medicine, says Marya, contrasts with “shallow medicine,” which tends to focus on the cause of illness originating from a single individual. She says that in working on the book, she and Patel were able to combine their insights and research from years of working with communities around the world into “a discussion of food systems and land use, medicine and biology, histories and cosmologies”.
With her band, Marya has toured 29 different countries over the decades. She says that by returning to the same communities many times over the years, she was able to see certain patterns emerge related to how people got sick and who did or didn’t get sick. She says these observations became the groundwork that ultimately led to the concepts covered in Inflamed.
“The book was born from these ideas while traveling,” she says. “[About 18 years ago] I started noticing that all these different groups that were marginalized or socially oppressed, or from communities that had endured colonization, were suffering. People suffered in very similar ways. I started calling it “colonized syndrome”.
She says the communities she and Patel each had a chance to see and work with informed the story they told in the book, “that our bodies, our societies and our planet are being damaged by the same cosmology that severed our relationship. with each other and to the web of life that keeps us healthy.
Patel says that once the two co-authors realized that inflammation was like a nexus between physical health and the many injustices of today’s socio-economic systems, the problem was what to include. and what to omit from the book, as they began to notice evidence everywhere. “linking bodily inflammation to that of the planet, and the machinations of colonial capitalism.
“Once you see inflammation, its pathways, causes, and effects, you can’t ignore it,” he says. “The New York Times published a room about the race to steal the microbiome from indigenous communities in the Amazon to heal those in the North whose guts have been stripped bare while living in cities,” adds Patel. “This kind of colonial plunder is exactly what we predicted in the book.”
Patel says he enjoyed learning from Marya about how the body “transmits the insults of capitalism through the mind down to the cellular level.”
“Learning how payday loans are associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers, and that the best medicine is not an anti-inflammatory pill but banning payday loans, is something that surprised me. It seems obvious now, but it was a surprising thing to discover while we were writing. [the book].”
Since its publication, says Patel Inflamed has been used and quoted in movements around the world. If he could leave readers with just one takeaway from the book, he says it would be “to organize!”
“There’s nothing in the book that you can really do on your own,” he says. “Of course, eat healthy, turn off your phone at night, sleep well, exercise and spend time connected to the web of life. These are all things that, if you can do them, you probably already do. The problem is that the ability to do this is not evenly distributed. Until everyone is safe, no one is. And capitalism won’t keep everyone safe. So the drug [to cure this situation] is to go beyond capitalism. It is not something that can happen by individual will. Only by collective power. So get organized!
Independent Media Institute
This article was produced by Local economy of peacea project of the Independent Media Institute.