Metabolic (In)justice: Food, hunger and ecology on the West Papuan oil palm frontier

Key information

3:30 pm to 5:30 pm
SOAS University of London, Main Building
Khalili Lecture Theatre (KLT)

About this event

The SOAS Department of Anthropology & Sociology and the Food Studies Centre is delighted to welcome Dr Sophie Chao for her talk Metabolic (In)justice: Food, Hunger, and Ecology on the West Papuan Oil Palm Frontier.

In this seminar, Sophie Chao will examine how Indigenous Marind communities in the Indonesian-occupied province of West Papua experience and theorize food insecurity and malnutrition in the context of plantation-driven environmental transformations. Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the region, the paper considers how Indigenous Marind understand satiety and hunger in the context of traditionally valued forest foods, ecologies, and procurement practices. 

It investigates the multiplicity of new hungers now being produced by agroindustrial incursions, and how these hungers reconfigure relations of eater to eaten within broader fields of power and privilege. The paper further unpacks the diverse explanatory frameworks through which Marind understand hunger’s origins and causes. Proceeding from hhis ethnographic material, the paper articulates the concept of “metabolic (in)justice” to consider the dynamics of absorption, ingestion, and transformation that alternately sustain or undermine organismic wellbeing across individuals and collectives. 

In doing so, it invites interdisciplinary reflection on more-than-human relations of eating and being eaten, set against a broader epoch of ecological unravelling when industrial processes are undermining conditions of life at a planetary scale.

About the speaker

Sophie Chao is Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Sydney. Her research investigates the intersections of Indigeneity, ecology, capitalism, health, food, and justice in the Pacific. Chao is author of In the Shadow of the Palms: More-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua and co-editor of The Promise of Multispecies Justice. 

She is currently working on a second monograph, provisionally titled Hunger: Indigenous Theories from West Papua. Chao previously worked for the Indigenous rights organization, Forest Peoples Programme, in the United Kingdom and Indonesia. She is of Sino-French heritage and lives on unceded Gadigal lands in Sydney, Australia.