Leaders of Color Discuss Structural Racism in the Food System

Hi everyone: This article is amazing and woke. Hopefully we can all read it with an open mind. Also, everyone should follow Civil Eats if they have a Facebook account.

We might finally become the nation that the founders imagined, but could not achieve in their time. However, this is about more than evolving from the colonial roots of our society—where the purpose of some of us was to serve the others—to a “modern society” where some of us “tolerate” (which literally means “put up with”) the others. This will take recognition of the fictions that have sanctioned the systematic deprivation of others. Those fictions are crumbling in our times because it is increasingly becoming undeniable that rank racism exists and that it limits the human potential of some of us (and thereby of the nation as a whole). The food system was one of the organizing axes of the nation’s development, and we live still with the relics of the exploitative history of agriculture and it’s continuing plunder. (Visit any labor camp, dairy operation, meat packing plant, or the ‘back of the house’ of any restaurant for an example.) What we all can do, particularly those of us with national voices, is speak the truth about the way the system actually functions, while simultaneously going about the work of building a better version of our nation’s future.

Malcolm X said something the food movement needs to hear: “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made. They haven’t even begun to pull the knife out. They won’t even admit the knife is there.” We should do right by our humanity and use history as a lens through which to view today’s system of food injustice. History about the soil on which local food is grown. About the blood and bones of Native Americans and slaves in that soil. About the legacy of settler colonialism that allows some people to obsess over kale while those harvesting it can’t afford to buy it.


The ‘“food movement” has historically struggled to center racial justice and more specifically to center and resist anti-Black racism. Given the roots of the agriculture in America, its origins in chattel slavery and violent plantation culture, it is no surprise that we see an evolved and sophisticated continuation of that culture in today’s food system. Rampant exploitation of workers, displacement from land and home via gentrification and foreclosures, inadequate access to quality food, all reinforced by racialized policies. Quite frankly, our modern food system is a true regime of food apartheid that undermines democratic and community control of our food systems. It does so with privatization/corporatization at the expense of people and the planet for profits. The tactics commonly employed by the ‘“food movement” are rooted in changing individual behaviors so much so that we tell people to “vote with their forks,” and have clever puns like the “plate of the union.” Our plates are not united and what’s on your fork can look vastly different if you’re in a red-lined, over-policed community with struggling schools and low-wage jobs. We say if people just had nutrition education, then we can change the system, but systems change doesn’t work like that. We have to organize, we have to engage in direct action and confrontation with the state and corporations. We have to ensure that resisting anti-Black racism is at the core of our campaigns and strategies. That means supporting and following the leadership of low income people of color.  It is critical that anyone engaged in the food movement—or any movement for that matter—have a racial justice analysis and further a racial justice practice. Any movement devoid of that practice is not a movement at all.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s