Growing Justice: Transcending racism in the food system

Originally published at The Next System Project, a Washington D.C.-based think tank aimed at finding systemic solutions to systemic problems, this piece by Michelle Stearn delves into the past, present, and future of the injustices sewn deep into the U.S. food system.

Teenage residents at Paradise Community Peace Garden build a new future by growing their own food.

Teenage residents at Paradise Community Peace Garden build a new future by growing their own food.

Across the United States, people are waking up to new understandings of our collective history, creating a discourse around liberation from systemic oppression and connecting the dots between state-sanctioned violence and oppression of the Black community. This is the case for Marvin Brown, whose new work “A Civic Economy of Provisions” is part of the Next System Project’s series “New Systems: Possibilities and Proposals,” aimed at bringing fresh solutions to systemic problems. The locus of Brown's piece is the U.S. food system. 

In his piece, Brown starts by reminding us of the origins of our capitalist system: the initiation of the trans-Atlantic trade of the 15th through 18th centuries. He highlights the changes that took place in the pervasive theories of property and property relations during this time, as the proponents of the new economic practices needed to justify their distinctly inhumane labor practices (namely, the enslavement of millions of Africans) in order to feed the addictions generated by their new global system—an international economy fueled by mass cultivation and consumption of cash crops such as sugar, tobacco, cotton, and alcohol.

With the advent of a new global economy, then-novel theories emerged to perpetuate the perception of property and ownership of the colonial era. Adam Smith and his cohorts’ postures, for instance, helped rationalize the enslavement of millions of African people—the true “invisible hands” of capitalism. Invisible, so to speak, insofar as they guided the economy toward prosperity and growth—at least for those who owned the property, both human and non-human....