Kathleen Alcalá

The Clueless Eater

Utopia, or Dystopia?

September 21, 2015

Tags: food sovereignty, Nogales, NAFTA, Teresa Leal, Octavia Butler, utopia, dystopia, food, refugees

Teresa Leal, indigenous activist
"God is change." At least that is what Lauren Olamena, the main character in "The Parable of the Sower," by Octavia Butler, believes. My students are reading books about dystopias, or very imperfect worlds and societies, right now. Each of these books makes me reconsider the world we live in. It is a dystopia for many people, while it is a paradise for others. I'm fortunate enough to live in a near-paradise.

The question I must come back to again and again, is how can we share this state of being with a wider range of people? What does it take to spread paradise? Or are we doomed to live in a world where starvation and exile is the most common condition?

I still do not think so. A very small number of people control almost all the resources of the planet. By promising a wider group a miniscule share of it, they retain their power, and the poor become poorer and poorer. The worse this gets, the more the middle class of the world will have to shoulder this burden. In her near-future novel, Butler describes a California reduced to walled neighborhoods as armed camps, defending themselves from the homeless, while fires destroy what little is left.

On September 19, I spent the better part of the day in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Here, the poor from northern Sonora gather in hopes of jobs and economic opportunity, or a chance to cross the border and seek better lives. It's better than Butler's world, but one can see the direct failure of NAFTA to benefit anyone other than the transnational corporations that helped write it. Once, when people were migrating from Europe, the phrase " seeking better lives" was considered respectable and honorable. Now, it places people, migrants, in a lower position than political refugees. Watching your children starve or watching your children murdered seems like a pretty hard distinction to make.

I met a woman named Teresa Leal who has spent her entire adult life advocating for the indigenous people of the area. Leal cut her organizing teeth on the United Farmworkers movement of the 1960s and 70s, and is now director of the Pimeria Alta Museum of Nogales, Arizona.

"Time changes, but the issues don't change." To Teresa, clean, free water and air are as important as food sovereignty, or control over one's own food sources. She possesses a tireless spirit while keeping her feet planted firmly on the ground.

I can only hope to offer a glimpse of her vision in my writings about food. But as long as we are complacent with access to endless amounts of food and water while others starve, in North Africa, in Syria or along the border fences of Europe and the United States, no true utopia can exist.


  1. September 22, 2015 12:08 AM PDT
    What can one say in the face of truth....yes of course, those that hold on to those glass castles, will do anything and everything to horde in the majority of the worlds resources and force the rest of humanity to fight each other for the leftovers. It isn't hard to see the impact this has on those living in hell and next door to utopia.
    - Armando Lawrence
With Cowichan Elder Hyamiciate, Della (Rice) Sylvester at the The Living Breath of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ Indigenous Foods and Ecological Knowledge Symposium


Selected Works

Creative nonfiction, memoir, environmental sustainability.
Combining memoir, historical records, and a blueprint for sustainability, The Deepest Roots shows us how an island population can mature into responsible food stewards and reminds us that innovation, adaptation, diversity, and common sense will help us make wise decisions about our future. And along the way, we learn how food is intertwined with our present but offers a path to a better understanding of the future.
Creative Nonfiction
Essays on Family and Writing

The Desert Remembers My Name makes an important contribution to discussions of ethnicity, identity, and the literature of place.”
Bloomsbury Review
"...a mesmerizing tale... the author explores the fascinating confusions and contradictions plaguing a culture precariously poised between tradition and modernization."
"She never forgot the power of storytelling as testimony."
The Utne Reader
"Kathleen Alcalá's Spirits of the Ordinary is an enthralling book..."
–Paul Yamazaki, City Lights Books

"This book entered my dreams."
–Alberto Rios
Short Fiction
"Thoroughly satisfying."
The New York Times Book Review

"By turns touching, entertaining, and surprising, and uniquely her own."
Publishers Weekly

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