Pakistani Peasants, Vegetarianism, and the GU272; Professor Rizvi Shares the Importance of Letting Curiosity Lead
Red House Dinner Series, events, newsThe 2019-2020 Red House Dinner Series kicked off last Thursday night with Professor Mubbashir Rizvi. An Assistant Professor in the Cultural Anthropology Department of the College, Professor Rizvi was the perfect person to start the Series, of which this year’s focus is working toward equity across disciplines. Over the course of a single dinner, Professor Rizvi engaged students in a wide variety of topics ranging from land-rights in Pakistan to the GU272 to vegetarianism. The conversation was as varied as the classes he teaches: Environmental Anthropology, Islam in the African American Experience, and Memory, Monuments, and Amnesia are just a few. What ties them all together? The human stories they embody.
Having immigrated from Pakistan to the U.S. as a child, Professor Rizvi always felt driven to do something to make his family proud and forge a path for himself. This took a different form than he imagined though, when he had his first experience with anthropology in college. He recognized anthropologists as “people listening to life stories” and really trying to “understand the human side of a larger story” of globalization and human interactions. Pivoting from plans to be a lawyer or doctor (though he did go on to earn a PhD in Anthropology), Professor Rizvi chose to follow his curiosity and compassion for the human experience.
This led him back to Pakistan to study the Anjuman Mazarin Punjab (AMP), a group of Christian and Muslim tenant sharecroppers who successfully resisted the Pakistan military’s bid to monetize state-owned land until 2012. Fascinated by individuals’ stories as well as the larger forces at play, Professor Rizvi wrote his dissertation about “Land, Labor, and Politics of Place in Pakistan,” and then published a book last Spring, titled The Ethics of Staying, that fully detailed the social and political implications of the AMP. His work around Pakistan was just the beginning, however, and Professor Rizvi has since followed his interests to explore social and political movements around the world and right here in DC.
Bringing the conversation closer to home, Professor Rizvi switched gears to address student questions about the hard history of the Georgetown area. He raised the difficult question of why here, in the nation’s capital – a place full of monuments and memory – some narratives are missing. He explained that “history is one thing, but memory is something else,” describing the way our collective memory tends to oversimplify the past. He challenged students to think critically about history and have the difficult conversations necessary to truly come to terms with the events that made Georgetown what it is today. It is bigger than just the GU272; there are more stories to be told. His current project, “The Memory Walk,” aims to bring to light some of the unrecognized history of the Georgetown area (such as the slave market that preceded the farmers market commemorated in the building that, until recently, housed Dean and Deluca.)
Branching off from how people interact with place, the conversation then turned to environmental justice, and more specifically, vegetarianism. After confessing his own abandonment of the vegetarian diet after eight years (a homemade chicken curry in Pakistan was too tempting), Professor Rizvi discussed how the experience of vegetarianism depends on the context. Acknowledging that industrial meat production is a huge environmental issue, Professor Rizvi also commented on the “steak-ification of the world” (the adoption of overly meat-centered western diets) and the way that different social, economic, and political factors affect individual choices – all the way down to their diets. Would the meat industry be so prolific if it weren’t for government subsidies of corn and soy? And what are the social consequences of not being a vegetarian in a predominantly Hindu nation such as India?
By sharing his own interests, Professor Rizvi encouraged students to follow their own. And by illustrating the connection between things that at first seemed so separate, Professor Rizvi left us to ponder the ways in which human stories are influenced, told, and commemorated. While not everyone may be curious about farmers in Pakistan or environmental justice, it’s clear that understanding the human experience is not confined to a single subject. Perhaps this can guide our thinking about equity by reminding us to start by simply considering the whole story.
The next Dinner Series will be a conversation with Professor Sarah Vittone of the NHS later this month. Students can join the Red House Student Network listserv here to be the first to receive information about signups and stay up to date about all upcoming Red House events. You can also visit our Facebook page for event updates from the Red House.