With the burning of the Amazon rain forest and the devastating fires in Australia, these two major environmental spaces were the lungs of Mother Earth quickly blackening to its last threshold. Therefore, it should be to no one’s surprise that Mother Earth had to recalibrate herself and the emergence of a pandemic virus like COVID-19 is one resulting form that has been fatally attacking peoples’ respiratory systems. The coronavirus has created a real and palpable fear felt globally.
While most mainstream news outlets claim to report “facts not fear,” they continue to conflate panic stories filled with violent market brawls over toilet paper, images of empty market shelves, and footage of people getting up early to wait in long lines outside of Costco. In addition, social media continues to highlight social distancing-stay at home posts through a growing list of celebrities who tested positive with COVID-19 like Tom Hanks and Idris Alba, as well as Daniel Dae Kim—who recently spoke out against societal anti-Asian American bigotry and xenophobia in the nation encapsulated by President Trump’s irresponsible reference of COVID-19 as being the “Chinese virus.”
But the prime suspect for the cause of the coronavirus remains an illegally trafficked scaly mammal called the pangolin, who genetic scientists believe transmitted the virus to humans from a bat. The coronavirus did not manifest from nowhere. Our sadistic treatment and manipulation of animals for centuries has come back to haunt us. Underground wildlife markets and the illegal animal trade will continue as long as there exists a consumer demand for the taste of prized live-animals as trophy dishes.
One of the greatest lessons the pangolin teaches us is that animals do not exist just for our consumption or abuse. In the words of Martin Luther King, “One day the absurdity of the almost universal human belief in the slavery of other animals will be palpable. We shall then have discovered our souls and become worthier of sharing this planet with them.” The contagion reflects the karmic result of our own ignorance and disregard of other species that began in China and has visited us before. How we treat animals affects entire ecosystems and habitats, the only real wealth our species has. China’s ban on wild animal markets may well be the one silver lining in this ensuing global tragedy, but it should become a permanent ban, not a temporary one.
Perhaps, the real reason why a lot of people have become ill and sick is because humanity has become slaves to technology and remain less focused on coexisting as stewards of the planet that we live on. A majority of people are running around overworked, stressed, tired, exasperated, and confused to a point that their immune systems have been wearing down. Each of us embody a piece of the larger dysfunctional economic matrix that we keep trying to elusively maintain and have become dependent on a capitalist machine designed over generations by a handful of elites.
This virus serves as a strong wake-up call reminding people that now more than ever, there is a breakdown in our global community and it remains imperative for us to reconnect and do our part to coexist sustainably—through holistic food systems, environmental sustainability, less of a carbon footprint, etc. With social distancing and “Stay at Home” orders that have shut down schools, large gatherings, churches, and non-essential businesses throughout the nation, one could create a home garden which can provide eco-therapy as well as serve as a supplemental food source.
The home garden concept is not new. During World War I, people planted food gardens called “Victory Gardens” in their residences to grow their own food, mostly as a way of supplementing their rations, by planting vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens in their backyards. Those on the home front were dealing with food shortages and rationing, as well as fear and anxiety, and so victory gardens became a way to boost morale through food security. We might feel stuck at home, waiting out the coronavirus, but we can find some joy and peace of mind by planting an urban garden, indoors and out, vertical along walls and in planters, pots, or barrels.
Beyond home gardens, we need to rebuild our community health system on multiple levels from local, state, to national and it will not happen overnight. As Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti reminds us, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” We have advanced medicine but poor health care and we truly need champions to work quickly on balancing this system.
The outbreak also reminds us that we lack preparation and contingency plans in our systems including education, law enforcement, incarcerated spaces, hospitals and commercial businesses. But this experience has also led to love in a time of the coronavirus with so many rising to challenges from quick response by health workers, custodial staff, farm workers, and grocery workers to creative solutions such as drive-through testing facilities, curbside services, exclusive shopping schedules for senior citizens, free meal programs for children, and universities migrating their classes online within a week. And most inspiring are the simple collective neighborhood food pantries being set up in communities of color and aging suburbs, like where I live in Hacienda Heights, CA, in which many of us have vowed to constantly replenish, especially for the most vulnerable on our block.
During this time, we can do many things on an individual level like moving past narcissistic ego driven tendencies and practicing aloha (love) and cariño (caring) for one another. Perhaps, more people need to return to holistic healing techniques, home remedies and herb knowledges that sustain a healthier personal practice or simply choose to eat brain food versus processed food. While in “Stay at Home” orders, see this time as a space for being creative, connecting with nature, self-healing, strengthening family bonds, or organizing your home. The hope for humanity depends on our ability to use our heart space to redesign our communities that uplifts people based on authentically caring, sharing, and loving one other. And I remain hopeful.
Lani Cupchoy, Ph.D. teaches in the departments of History and Chicanx-Latinx Studies at California State University Los Angeles. She is an award-winning documentary filmmaker specializing in social justice movements, environmentalism, and K-12 schools. Works: Truth Seekers (2016) and Urban Seeds (2019). Wesbite: Lanicupchoy.com.