Activist, filmmaker and bestselling author Raj Patel was disguised as a genetically engineered tomato when he met Rupa Marya, MD, more than a decade ago. They were at an organized protest against the use of pesticides, and Marya – who is both a musician and a doctor – played a show at the event with her band, who tour around the world Rupa and the April Fish. Patel says the two quickly became friends.
Patel is a widely read author, perhaps best known for his New York Times and international best-selling book. The value of nothing. He is one too filmmakers and a research professor in the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin. Marya is one associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), whose research examines the intersections of social structures and disease, and the Effects of the culture of colonialism on health. She is also the managing director and chairman of the board Circle of Deep Medicinea women-led, worker-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the San Francisco Bay Area focused on decolonizing agriculture and restoring relationships with nature through food.
Recently, Marya and Patel co-authored the book Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injusticepublished by Macmillan in 2021.
“We had planned the book for years, and it was picked up by a publisher when the pandemic hit the US [in spring 2020]’ Patel says. “Our life during the pandemic has been consistent with writing. Together we have witnessed wildfires, climate refugees, prolonged COVID-19, deaths of loved ones due to COVID-19, food system diseases, racism and gun violence. We wove that pain and anger through the book.”
Her book highlights the links between health and structural injustices prevalent in modern societies, and its structure continues through various anatomical systems of the body, serving as a framework to discuss not only health crises facing society, but also injustices related to nutrition, racism, climate and the medical industry and beyond.
“The vision was to have a book that would subvert the way the body is taught as individual separate systems within the body,” says Patel. “As you move through the book, it becomes increasingly clear that you cannot understand, for example, the gut without understanding the brain and the complexities of systems within systems.”
The common thread throughout the book is inflammation and the many interconnected ways in which our bodies, our society, and our planet are all “inflamed.”
Patel says he and Marya’s conversation about inflammation began after a “powerful” lecture Marya gave at the University of Texas, where he attended.
“As I drove her to the airport, I realized that my work on food systems and struggles of the peasant and working class in the Global South coincided with hers on the frontline of struggles for indigenous and racial justice [both our works] were knit together by inflammation,” he says.
Patel explains that inflammation is the body’s natural response to impending damage, which is a necessary beginning of the healing process—that is, until the causes of inflammation become a constant.
“If the damage — and its threat — occurs every day, the body never has a chance to heal,” he says. “Damage and risk of harm are not evenly distributed. Social injustice — the fear of losing your car, your home, or your life to people in power because of an actual or perceived violation — is something working-class, women, and people of color communities can feel on a daily basis. This threat does just as much real harm as exposure to pollution, extreme weather, and the daily physical harm these people face in the workplace. The accompanying inflammation leaves the bodies of people in these communities in a lifetime of ill health than the wealthiest white men on earth could ever imagine.”
As the book’s subtitle suggests, the book explores the idea of ”deep medicine,” which Marya explains is a way of seeing and relating to how larger social structures contribute to disease, and then working with that understanding to to redesign these structures.
The concept of deep medicine, says Marya, contrasts with “superficial medicine,” which tends to focus on the root cause of the disease that originates in a single individual. She says that working on the book allowed her and Patel 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, and history and cosmologies.”
With her band, Marya has toured 29 different countries over the decades. She says as she kept returning to the same communities over the years, she was able to see certain patterns related to how people got sick and who did or didn’t get sick. She says these observations became the basis that eventually led to the concepts discussed in it inflamed.
“The book was created based on these insights while traveling,” she says. “[About 18 years ago] I started noticing that all these different groups that were marginalized, socially oppressed, or from communities that survived colonization were suffering. People suffered in very similar ways. I started calling it ‘colonized syndrome’.”
She says the communities she and Patel have been able to witness 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 relationships.” to each other and to the web of life that keeps us sane.”
Patel says that when the two co-authors recognized that inflammation is like a connecting cord between physical health and the many injustices of today’s socioeconomic systems, the problem was figuring out what to include in the book and what to leave out because they Evidence connecting physical inflammation to that of the planet and the machinations of colonial capitalism was beginning to emerge everywhere.
“Once you see inflammation, its pathways, and causes and effects, you can’t miss it,” he says. “The New York Times ran a piece racing to steal the microbiome of indigenous communities in the Amazon to treat those in the Global North whose guts have been bared by urban life,” adds Patel. “This kind of colonial plunder is exactly what we predicted in the book.”
Patel says he enjoyed learning from Marya how the body “carries the insults of capitalism through the mind to the cellular level.”
“Learning how payday loans are linked to higher rates of inflammatory markers and that the best medicine is not an anti-inflammatory pill but to ban payday loans was something that surprised me that I was surprised. It seems obvious now, but it was a surprising thing to find out while we were writing [the book].”
Since its release, says Patel inflamed has been used and quoted in movements around the world. If he could leave readers with one takeaway from the book, it would be “organize!” he says.
“There’s nothing in the book that you can really do on your own,” he says. “Sure, eat healthy, turn off your phone at night, sleep well, exercise, and spend time in the web of life. These are all things that, if you can do them, you probably already can. The problem is that the ability to do so is not evenly distributed. Until everyone is sure, nobody is. And capitalism doesn’t allow everyone to be safe. So the medicine [to cure this situation] is to go beyond capitalism. This cannot be done by individual will. Only through collective power. So get organized!”
April M. Short is an editor, journalist, documentary filmmaker and producer. She is a writing fellow at Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She previously served as senior editor at AlterNet and as an award-winning senior contributor for the Santa Cruz, California weekly newspaper.
Source: Independent Media Institute
Credit line: This item was produced by Local Peace Economya project of the Independent Media Institute.