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Keepin’ It Real: A Vision of Race & Food in 2044

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”

-T. E. Lawrence, "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom"

As the Rev. Dave Ostendorf, then-Executive Director of the Center for New Community, wrote more than four years ago, “Wherever food is produced, picked, processed, packed, or purveyed, low-wage workers of color predominate in the hard, dangerous jobs that feed the world.”

Mind you, race and class are implicated no less in the dynamics of food sovereignty, food safety, food security, land ethics, and food movement than they are in matters of economic justice and worker safety in food industries. Members of the Food Solutions New England (FSNE) network probably need little convincing on this point. However, for a refresher I recommend to you the recent Haas Institute report, The US Farm Bill: Corporate Power and Structural Racialization in the United States Food System.

Okay. Pause.

Now let’s imagine a United States where the interplay of race and food looks very different. The year is 2044. Race still matters – forget colorblindness, scratch post-racialism – but the struggles around race are different, healthier, less divisive. What would a United States in a much better place on race-and-food look like, sound like, feel like? If some “seeds” of change are in place right now, in 2016, what are they? How can we get from here to there?

You’re probably familiar with the game kids sometimes play when, say, they want to divide a big cookie fairly. One kid splits the cookie; the other chooses which piece she gets. Suppose through some weird quirk we couldn’t know what racial or ethnic identities our own children would have? Regardless of your own race or your partner’s, your children could be white, black, Latino, Asian American, Native American, multiracial – or whatever our racial terminology in 2044.

Suppose US-born citizens could well find themselves the loving parents of undocumented Mexican immigrant children?

What would it mean to cut the food systems cookie fair and square, knowing that your child might get stuck perpetually with the smaller piece? How might you change the way food corporations are regulated? What changes to our immigration system would make sense? What about how the mass media cover food issues?

What if, over the next three decades, FSNE's values, strategies, and practices proved wildly successful, taking hold not only in New England, but rapidly earning converts and meaningful wins across the country? What would that look like?

Why 2044? Because 2044 is currently forecast by the US Census Bureau as the year the United States becomes a country with no racial majority. Most Americans assume that in light of recent demographic trends such a tipping point is inevitable and that, once achieved, the moment will be of practical as well as symbolic significance. (Color me skeptical on both counts – but that’s a different post!)

Whether or not demography proves to be destiny, 2044 is a convenient focal point for meditations on the future of the food system – far enough away (28 years) for significant change to occur, not so far as to encourage complete flights of fantasy.

I’m throwing down the gauntlet, FSNE peeps! If we cannot articulate a positive vision of a food system future distinct from and preferable to our present, how can we expect skeptics to embrace the struggle – and, yes, perhaps the sacrifice – required to get there?

In 2044 I hope that my two young brown-skinned daughters will be much more favorably oriented toward the many faces of the food system than so many of their peers are now. My future self will be delighted to thank future-you for all the work you’ll have done to make it so.

 

Andrew Grant-Thomas serves on the board of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and is co-founder of EmbraceRace, an online community of support about race and raising kids. Andrew was previously the Director of Programs at the Proteus Fund, a national foundation committed to advancing justice through democracy, human rights and peace, and, prior to that, the Deputy Director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the Ohio State University.

Featured image of UMass Amherst Dining courtesy of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation.