How We Transformed Food From a Weaponized Tool Into Community Sustenance

man and woman standing in front of sink
Zain Murdock
December 20, 2023

According to scholar Anthony Ryan Hatch, food regimes are “racial and gendered social formations based on the exploitation of labor.” Food is a basic human need, but our relationship with it isn’t neutral. 

During enslavement, our ancestors were subjected to food rations, daily meal schedules, and surveillance practices on plantations to establish control.

Enslavers also used food to incite competition and chaos. Frederick Douglass’ first memoir describes how children were called like animals to a trough, the fastest and strongest reaching the food first. 

Only “good looking” and “loyal” enslaved people ate from the “glittering table of the great house,” wedging a divide between them and the others to keep them from uniting and rebelling.

However, even then, that tactic wasn’t completely effective. Community still formed between those who stole food from the house. Others worked together to fish, hunt, and grow produce.

Almost two centuries later, anti-Black food regimes still fail to divide us. Nearly one of every four of Black Americans lives in food-insecure households. 

Still, we gather, celebrate, and mourn together over Black dishes. Soul food emerged from the leftovers and scraps our ancestors refused to waste. Incarcerated people transform prison food into meals. Community gardens, breakfast programs, and mutual aid networks continue to fight the regime.

Enslavers tried planting their individualist, colonial ideology in us surrounding food. But in our culture, everybody eats.

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