The final stage of this report occurred in conjunction with the COVID 19 pandemic that has opened up the existing fault lines of racial, economic, and inequities in the food system to unprecedented levels. Across the country, grocery, food processing, and agricultural workers that have long been exploited and invisibilized have been deemed “essential” workers. These workers, disproportionately immigrants and people of color, are on the front lines and are helping to keep the country running at the risk of their own lives. They are experiencing disproportionate exposure and death from the virus as a result. On the reservations of Native Peoples, there are devastatingly high rates of coronavirus infection and death. The Navajo Nation alone has lost more people to the coronavirus than 13 states combined; and the Indian Health Service (IHS) reported nearly 4,000 Covid-19 cases across the 12 regions used by the IHS system. As of the end of April 2020, 30 million people have filed for unemployment. Within the statistics, racial, class, and gender inequities are exposed: 60% of the unemployed are women, while 85% of Black and Latino workers report being unable to work from home. The pandemic has also brought a looming food crisis expected to impact millions across the globe. Across the U.S. food insecurity is skyrocketing. Poor and unemployed households are facing dire economic insecurity, which does not leave enough money for food. These reports are just the tip of the iceberg.1
The COVID 19 pandemic has already, and will continue to, shape every aspect of our social, economic and political lives moving forward. Even now, there is a growing understanding that new inequities are developing in Durham at an alarming rate. Yet in the swirl of uncertainty, isolation, fear, and trauma, there are also inspiring new expressions of community solidarity and mutual aid as people lend money, time, and other resources to make sure that everyone has access to adequate and healthy food.
History is not prescriptive, it does not tell us what needs to be done in the future. However, it can help us ask sharper questions about the challenges we face today. This history has sought to illuminate how food inequities stem from a broader set of forces, including land and ownership, political power, economic resources, structural racism, gender oppression, and labor rights. In starting to imagine a different future, a 2015 article titled “What Does it Mean to Do Food Justice,” Kristin Valentine Cadieux and Rachel Slocum outlines four main points that have deep resonance with this history, and provide useful reflections for policymaking, investments, and community organizing. First is acknowledging and confronting historical, collective social trauma and persistent race, gender, and class inequalities. Second is designing exchange mechanisms that build communal reliance and control. Third is creating innovative ways to control, use, share, own, manage, and conceive of land, and ecologies in general, that place them outside the speculative market and the rationale of extraction. And fourth is pursuing labor relations that guarantee a minimum income and are not dependent on (unpaid) social production by women.2
In this COVID era, where so many systems are being upended, there will be critical choices at every level of governance, within philanthropy, and among political and grassroots organizations about policies, programs, and where to direct resources moving forward. Recognizing that these decisions will fundamentally shape the future of food security in Durham and across the country, we should all ask ourselves: who are we as history makers?