Learning from Zapatista Women

By: Sarra Tekola

My research strives to understand and shift Western society so that we are not dependent on exploitation and extraction. So, it is critical I visit places and people who have created new societies to research how they did it. I recently visited the Zapatista community to learn how they changed their values, their ways of treating each other and the land, and how they created independent economies without recreating capitalism. Being indigenous, many of them did not need to unlearn, but rather resist the modern ways of being. However, patriarchy and hierarchy were systems of oppression they did previously struggle with, so I had many questions for them. While at the Zapatistas First International Women’s Gathering, I had the pleasure of talking with several Zapatista women. Due to my limited Spanish, it ended up being more of an interview – I wrote my questions and had a friend translate them. I want to share some of the things I learned and experienced.

The Zapatistas are an autonomous group of indigenous people leading agrarian livelihoods in Mexico. In 1994, they rose up, taking up arms against the government to fight for their own sovereignty. It was the same year NAFTA passed, and the Zapatistas foresaw the economic crisis that would follow when America’s GMO’ed corn flooded the Mexican market. Mexican farmers couldn’t compete. They lost their livelihoods and entire way of life, increasing migration to the United States.

The Zapatistas have essentially formed their own Nation within Mexico. They felt Mexico was on a dangerous neoliberal path and chose to broke away from it. They have their own government, military, banks, economy, food systems, water systems, and waste systems. On top of this, they operate from a non-hierarchal system; there are no leaders, no bosses and no one is famous. This class system is, in part, why they wear ski masks. The masks only reveal their eyes and birth names and identities are not shared. In this way, everyone is equal; even women have become equal.

Zapatista Women

Zapatista Women lined up in their traditional clothes and Zapatista uniform

Zapatista women have actually gone much further in their fight for women equality than we have in the West. This women’s gathering, above, was organized and created by and for only women. The Zapatista women put it on by themselves and Zapatista men supported by cooking food and watching the children. The Zapatista’s gender norms (or lack thereof) were also evident when we asked them what it was like to be a woman Zapatista. They could not answer the question and usually replied with, ‘what do you mean? There is no difference between a woman and man in the Zapatistas’. Work is shared, and the only gender differences they talked about were due more to biological strength differences than anything else.

Zapatista Women1

The women-only speakers on stage getting ready to perform

My visit and time was most eye-opening when I asked about their perspectives of the West. Many of the women I spoke to are farmers from the Global South; they are “Campesinos” whom most international development agencies would consider in need of aid or development (despite the fact that they are self-sufficient and not interested in western development). They replied that they felt bad for us; we were the ones in need of aid because we are oppressed compared to them. We have bosses who tell us what to do and our bosses own the fruits of our labor. We have to work long hours under a boss who dehumanizes us. The rich people and government have taken all the land and we have no space to farm and grow our own food. We do not own our own time so we do not have enough time to spend with our family.

One woman shared, “us Zapatistas are looking for the right formula so that nobody suffers anymore”. She went on to say that they live free without any bosses, free to grow their own food and live their own life without anyone telling them what to do or how to do it. She said she wants everyone in the world to have access to this freedom. She thinks about us in the City and feels bad because we are so exploited. She said the “Zapatistas fight for your freedom too so that you can know freedom like us”.

I was recently reminded of these challenges when I started looking into buying a home.  Having grown up during the economic recession and Occupy, I had a healthy mistrust of banks. I have made a conscious effort to make sure banks won’t control of my life by never taking out a loan or getting a credit card. I have bought every car and large purchase with cash, and don’t purchase things I can’t afford. I even worked and “scholarshipped” through both undergraduate and graduate school. I have vigilantly worked hard to have no debt. But in America, you have to create debt to buy a house or rent, or really do anything big.

I had received a three-year fellowship that gave me the stability mortgage brokers often look for. And, like the Zapatistas, I was tired of having a boss. Living with landlords, I have been harassed for composting, for attempting to grow food on my own property, for having patio furniture, for keeping my bicycle outside, for training and watching dogs at my house, and for letting friends sleep on my couch. I want to be free – I want to own my land so that I can do what I want, the way I want. There are many sustainable modifications that can be made to a house to use fewer resources, but I could not make these modifications because I did not own my own property. How can I be sustainable if I do not even have control of how I live? In order to fulfill my dream of owning my own land, I had to give up some of my freedom to the banks by creating credit and getting debt. This is exactly what the Zapatistas meant when they said you are not free in this system.

I was so shocked and humbled by my experience – it completely turned my worldview around. I thought I was the privileged one, that I had more “freedom” in America than they had in rural Mexico. Maybe they are right, maybe we are the exploited ones? I don’t know much about what is in the food I eat, and don’t have enough land or time to grow my own food. I also don’t own my own time and don’t get to choose how often I see my family and loved ones. Maybe we are the ones who cannot be free in this system.

