i’m going to open this with a story.
when i first moved into on campus housing at Hampshire college i had a Peruvian roommate. upon learning that i’m a vegan she one day said to me “at least you’re not the kind to eat quinoia”. she then went on to explain to me that quinoa is a staple in the diets of peruvian peoples because of its nutritional benefits, such as high protein, high fiber, low calories, ect. but because the demand for quinoa in the united states has skyrocketed, people in Peru and other places where quinoa is an indigenous crop are no longer able to afford it. this means they have to shift their diets to what’s immediately available in order to survive the quinoa outsourcing boom, such as an increase in meat consumption to supplement the protein they would have gotten from quinoa in order to survive. this shift in how peruvians and other people access food in order to survive is causing a spike in diabetes, obesity, and other health problems that weren’t as significant before the quinoa boom. from a health and food justice standpoint, the quinoa boom is causing health disparities in people who had otherwise been able to survive for years.
interestingly enough, she was telling this to someone who had never eaten quinoa in her life, and quite honestly didn’t know what the fuck it was until she explained it.
there’s a lot of issues with what i’m going to call white supremacist food culture, the ways in which U.S commits food imperialism when we imports good as part of the “supply and demand model” in order to satisfy the dietary needs of a few at the expense of many
like lets be real about something
the U.S isn’t buying quinoa in bulk and then distributing it in the hood for free. its not hitting the shelves of grocery stores located in food deserts in droves.
its going into whole foods, small boutique health food stores, stores where the assumed consumer is white, upper class, and labelled “health conscious”. stores that are not located in places populated by people of color, whether its urban, suburban, or rural. its going into the stores where white people live and white people shop.
there’s actually a really good essay in the anthology cultivating food justice about how one of the problems with food justice and health consumer culture is that the “conscious consumer” is assumed to be white and the “unconscious consumer” is assumed to be a person of color. and when food justice operates under the assumption that “unconscious consumers” are merely people who don’t know what’s good for them and have to be told what’s good for them then its located in white saviourism. it doesn’t address the issue of access as it relates to class, race, mobility, proximity and continues to perpetuate a power imbalance where white people are posited as the authoritative source on health
now why is it racism and appropriation?
the lack of tangible fair trade agreements that benefit the producer moreso than the consumer- i personally believe that fair trade can never exist within the context of a capitalist framework. current fair trade rhetorics, to be frank, are an emotional remedy for the guilt ridden conscious consumer moreso then they are a real solution to transnational trade and consumption. no matter how much people in the U.S pay for something labelled “fair trade” you are still getting it for relatively cheap in comparison to what its actually worth, because you’re importing from places that don’t have the same philosophy about labor that we do, where labor is thought to be theoretically “cheaper”. and chances are you are probably paying more for the luxury of a brand to say its “fair trade” than you are an actual, equitable exchange. in order for fair trade to truly exist there has to be complete autonomy over the means of production so that producers can play a larger role in their own economic development. essentially, the people who produce quinoa are probably not profiting off it as much as U.S companies who import it are
long term environmental consequences- the U.S has a nasty habit of overconsuming/over-importing foods labelled “exotic” by virtue of not being indigenous to Eurocentric agricultures or food cultures. this places pressure on countries of production to deplete their own natural resources in order to keep up with with the demand, such as destroying rainforests in order to make more room for more crops. especially since its not advisable to crop the same crops in the same patch of dirt over and over again. so we are playing a role in the destruction of the environment abroad, especially in countries of color who have already gone through the environmental destruction associated with European imperialism. U.S import culture fosters another form of environmental racism all on its own
the “its not healthy or worth eating until white people eat it” gotcha of food appropriation. at the same time white supremacy loves to tell people of color that our foods are not healthy, nasty, smell bad, ect it also loves to appropriate our foods and take credit for making them more palatable to the taste buds of white people. and out of this a repackaged food culture arrives, where the representations of that food culture make whiteness the referent, the default. and where the profiteers are white. white people probably make more money off selling non-white recipes, cookbooks, ingredients/food staples ect than the actual people of color from that cultural context ever will
the best way to see this illustrated is to go to a book store and pick up a cookbook that advertises a non-western, non-white food culture written by a white person. the emphasis will often be on rehashing recipes from that culture to make them “healthier”, i.e fat free, low in sugar, carbs, high in protein, whatever is the hot new stay healthy/stay lean diet tip of the day. this assumes that prior to white adaption and appropriation, these foods are “unhealthy” relating the health of a food culture to Eurocentric values of what it means to consume “healthy” food/”unhealthy” foods.
yet what is considered “healthy” or necessary for a culture to survive is not going to be the same across the board. “health” is relative concept influenced by a lot of shit. and white supremacy functions to set the proverbial standard of concepts that are relative
additionally this framing conveniently ignores the impact of European colonialism & white supremacy have on POC food cultures. a few days ago i reblogged a post where whole foods was selling collard greens, a staple vegetable in many blackamerican soul food traditions. the advertisement stated “it doesn’t take bacon to make these greens taste great”.
well whole foods is right, you don’t have to add bacon to collard greens in order to make it taste great. especially if its not your preference
but that conveniently ignores the context by which collard greens arose as a coveted dish in the first place. they’re part of blackamerican soul food cultures, which originate out of slavery. slaves didn’t have access to what some might think of as “healthy” food. being fed during slavery was a luxury that came few and far in between. and when slaves were fed they were fed what was left of the masters meal, the throwaways. so emerges a food culture as of a method of survival, a food culture that suited the needs of people who were being physically exploited for labor and unsure of when they were going to see their next meal. dietary preference or selectivity doesn’t exist when you’re fighting to survive.
food appropriation by white supremacist food cultures is nothing new. people who benefit from white supremacy have been either taking by force or underpaying for their “exotic” dishes, ingredients, recipes. neither is the dialogue about the appropriation of food from marginalized peoples is. the only thing that’s quite new about is in the academic discourse and scholarship that has risen out of food justice. but then to me that narrows the scope as to what is considered scholarship, who is an authoritative source, who defines such limitations
i mean whether i’ve read about it in an article or my grandma calls me on the phone one day to tell me she can no longer afford collard greens because their in high demand at the whole foods clear across town
either way i’ve learned the same lesson