‘Inflamed: Deep Medicine And The Anatomy Of Injustice’ reveals a critical observation – that inflammation repeatedly links poor health and structural injustice, writes April M short.
They were at a protest against the use of pesticides and Marya – a musician and 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 international articles and bestsellers book, The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy. 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 Circle: a women of color, worker-led, non-profit organization in the San Francisco Bay Area focused on decolonizing agriculture and restoring a relationship with nature through the feed.
Recently, Marya and Patel co-wrote the book Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice.
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]. Our lives during the pandemic resonated with the writing. Between us, we have experienced wildfires, being climate refugees, a long COVID-19, deaths of loved ones from COVID-19, food system diseases, racism and gun violence. We braided that pain and anger through the book.
Their book highlights the links between health and the structural injustices prevalent in modern societies, and its structure runs through different anatomical systems of the body as a framework for discussing not only the health crises facing society, but also food injustices, racism, climate, the medical industry and beyond.
The vision was to have a book that overturned the way the body is taught, as separate individual systems within the body. As you progress through the book, it becomes increasingly clear that you cannot 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 watching her “powerful” speech at the University of Texas.
“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 his on the front lines of struggles for Indigenous and racial justice, and [both spheres of work] were woven together by inflammation.”
Patel explains that inflammation is the body’s natural response to the threat of damage, which is a necessary start to the healing process – until the causes of inflammation become a constant.
When damage – and its threat – occurs every day, the body never has a chance to heal. Damage and 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 its 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 that. understanding to rethink these structures.
The concept of deep medicine contrasts with “shallow medicine”, which tends to focus on the cause of illness originating from a single individual. Marya says that in working on the book, she and Patel were able to combine insights and research from years of working with communities around the world in “a discussion of food systems and land use, medicine and biology and 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 in relation to how people got sick and who did or didn’t get sick. Marya says these observations became the groundwork that eventually led to the concepts covered in Inflamed.
“The book was born out of these travel ideas. [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”.
Marya says the communities she and Patel each had a chance to see and work with informed the story they told in their book
“…that is, our bodies, our societies, and our planet are damaged by the same cosmology that has severed our relationships with each other and with the web of life that keeps us healthy.”
Patel says once he and Marya realized 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. “connecting 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. The ‘New York Times’ published a room on the race to steal the microbiome of the indigenous communities of the Amazon to heal those of the Global North whose guts have been stripped by living in the cities.”
“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 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, Raj Patel says Inflamed has been used and quoted in movements around the world. And if he could leave readers with only one takeaway from the book, it would be to “organize.”
Patel points out:
There’s nothing in the book that you can really do on your own. 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’re probably already doing. The problem is that the ability to do so is not evenly distributed. Until everyone is safe, no one is. And capitalism will not leave everyone safe.
So the medicine [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!
April M Short is an editor, journalist and documentary editor and producer.
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