Indigenous Corn

Indigenous Corn- What corn previously looked like

The Zapatistas have really opened my eyes up to how exploited we are in the West. They are a reminder of why we need new voices and ideas brought to the table in the field of sustainability. The field of sustainability often attempts to put pressure on individual actions, often only pushing for responsible consumerism (which, in my opinion, is an oxymoron). This is, in part, because of who controls the conversation. If it were the Zapatistas leading the conversation on sustainability, they would push for a world where multinational corporations don’t control everyone’s resources. They are striving for a world where all people experience true freedom, where they have time to grow their own food and spend time with family. To me, this is the true intersection of sustainability and happiness.

Food Is Culture

By Chloe Sykes

In recent decades, the world has shifted toward an industrial, globalized food system with significant cultural implications. Food has become a commodity, giving a few top companies significant control. Cultures lose resilience when they are drowned out by decisions that these top food companies can make for us. We have always relied on locally available staples in order to obtain enough food to survive, which has created vibrant food cultures around the world. We define food cultures by the choices we make. If we all eat the same foods the same way, we are susceptible to the same shortages and diseases. We may lose our cultural identity and unique internal balance, diminishing the resilience of humans as a whole.

Cultural wellbeing can be seen as harmony between cultural expression and cultural ignorance. Cultural balance looks different for each individual depending on their background and values, which is also known as cultural diversity. Cultural diversity is an asset and is encompassed in almost everything we do (Hawkes, 2001, p. 24). From art to family dynamics, to mealtimes, culture dictates rules and norms. A system that fosters a healthy food culture is one that allows for consumer choice and connection to nature. Being reintroduced to the idea of food as a miracle of nature rather than a vacuum-packed commodity could spark a resurgence of food cultures. Close-knit networks between producers and consumers put people back in charge.

The globalized system has been introducing consumers to new and interesting foods from all over the world, connecting cultures that otherwise would have remained separate. With the primary focus often being taste, however, the intrinsic value of the food we eat may start to get lost. Because the globalized food system is relatively young, we are still learning about how to best honor and support local cultures for the entirety of what they are rather than simply the tastes they provide. Local food spaces, farms, and farm to table restaurants can bridge the gap between humans and nature, educate consumers about their food sources, establish relationships with farmers, and communicate the inherent beauty of food cultures. Once we have a conducive space for connection and education, the cultural need to make informed food choices can be met.

We can begin this transition by realizing that sustainable thinking starts at a young age. Incorporating nutrition, food sourcing, cooking, and farming practices into education can transform the health and values of children. We need to take on the responsibility of providing students with the knowledge necessary to make food choices that healthy for them, their community, and the environment (Our Work, 2010). By teaching young audiences about the importance of food, local economies, cultural diversity, and the lives of farmers, communities could be brought closer together, food cultures could be strengthened, and mindsets would shift. My vision is for a new generation of humans to have respectful and deep relationships with food. With the right knowledge about food choices, local food, and cultural wellness, they could put our food systems back in balance. There is enormous potential in where we are headed, and with some mindfulness and intention, we can direct our path toward one of resilience and cultural celebration.

Works Cited

Hawkes, J. (2001). Cultural Displays. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from http://www.mch.govt.nz/sites/default/files/cultural_displays_jon_hawkes.pdf

O’Kane, G. (2016). A moveable feast: Contemporary relational food cultures emerging from local food networks. Appetite, 105, 218-231. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.05.010

Our Work. (2010). Retrieved July 06, 2017, from http://edibleschoolyard.org/our-work

Rozin, P. (2005). The Meaning of Food in Our Lives: A Cross-Cultural Perspective on Eating and Well-Being. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 37, 107-112. doi:10.1016/s1499-4046(06)60209-1

Dancing Through a World of Connection

By: Erica Berejnoi

When I arrived in Tempe almost two years ago, I knew hardly anyone. I arrived alone with four suitcases containing my adult life. After getting settled, I realized I missed my dance community in Kentucky and considered looking for dance organizations on campus. Within the first week of school, a friend invited me to join him in the Tango Club – I did so even though tango wasn’t my interest; I thought I had nothing to lose. I went that week, the week after, and the weeks thereafter – I was hooked, but also struggled. People often say tango is an elegant dance, but I had a hard time dancing to traditional tango music from the Golden Age in Argentina. Due to my distaste, it was difficult for me to trust my senses and to feel and see what other dancers were experiencing. Yet, something clicked within me toward the end of my first semester: I experienced vulnerability, connection, and trust, all at the same time!

