Post-Corona Food Collectives in Indonesia

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Description

Gabriela Laras Dewi Swastika:

"Since March 2020 in Yogyakarta, there are collectives who have been engaging to provide food sources for affected people, yet donations have been opened and collected. They build public kitchens, prepare food granaries for villagers, and distribute meals. Some of the collectives are Dapoer Bergerak, Solidaritas Pangan Jogja, and Sama-sama Makan. In this circumstance, we can see that food sovereignty is key. If food ever understood as a commodity which has a given price so that it could be consumed, in this situation food becomes a commons—which is expected to be shared. Food as commons won’t exist without donations, or the flow of money, where the initiators can process food into ready-to-eat meals and distribute it to those who are in need. How is food then understood as the embodiment between commons and commodity? How do the collectives apprehend “gotong royong” or mutual help as a manifestation of local wisdom of people helping one another in Yogyakarta? How do the parties who initiate food sovereignty interpret commons in the midst of pandemic? Some of these questions can be answered through examining people narrative, thus narrative tells the strategy of inhabitants’ viability facing COVID-19 pandemic.

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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the areas in Yogyakarta, collectives emerged and took initiatives to collect aids. They opened a voluntary donation channel so that they could buy comestibles (resources) and process them into ready-to-eat meals. Some of the notable collectives in Yogyakarta are Sama-sama Makan (“Together We Eat”), Solidaritas Pangan Jogja (“Jogja Food Solidarity”), and Dapoer Bergerak (“Motile Kitchen”). They focus their movement on producing nutritious ready-to-eat food and open public kitchens to prepare those meals. Sama-sama Makan provides food for creative workers who are affected by the pandemic. Dapoer Bergerak focuses on voluntary cooks and serves meals in a healthy and sustainable way, while Solidaritas Pangan Jogja navigates the partnership of people who are willing to open their private kitchens and maps food distribution.

These three collectives have similarities that underlie their work, namely: providing food that is easily accessible; working independently but still involving other people voluntarily; mapping and recording distribution of food; giving aid to the vulnerable groups. These collectives operate in the local area with resources that are close to each other. In addition, they can manage donation of money or raw food given by other donors. Sama-sama Makan, Solidaritas Pangan Jogja, and Dapoer Bergerak then no longer distribute aids in the form of money, which means that there is no exchange of value involved. What exists then is handing over the material forms (nutritious food) and use value of food for survival. The parties receiving help are vulnerable groups in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as poor families, labourers, pedicab (becak) drivers, small informal sector merchants, and daily workers, as well as creative workers (especially for Sama-sama Makan). What is distributed is not only ready-to-eat food; Dapoer Bergerak and Solidaritas Pangan Jogja also distribute food packages containing rice, eggs, cooking oil, milk for kids or toddlers, and groceries." (https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/seac/2020/10/20/food-sovereignty-in-covid-19-pandemic-the-narrative-of-commons/)


Discussion

Gabriela Laras Dewi Swastika:


The role of commons in food:

"The call to make food as commons isn’t to be comprehended as a reaction to neoliberal capitalism, but as an internal and critical expression of liberal democracy. Can liberal democracy—an institution founded on private property and individual rights—promote a socialised property regime like food commons? Food as a commons narrative carefully questions the constitutional structure of the liberal state under corporate actors in the food chain. As an alternative, food commons offers a broader nuance of the communicative realm, not only in constitutional aspect but also extending to the discursive sources of order. The food commons, therefore, presents opportunities for discursive democracy for civil actors to demonstrate governance. The goal is to form a socialised and de-commodified food regime (Vivero-Pol, et al., 2019: 320).

Commons is also extended to the intangible aspects of social life, it is represented through creative works, cultural practices, and knowledge—in this case, we find when the collectives implement the idea of “gotong royong” (mutual help) on volunteerism and for non-profit work. Demonstrating the act of sharing is actually an asset for commons. The key to gotong royong as intangible commons is locality. In the midst of a pandemic that has become the issue of global modernity and as a result of the movement among people who have fused geographical boundaries, the collectives come up to answer the need for local resources and local access. Home-grown food resources are processed by the closest people who are bound by a sense of solidarity. They also offer alternative movement in the practice of commoning. Commoning practice suggests the rights of individuals who belong to the collective to access regulated usage by members; commoning may also differ between regions, seasons, or time span. Again, when we talk about the locality aspect, given its particular nature which the desired outcome is not predetermined but shaped by the relationships between the various members within the collective and those outside the collective—usually donors and volunteers. Mutual expectations among actors manifested through ethics, norm, belief, and habit create a situation in which mutual cooperation is something rational, not competitive. Thus enabling the sustainable usage and management of the common good in a relatively small scale.

The narrative of food commons assumes that food sharing is a material basis for transformation in a capitalist regime and an ideal force to democratic discourse. The narrative is powerful enough to refashion the mode of governance in a risk society. More clearly, the identification of food as an open social construct with fluid boundaries can deprive food of its character as a commodity. Food as a commons adopts the principle of abundant food, that is, food as a renewable resource and sufficiently accessible. Therefore food as commons suppresses the logic of self-centred capitalism that only benefits or gives profit to certain actors and the market. Commons and the models of collective action require a certain level of trust and expectancy, as well as a dependency (hence there is a mutual help—gotong royong) that are spread across all members in the future.

These attributes cannot be assumed to be common amongst all food citizens on the basis of being “eater”, any claim to the commonality that obscure difference and embedded asymmetries between actors is likely to reproduce them. We cannot ignore that the members of the commons coming from asymmetrical power relation. Every individual in the practice of commoning is connected to each other because of the common resource of the social structure formed previously by existing relations of power where there are different divisions of labor and status, starting from class, gender, ethnicity, and age. Examining the issue of asymmetrical relations in the practice of commoning in Yogyakarta, the actors or agents involved in the collective do not come from the same power. While those who donate provide bigger funds than those who volunteer, the volunteers themselves are capable to contribute labour and provide other facilities, such as a kitchen for cooking and transportation to distribute meals. Poor families, daily workers, and handicapped groups who are vulnerable do not come from a more benefited circumstance than those who are aid providers. However, due to the transformative-resistant attitude, they are united in the sense of food commons.

Various loci of resistance against hegemonic narratives emerged in many places: one of them is close to me, having happened in Yogyakarta. Dapoer Bergerak, Sama-sama Makan, and Solidaritas Pangan Jogja have a common thread in the form of food which encourages them to practice commoning when the pandemic repels Yogyakartans. They have taken the chance and overcome obstacles to operate in the niche arena by enabling a transformative food movement. While COVID-19 pandemic was occurring globally, they have reclaimed the narrative of globalisation from below by preserving locality. By this writing, I hope that readers who have experienced the pandemic, not only in Indonesia or Southeast Asia, but around the globe, will notice what these struggles are for. Even though Yogyakarta has now entered the “new normal” period and the aid distribution has been completed, the consciousness that food is a basic human right and of the food commoning practice does not stop here. This is the embodiment of agency in food transitions, as the global food system begins to shift to a more sustainable dimension. Niche transformation and globalisation from below having root in the locality will gradually develop through a learning process, and the expansion of social networks and supporting the intent of the process rather than the end can help to question, break down, and destabilise the capitalistic mode of foodways. It can also help to bring a mode of production which is not formed by exploitation and adequately dealing with risks in modern society." (https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/seac/2020/10/20/food-sovereignty-in-covid-19-pandemic-the-narrative-of-commons/)