Ceremonial Digging of the Soil of Historic African American Farm Site

California Agricultural Workers and Food Insecurity

Mother Jones has a nice article out entitled Why the People Picking California’s Tomatoes Can’t Afford to Eat Them.  It covers some of the struggles of agricultural workers–many Latino–in Yolo County, California.  The article is based, in large part, on a new report by the California Institute of Rural Studies, available here.  The report contains some disturbing statistics.

The vast majority of farm workers in California are Latino. National rates of food insecurity among all Hispanic or Latino households in the US are well above the average at 22.4% compared to 14% among all US households. Two additional studies have explored food insecurity among low income Latinos in California. One study evaluated food security status among low income Latino families from six different counties in California; out of a sample of 212 families participating, a total of 61% families were food insecure: 45% food insecure without hunger, 13% food insecure with moderate hunger; and 3% food insecure with severe hunger (Kaiser, Townsend et al. 2004). Another study among 630 low income Latino, Vietnamese and Cambodian legal immigrants in California, Texas and Illinois found that a total of 81% came from households that were food insecure: 40% food insecure without hunger, 27% food insecure with moderate hunger and 14% food insecure with severe hunger (Kasper, Gupta et al. 2000). CHIS data for 2001-14 show trends in food security over time among Latinos in California. In 2014, food insecurity for Latinos in California was 40% a full 2% higher than the state as a whole

Check it out.

Minority Farmers and Farmers Market Standards

Here’s an interesting article in the Tennesseean (where I’m originally from! though Memphis, not Nashville) raising issues of how seemingly neutral standards for selling goods at farmers’ markets can disparately impact minority farmers.  Basically, the Nashville Farmers’ Market established a new policy which prohibits the sale of re-sold agriculture and commercially produced flea market goods.  The idea was to make it a more “authentic” farmers’ market.  But the impact of the new policy meant that some retailers–alleged to be disproportionately minority retailers–who had historically been vendors at the Nashville Farmers’ Market did not have contracts renewed.

And this is a difficult area, legally speaking.  The Supreme Court has allowed claims of disparate impact under various federal equal access laws. (Not that this situation is about that, just providing a pointer.)  But its application is complex and difficult--and often controversial in public discourse, because it’s not about discriminatory intent (for which there is more public disapproval) but rather racially discriminatory effects, which a number of people potentially justify, rightly or wrongly, as a matter of course.

But this is also the sort of thing that we’ve anecdotally observed over time, and hope to explore through this project.  How can minority participants in the food system overcome such “neutral” obstacles?   Should it be through legal actions, public awareness, empowerment actions, or even a mixture of all of the above?  And what does it all mean for the place of people of color in our food system, as both providers and creators of food, and consumers of it?

Some Legal History on Native Americans in the U.S. Food System

Although we missed getting our blog together in time to cover the Great Lakes Intertribal Food Summit, I did want to provide a very short writeup of the history of Native Americans in the U.S. food system, to give some context for all the amazing stuff that’s going on right now.

Alas, this is not a history of Native American food, although you can read a little bit about it here and here.  It’s really just a legal history.  The thing is, the U.S. government’s relationship with the tribal nations is long and complex.  As an overview by the National Agricultural Law Center provides:

The development of Native American law has taken a circuitous route based upon the position of the federal government at a given time and these changes of position (often referred to as eras) still play an important role in modern legal issues. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power under the Commerce clause to regulate commerce with the Indian Tribes and the President with the power to negotiate treaties with the tribes. Along with early Supreme Court decisions, the provisions found in the Constitution have effectively given the federal government the sole authority to regulate the tribes. The tribes also have a right to self-governance, subject only to the authority of the federal government, which gives rise to the rest of the statutes, regulations, and cases that comprise Native American law.

This unique relationship also affects federal agricultural laws and regulations that impact Native Americans and their tribes. The relationship creates differences, and as a result it is important to look closely at the statutes and regulations surrounding an issue to determine whether special circumstances exist that may alter the situation. Some federal laws allow for tribes to enforce them in place of the federal government much like a state. Other programs exist that impact tribal members on an individual level as seen in the programs dealing with nutrition. These differences make it critical to carefully review the statutes and regulations surrounding any agricultural issue that relates to Native Americans.

What has this relationship looked like in the past?  Well, the Indian Removal Act of 1830 displaced countless Native Americans from their lands, removing them from places that provided them sustenance via traditional food practices.  The promise was that the federal government would provide health care, education, and food rations in exchange for sovereignty over reservation lands.  These promises, however, were sadly unfulfilled.

Instead, the results were tragic for the tribes.  Indeed, many of these agreements with tribes were not upheld until the “Boldt Decision” of 1974, in which a federal court reaffirmed the rights of Washington’s Indian tribes–as per their treaty with the United States–to practice their customary fishing practices.  (See here for more discussion on the legacy of the Boldt Decision.)

