During a recent event hosted by Spelman College and Food Tank, speakers discussed methods of resisting the current food system and reclaiming and preserving Black land and African Diasporic roots.
Speakers highlighted a number of the food system’s most pressing challenges, including racism against Black farmers in the United States. According to Tracy McCurty, Executive Director for the Black Belt Justice Center, one of the most important steps the U.S. government can take is to cancel debt for Black farmers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that roughly 14 percent of farmers in 1920 were Black. By 2017, the number dwindled to less than 2 percent as Black farmers faced decades of discriminatory loan practices, land theft, and overwhelming debt. A “relic of the plantation economy,” McCurty says that this debt continues to be used as a “racialized tool of oppression.”
“[To] restore the Black agricultural land base and have thriving farms, we need land, we need land access…[and] we need to eradicate the debt.”
The speakers also spoke about the importance of leveraging data and technology to address challenges including the climate emergency and public health crisis fueled by diet-related chronic illnesses.
“We have 100 months to reduce global emissions by 40 percent,” Julia Collins, CEO and Founder of Planet FWD states. With her company, she is using available data to help the private sector become carbon neutral.
But Collins also argues that consumers have an important role to play. She encourages individuals to demand businesses reduce their carbon footprint while becoming what she calls climatarians—people whose food and lifestyle decisions are informed by their impact on the environment.
And Riana Lynn, Founder of Journey Foods, is using her company to help all communities eat better. “We need to create something healthier, something that is tasty, something that is accessible, something that’s affordable,” Lynn says.
She also advocates for health practitioners to broaden their notions of healthy eating, beyond euro-centric diets, and to embrace the concept of food as medicine. “I became an entrepreneur because we have to build better food,” Lynns states. “But our doctors have to be willing to learn through different mediums, to learn outside of medical school to practice.”
Building on this idea of collaboration, the multi-disciplinary artist and cultural preservationist Gabrielle E. W. Carter calls for centering inclusive, community-based solutions. “That’s how we problem solve: we come together, and we make sure we identify the actual problem.”
Without this approach, she says, “so much can be lost.” But to do it right, it is essential for advocates to become with their communities before they act. “You need to know your community to have them rally around you.”
Watch the full event here:
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Photo courtesy of USDA