Racism and Capitalism: Dual challenges for the food movement
The keynote speakers at the 2014 University of Vermont Food Systems Summit were invited to contribute commentaries to this issue of the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development, which also includes presenters’ papers. Keynote speaker Food First Executive Director Eric Holt-Giménez’s commentary follows.
Our modern food system has co-evolved with 30 years of neoliberal globalization that privatized public goods and deregulated all forms of corporate capital, worldwide. This has led to the highest levels of global inequality in history. The staggering social and environmental costs of this transition have hit people of color the hardest, reflected in the record levels of hunger and massive migrations of impoverished farmers in the global South, and the appalling levels of food insecurity, diet-related diseases, unemployment, incarceration, and violence in underserved communities of color in the global North.
The U.S. food movement has emerged in response to the failings of the global food system. Everywhere, people and organizations are working to counteract the externalities inherent to the “corporate food regime.” Understandably, they focus on one or two specific components—such as healthy food access, market niches, urban agriculture, organic farming, community supported agriculture, local food (farm to table), food and farmworkers’ rights, animal welfare, pesticide contamination, seed sovereignty, genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling, etc.—rather than the system as a whole. But the structures that determine the context of these hopeful alternatives remain solidly under control of the rules and institutions of the corporate food regime, e.g., the farm bill, the free trade agreements, the USDA, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, USAID, global supermarket oligopolies, meat, fisheries, grain, seed, and input oligopolies, and big philanthropy.
Neoliberal globalization has also crippled our capacity to respond to the problems in the food system by destroying much of our public sphere. Not only have the health, education, and welfare functions of government been gutted; the social networks within our communities have been weakened, exacerbating the violence, intensifying racial tensions, and deepening cultural divides. People are challenged to confront the problems of hunger, violence, poverty, and climate change in an environment in which social and political institutions have been restructured to serve global markets rather than local communities.
Notably, the food justice movement has stepped up—supported largely by the nonprofit sector—to provide services and enhance community agency in our food systems. Consciously or not, in many ways the community food movement, with its hands-on, participatory projects for a fair, sustainable, healthy food system, is rebuilding our public sphere from the ground up. This is simply because it is impossible to do one without reconstructing the other.
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Holt-Giménez, E. (2015). “Racism and capitalism: Dual challenges for the food movement.”
Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. Advance online publication.