A fellow dancer once shared “dancing tango is like falling in love every 12 minutes.” If you are a dancer, you likely understand what this means. If you are not, I will do my best to describe the experience: when you dance with another person, you are constantly connected to them. The other person can sense your emotions, mood, confidence, and ego; your body cannot lie. You stop using your rational mind and move toward a deep level of connection and feeling. With eyes closed, you know exactly where the other person is moving. Fear melts away as you can fully trust the other person. Tango made me feel loved and part of a community. I was learning the importance of quality and
authentic human connection.

I have reflected deeply on my dancing experiences, while observing day-to- day interactions outside of dance. I am interested in why we need connection and how we lose connection with one another. We have evolved to avoid threats and welcome opportunities. [1] Our internal bias for security promotes a desire for safe social environments [2] as we simultaneously seek connections to fulfill emotional, intellectual, and physical pleasures. We are social beings that need to feel part of a group. [3]

We can fulfill our need for social connection not only by interacting with other humans, but also by trying to connect with plants, animals, elements of nature, and our inner selves. Opportunities for connection are everywhere, but we may not see or take advantage of them. Failing to fulfill our biological and social needs for connection may cause feelings of loneliness, which can have detrimental consequences. “Loneliness not only alters behavior but shows up in measurements of stress hormones, immune function, and cardiovascular function. Over time, these changes in physiology are compounded in ways that may be hastening millions of people to an early grave.” 4 A lack of social connection may create mental and emotional unrest, and negatively affect physical health and our ability to perform, as well.

I grew up in South America, where we did not use cell phones and knocked on doors to call our friends to play. Times have changed, and many people today are missing a culture of connection. The spread of communication technology and the rise of a fast-paced society are some of the drivers. We demand more of ourselves than what we can sustainably give, sometimes sacrificing our relationships for more time at work. This may lead to feelings of loneliness and other emotional problems. As a result, we create a cycle of disconnection.

Human connection is what allows societies, cultures, and nations to keep moving. Yet, connection is a gift that we give to or receive from others. Empathy, care, authenticity, reciprocity, and love are some of the “items” inside that gift. These items are essential to developing meaningful connections and inner balance. That connection will allow us to fulfill our biological and social needs. Just as I received a gift of connection in my first semester of tango, I want to pass that gift onto you and invite you to be a participant in authentic and meaningful connection with those around you. It takes courage to take that first step, but once you do it, you will have a completely new experience of connection – one that is deep and powerful. Once you are there, you will be able to pass that gift onto somebody else to dance through a world of vulnerability, connection, and trust.

1. Nesse, R. M. (2004). Natural selection and the elusiveness of happiness. Philosophical
Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 359(1449), 1333-1347.
doi: 10.1098/rstb.2004.1511
2. MacDonald, Geoff, & Leary, Mark R. (2005). Why Does Social Exclusion Hurt? The Relationship
Between Social and Physical Pain. Psychological Bulletin, 131(2), 202-223. ISSN: 0033-2909
3. Eisenberger, N. (2003). Does Rejection Hurt? An fMRI Study of Social Exclusion. Science,
302(5643), 290-292. doi: 10.1126/science.1089134
4. Cacioppo, J. T., & Patrick, W. (2008). Loneliness: Human nature and the need for social
connection. WW Norton & Company.

Happiness and Dirt

By: Jason Tibbetts

Scientists are discovering the link between happiness and dirt. That’s right, getting your hands into some dirt can mean more happiness. Why? Well, apparently there’s a little critter in the dirt known as Mycobacterium vaccae that has similar effects on the human brain as Prozac and other pharmaceuticals but without the negative side effects and chemical dependency. This little bacterium stimulates serotonin production which helps to decrease agitation, anxiety and increase overall happiness. Huh! So, for thousands of years, humans have been domesticating and planting crops, digging wells and canals, digging for minerals, digging to catch animals, digging to make shelters, roads, fields, and fence posts, digging, digging, digging. It’s no wonder that our human habits of churning the earth’s crust have continued unabated into our modern era despite all of our newly developed technology and sophistication!

As a bonus, the effect of the bacteria not only lowers stress and improves mood and vitality, but cognitive function and concentration is improved as well. It gets better! M vaccae has demonstrated anti-mutagenic properties useful in preventing cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease, and in boosting our immune system. Dirt particles may come in direct contact with the blood stream through a cut or abrasion during gardening activities. The means of absorbing the bacteria may or may not matter, but the effects of the contact may last up to three weeks! The testimony that the act of gardening does relieve stress is true – no surprise for some of us.

