Existing in a capitalistic society surrounded by extensive shopping centers and fast food drive-through establishments at every corner, nearly 1 in 4 households experienced an increase in food insecurity in 2020. The rise in food insecurity is prevalent in food deserts, the geographical regions described by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as “low-income communities located more than one mile from a reliable source of fresh produce and other healthy whole foods.”
Oftentimes, residents of food deserts lack reliable transportation, and are limited to processed food selections that are high in fat, salt and sugar. As a response to this troubling news, a group of queer and trans Latinx community activist in Atlanta got together in Israel Tordoya’s backyard, and resolved to empower people to take food systems into their own hands. They took on the name Mariposas Rebeldes- Rebellious Butterflies and started a food security movement. Mariposas Rebeldes teaches Atlantans to grow food through pre-colonial agricultural techniques, botanical walks, workshops, and virtual drag shows.
Some of the workshops include mushroom cultivation and foraging, making fire cider, and working with locally-foraged herbs through the indigenous Mesoamerican practice of Nixtamalization (a way to treat corn for use in foods like tortillas).
In an interview with Vogue, Tordoya described food as the best medicine, “Is our current pharmaceutical system really the best way to make people healthy? Or is this just like putting a Band-Aid on the wounds that capitalism and the pollution of our planet is causing?”
Mariposas cofounder Wotko Tristán describes food autonomy as the capacity for a person to choose what foods they can grow, through what process, and how to enjoy, and share it. The perfect picture of food autonomy is one where the community’s needs are satisfied. “We don’t have that anywhere in the world,” he told Vogue.
Mariposas Rebeldes has a unique organizational structure. There are no leaders, “Membership remains flexible. Participating community members can take what they need and leave what they don’t.” Although they originally began in Tordoya’s garden, the focus is on the collective. One member named, Edric Figueroa notes that many members come from migrant worker families who work the land but cannot enjoy its fruits,
“They harvest food, yet live in conditions that prevent them from reaping the fruits of their labor. We need to build our own gardens, reclaim our own land, so that Latinx and Black folks aren’t just the ones who are harvesting food for everyone else,” insists Figueroa.
One recent and important moment for Mariposas Rebeldes, was their first time hosting the Dandelion Fest, an event inspired by traditional Mexican markets called “Cambalache” (Exchange/Trade). For the event Mariposas Rebeldes joined with partners like the Atlanta Resistance Medics and the Buford Highwway’s Peoples Hub to offer mental health information. The rules for the fest are simple, no money allowed, only trade and gifting. This event is designed as an opportunity to learn about sustainability as an alternative to capitalism. On their social media, Mariposas Rebeldes made a comment about the importance of events like the Dandelion Fest,
“Moments of celebration, dancing, rest, are essential forms of resistance in a society that values us only when we are consuming and alive. When we are no longer living, society moves on, because we are no longer able to extract, consume, and produce. This is how capitalism has trained us to function. At Dandelion Fest, we created a space to honor our transcestors in a collective way.”
There is a strong respect for LGBT members in Mariposas Rebeldes, “We Invite individuals to bring offerings and/or images of their queer/trans loved ones.” This organization does exist in the middle of the bible belt, so creating a safe space for people that might have not been accepted elsewhere is one of their key values. Edric Figueroa mentions,
“We’re an intergenerational chosen family of queer and trans Latinx folks from different countries, different backgrounds, but we all share this common goal of liberation through food and reconnecting with our roots.”
Flor Chavez Barriga is an undergraduate student at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA studying History and Sociology with a focus on research. She was born in Michoacan, Mexico, and grew up in Atlanta surrounded by the rich history of Martin Luther King’s legacy. She previously attended Freedom University where she was given the opportunity to achieve higher education, while also learning about collective action and human rights. Flor is passionate about the south’s reaction to immigration with its restrictive policies and infamous detention centers. She hopes to highlight the voices of communities in the south that have helped combat all the hurdles that continue making immigrant lives harder.