Moreover, the initial focus of the federal government was to “civilize” tribal members by moving them away from traditional food practices towards more Western-styled commodity consumption.  As the Northwest Indian College food sovereignty page describes it:

In the 1930s, the U.S. government created the formal commodity foods program to help farm workers who were suffering from the upheaval of the Great Depression.  Surplus grains and other foods were bought from American producers to keep prices stable.  Commodity foods changed over time based on what surplus was available.  These surplus foods were distributed to Indian communities.  Many Indian People experienced growing up with commodity foods, including powdered milk that would not dissolve, poor quality meat, and processed cheese.

(This phenomenon was not limited to Native American communities, hat tip to Andrea Freeman’s seminal The Unbearable Whiteness of Milk article.)

Tribes are still struggling to regain food sovereignty–defined as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations”–to this day.  Their efforts draw strength from not only activist tribal members, but from the first Global Forum on Food Sovereignty held in Mali in 2007.

In recent years, though, more public attention has been given to Native American food sovereignty and that has been fantastic.  In 2013, the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance began, with a mission of “develop[ing] a movement that gives voice to issues of Native sovereignty, food-system control and policy development, and serves as a strong network for collaboration among various organizations engaged in Native food-system control.”   We in Dark Meat are excited to cover the developments to come!

2016 James Beard Award for Best Writing on Wine, Spirits, and other Beverages

Just found out that the 2016 James Beard Journalism Award for Best Writing on Wine, Spirits and Other Beverages has gone to Dave Infante of Thrillist, for the article There Are Almost No Black People Brewing Craft Beer. Here’s Why.  I remember reading the article when it first came out last December.  I would’ve liked to have seen perhaps a deeper discussion of minority communities and their cultural engagement (or lack thereof!) than what was presented in the article, but I was glad to see it there, and especially glad to see some history of racial discrimination in the history of beer.

 

Some excerpts:

 

If craft beer doesn’t prioritize racial diversity in its ranks the way it does product diversity, we’ll eventually wind up with homogenized craft beer. That’s already happening, to a certain extent. Any good craft beer aisle will feature at least a dozen IPAs from a dozen different breweries — but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an African-style sorghum beer. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, or that all black brewers should or would brew African-style beers, but just imagine all the culinary and brewing traditions we’re missing out on.

. . .

The second big downside to allowing craft beer to remain homogeneous is less about beer and more about what Garrett Oliver alluded to: social justice. “If you shut out parts of the population — particularly groups who have been historically excluded — from the opportunity of this expanding industry, then craft beer works to perpetuate racial inequality that exists well beyond itself,” noted McKim, the sociologist. Beckham, the beer scholar, expanded on this point. “Craft beer is one small area where we can make an effort to take a chunk out of racism, rather easily” because it is a relatively progressive enclave. “If we can’t do it here — when everyone’s feeling good and giving high-fives — then we’re in trouble.”

 

Harriet Tubman and food

Lovely article in NPR’s The Salt about how Harriet Tubman used cooking to raise money for her work.

 

During the Civil War, Tubman worked as a nurse and a spy, but supplemented her income by running an eating-house in Beaufort. There, she sold Union soldiers root beer, pie and ginger bread, which she baked during the night, after her day’s work. When she put in a claim for a Civil War pension, her role was described as “nurse, spy and cook.”

about us

Dark Meat is not about meat.  At least it’s not only about meat.  We chose the name because we were thinking about the rise of the skinless, boneless, chicken breast and how so many restaurant meals were robbed of flavor because some customers demanded only white meat despite the fact that the original cuisines would either not have included it or would have never used it exclusively.  Such adaptations happen frequently; people can see them either as handshakes in a cordial introduction or as compromises that dilute the eating experience in order to coddle those who only want to feel adventurous yet don’t want their food to be too different from what they typically eat.

 

Both of us have been the kind of people who see such changes as compromises of the troublesome sort.  What happens to restaurants in small to medium markets when the food doesn’t change?  How do they maintain clientele if a good number of the locals find the cuisine off-putting?  Do these restaurants get reviewed based on their specialties or on how well their food matches already-existing culinary expectations?  If not, what drives clients to them?  Who’s doing the cooking?  Are there enough outlets to allow people far from home to get their comfort foods?  How much of the local culinary landscape is taken up by the narrowly advertised catering enterprises that seem to sustain immigrant and expatriate communities?

 

We want to facilitate answers to these questions and more by featuring people whose voices are often left out of mainstream food media and restaurant hype.  We want to learn from the only Ghanaian food caterer in her city, the only woman running a kitchen in a medium-sized town, or the guy who claims to have fed all the Malaysian exchange students and a good number of visiting faculty from his own kitchen.  Both of us love food but realize that the stories about it can’t all be about what’s hot, or quaint, or a twist on a classic, or served in a bucket for kicks.

 

Food stories are people stories.  History and culture matter, as do policy and law.  We will discuss all of those factors and encourage folks featured here to do the same.  For some people, the best leaf picked at the proper time makes the meal taste like home.  For others, it’s the right bottle of sauce.  We want to know what’s in the bottle, where it came from, and why everyone except that one uncle thinks it’s the best.  We want to know what matters to people about food and how they make their desires come to fruition—or don’t.  We might want to know enough to try to reproduce that recipe or at least find out who we have to call to get a heads up about the next time the dish will be available.