My kids (ages 5, 3, and 1) recently went to visit their Nanna, Granddad and cousins. Long-term landscape construction resulted in a huge, unavoidable, glorious mound of soil piled in the front yard. There was even a muddy spot next door where a small tree had been removed. My kids played in the dirt and mud and, soon enough, pure filthiness ensued. They discovered that if you pack the dirt just right, you can scoot yourself from the top of the mound to the bottom, face first, as if on the world’s greatest slide. There was dirt in hair, mouths, and little jean pockets.  So, take some advice from my kids. If you want to be happy, make sure to get in a healthy dose of dirt before your bath!



Grant, B. L. (2017, March 27). Soil Microbes And Human Health – Learn About The Natural Antidepressant In Soil. Retrieved February 11, 2018, from https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/soil-fertilizers/antidepressant-microbes-soil.htm

It’s in the Dirt! Bacteria in soil may make us happier, smarter. (2011, January). Retrieved February 11, 2018, from http://www.healinglandscapes.org/blog/2011/01/its-in-thedirtbacteria-in-soil-makes-us-happier-smarter/


Between Love, Happiness and Sustainability


Everyone wants to be loved, because, ultimately, everyone wants to be happy. This is the fundamental truth that I have been discovering over the past year. Love is what moves the world. Love is what makes my kids rise to their full potential when I assured them they have a piece of my heart, and love is what they will share with others. Love is also what oppressors crave when they tyrannize their people; they want to be loved by any means, either by captivating hearts or capturing fearful eyes. Everyone wants to be loved, because love guarantees happiness.

Over the last decade, the idea of happiness has been pouring all around us, and even countries like Bhutan, have implemented, in their constitution, the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH). This is an approach/ philosophy that redirects the government’s focus from economic growth to collective happiness. The GNH, like other holistic philosophies I have studied, emphasizes harmony with nature and traditional values (Ura et al., 2012). But when we think about countries with a strong focus on their citizens’ happiness, we conceive this as a limitation to their economic growth and development (Cloutier, Jambeck, & Scott, 2014); for us, economic progress is the path to achieving happiness. However, this understanding of happiness is problematic, because we correlate happiness to material consumption and the exploitation of natural and social resources. And this path to “happiness” creates unsustainable individuals and societies.

Today, in our pursuit of love and happiness, we have managed to disconnect ourselves from our real needs for love, nature, and harmony. Although we are a social species by nature, our social isolation has been growing in part due to new technologies and our economic system. Technological advances replaced outdoor activities and physical partners, and our capitalist ideals removed cultural practices in the name of progress. And thus, today we have given birth to children that do not see the imperative in caring for and relying on others, hindering their capacity to live a healthy, happy life. Consequently, depression levels have increased, diseases are rampant and cared for in isolation. Trust has become scarce, and personal space keeps expanding while we perish in our illusion of unsustainable, material happiness.

But if we put aside our consumerist behaviors, our economic greed, and individualism, we can engage in a sustainable and happy world (Corral-Verdugo et al., 2011). There is a strong correlation between sustainability and happiness (O’Brien, 2013). Studies have shown that sustainability behaviors such as pro-ecological, frugality, and altruism can also promote a state of psychological restoration (De Youong, 1991; Iwata, 2000; Corral-Verdugo et al., In press). In other words, a state free of stressors that make us unhappy (Corral-Verdugo et al., 2011). Then, if sustainability is relevant not only to the well-being of our planet but also to our happiness, we found our golden ticket. Like O’Brien (2013) says “Happiness, meet sustainability; Sustainability, meet happiness.” In this couple, we have the tools to promote a healthy and joyful society. We have the tools to create connections based on altruism, mindfulness, and ultimately love, love for ourselves, for others, and love for all living organisms in this world. Once we achieve love, sustainability will be a norm and happiness our everyday.



Cloutier, S., Jambeck, J., & Scott, N. (2014). The Sustainable Neighborhoods for Happiness Index (SNHI): A metric for assessing a community’s sustainability and potential influence on happiness. Ecological Indicators, 40, 147–152. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2014.01.012

Corral-Verdugo, V., Mireles-Acosta, J., Tapia-Fonllem, C., & Fraijo-Sing, B. (2011). Happiness as correlate of sustainable behavior: A study of pro-ecological, frugal, equitable and altruistic actions that promote subjective wellbeing. Human Ecology Review, 18(2), 95–104. https://doi.org/10.3390/su5020711

De Young. R. (1991). Some psychological aspects of living lightly: Desired lifestyle patterns and conservation behavior. Journal of Environmen- tal Systems, 20, 2\5-2

Iwata. 0. (2001). Attitudinal determinants of environmentally responsible behavior. Social Behavior and Personality, 29, 183-190

O’Brien, C. (2013). Happiness and sustainability together at last! Sustainable happiness. Canadian Journal of Education, 36(4), 228–256.

Ura, K., Alkire, S., Zangmo, T., & Wangdi, K. (2012). An Extensive Analysis of GNH Index. The Centre for Bhutan Studies.