Last Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) published a parody of herself in a video “story” on Instagram. She suggested that telling Hispanic communities in New York to grow cauliflower instead of yucca constitutes “colonial environmentalism” and that approaches to climate change must involve working with local leaders, rather than imposing one-size-fits-all solutions (*ahem* like the Green New Deal). Yes, this was a real video from Ocasio-Cortez, and not some conservative parody. She is parodying herself.
“What I love too is growing plants that are culturally familiar to the community, so important,” Ocasio-Cortez says in her stream of short videos. “That is such a core component of the Green New Deal is having all of these projects make sense in a cultural context and it’s an area that we get the most pushback on … because people say why do you need to do that? That’s too hard.”
She then attacked one very rational scientific complaint about horticulture as inherently bigoted.
“But when you really think about it, when someone says that it’s too hard to do a green space that grows yucca instead of I don’t know, cauliflower or something, what you’re doing is that you’re taking a colonial approach to environmentalism and that is why a lot of communities of color get resistant to certain environmentalist movements because they come with a colonial lens on them and it should be no surprise that sometimes a lot of these projects don’t work out occasionally because our communities are naturally in tune to live in an environmentally conscious way,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“A lot of us are one or two generations removed from living off the land. My family in Puerto Rico in many ways lives off the land,” she added, as if this should make her an authority on agriculture.
“But if I went to a predominantly white community and said, ‘Ok you guys are going to be growing plantains and yucca and all these things that you don’t know how to cook and that your palate isn’t accustomed to,’ it’s gonna being like cute for a little bit but it’s not easy and you need to make it as easy as possible to kind of just flow into these communities and to make it work,” Ocasio-Cortez argued.
“So the way that you do this right is that you don’t come into a community and impose what you think is right. That is what so many community development projects get wrong,” she said. “What you need to do is plug in and find leaders in these communities and support them and also just pay attention to when they’re speaking about these things.”
On this last point, I agree with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and I think she made a great argument against the Green New Deal. Working with local communities follows a Roman Catholic principle called subsidiarity. The basic idea is that government works best at the smallest, most local level, so reforms need to be tailored to local communities.
This is the exact opposite of the Green New Deal, which sets impossible standards for decarbonization and calls for the mandatory rebuilding of every single building in America. It imposes a “right” for “safe, affordable, adequate housing,” but Americans should be tragically familiar with the kinds of housing the government provides and considers “safe, affordable, and adequate.” Let’s just say people won’t be satisfied, and Ocasio-Cortez’s idea that government should decide what housing counts as “adequate” will strike most community leaders the wrong way.
As for the claims about colonialism, those are both absurd and backward.
First, scientifically speaking, New York is far better suited to the growing of cauliflower than of edible yucca. Cauliflower originated in the Mediterranean and grows in moist soil conditions. Yucca originated in Mexico and grows in arid conditions — even as far north as Canada, but still in dry climates. There is a key reason why yucca does not grow on the coasts, and particularly in New York.
When someone says it is hard to grow yucca in New York, they are not spouting colonialism, but science. Perhaps Ocasio-Cortez should brush up on the subject, if she wants to force America into a new Dark Age by weaponizing the pseudoscience of climate alarmism and scaremongering. Perhaps an interest in actual science will convince her that the alarmists’ models should not be trusted.
Secondly, Ocasio-Cortez’s suggestion that traditional ways of farming coming from indigenous communities should be the model for America’s multicultural economy is laughable. Not only do people of Mexican heritage live in New York, but they are able to purchase plantains and yucca shipped in from Central America. Even if yucca could grow in New York, it would be wiser for New Yorkers to grow foods like cauliflower and sell them to purchase yucca grown elsewhere.
Furthermore, Americans learn to cook various foods all the time, and as the economy makes more types of food more widely available, millennials have branched out in taste and cooking.
As a white man who adores yucca and plantains, I found Ocasio-Cortez’s condescending attack on white people’s provincial tastes quite disgusting. Does this Democrat who would remake America’s economy seriously think that only Latinos should enjoy yucca and plantains? Is it cultural appropriation to enjoy food from other cultures? When some foods are Americanized — Chinese food, for instance — cultural flavors are lost, but millennials are increasingly searching for the authentic flavors of other parts of the world.
Tragically, Ocasio-Cortez’s anti-science rant fits well in the narrative of intersectionality. Based on the idea that indigenous people are oppressed, some have argued that science itself is an oppressive Western construct that must be annihilated. It is ironic, however, to see a Democrat — in the name of science — push something so unscientific as this “indigenous agriculture” of growing yucca in New York. Even with a changing climate, that’s quite a stretch.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.