String Figures and Companion Species: Finding Food Studies in the Chthulucene

Rachael Baker

Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).

Unsettling the foundations of food studies literature in academia requires troubling our conceptualizations of the dominant frameworks of anthropocentrism and capitalocentrism. Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble (2016) encourages “sym-poietic” thinking, that of bringing something into being that has not yet existed.[1] Aligned with the posthumanist feminist theory introduced in her Cyborg Manifesto (1991), Haraway dispels the measurements and valuing of scale, rate/speed, and lifeforms used to distinguish the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, and Plantationocene (the term that she uses to describe the lasting influence of pre-emancipation era slavery on the global economy and human interaction).[2]

Following the lead of the Pimoa cthulhu spider, a resident of the California redwood forests, Haraway suggests “weaving webs” across species, systems, and temporalities, rather than creating points of division within her ’ocene classifications. In an effort to seek connection rather than differentiation, Haraway’s “Chthulucene” encourages imaginative visioning of the current stage of global geopolitical, environmental, systemic, and interspecies relationships. Rather than assuming that we know what to expect of ecosystems as they respond to disasters or changes in their rapidly shifting environments, we ought to consider that the unexpected, such as wild adaptation of companion plant and animal species, is always possible.

The Chthulucene offers us valuable lessons for survival and connection with other earthly companion plants, animals, insects, or fellow mammals who have adapted and survived for much longer than humans. Chthulucene thinking offers a re-reading of global agricultural history that disrupts the anthropocentric narrative of  human dominion over the plant world. It challenges food and environmental scholars to build new connections toward modifying the planet for sustainable existence between humans and companion species. This shape-shifting will require us to learn from evolutionary multispecies pasts, from the ecological developments of seed-spreading plants in the Devonian period to the “monster creatures,” such as spiders, creeping, and crawling beings that survive on all of the earth’s surfaces, waters, and atmosphere. The erosion of indigenous territorial lands or the long-term impact of the mass killing of Navajo sheep in the 1930’s are, Haraway suggests, multispecies and intersystem questions avoided by agribusiness and national food governance for the sake of advancing political or economic domination—tools of the Anthropocene advanced at the cost of companion species.

Food studies scholarship and theory would be broadened by Chthulucene worlding through companion species partnerships and learning. Haraway’s Chthulucene is a timely intervention into the species and geologic boundary-setting of recent Anthropocene and Capitalocene scientific theorizations of food systems, food cultures, and food environments. Still resonant with her 1985 call for “cyborgs for earthly survival,” the Chthulucene asks for an expansive feminist political ecology that upholds multispecies knowledge and multisystems transformation for planetary survival. Haraway challenges us to weave connections across species for the sake of building companionship for survival.


[1] Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).

[2] Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991).


Rachael Baker is a Fulbright alumnus and doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography at York University. She uses feminist qualitative methods and ethnography to investigate racial inequality and social reproduction in urban property markets.