On MLK Day: Our Stories on Food and Democracy

We honor the legacy of Dr. King with a roundup of recent reporting on the connection between food, race, and civil society.

Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers a speech to a crowd of approximately 7,000 people on May 17, 1967 at UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The events of the past weeks have shaken the halls of American democracy, and us as a nation. We paused our reporting to bear witness to the moment, honor those who have died, and out of deference to the many journalists risking their safety to report on events unfolding at the Capitol. Never before has it been so abundantly clear that fair, unbiased news media is a pillar of freedom and democracy, and without it, we will remain in very dark and dangerous times.

While some people expressed shock over the events, declaring: “This is not who we are,” many leaders and writers of color have long argued the opposite, pointing to the fact that electoral violence is in our DNA. Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush, a Black Lives Matter champion, wrote: “This is America, and it will continue to be America, until white supremacy is dismantled.” And we agree.

At this moment, we ask ourselves, what role does food systems reporting play in a democratic society? For 12 years, Civil Eats has staked its name on exposing how our food system has been shaped by the nation’s history of slavery, structural racism, and racial injustice. And we have sought to connect the dots on the many ways a robust food system represents a cornerstone of civil society—while illuminating many communities’ struggle for healthy, affordable, accessible food.

We have done this by shining a light on concentration and consolidation in agriculture at the cost of livelihoods, justice, and sustainability, and giving voice to communities practicing deep democracy by addressing food security, food and environmental safety, and food justice.

As the nation seeks to find its footing, we will continue to report on the fight for justice for Black and brown lives and on the ways food and agriculture can be part of a healthy democracy. In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. we share our stories of food and democracy.

Site manager Eileen Bowman wears a

Fighting Voter Suppression, Environmental Racism, and Corporate Agriculture in Hog Country
In an election like none before it, the residents of North Carolina—particularly the hog- and poultry-intensive eastern counties—are fighting long odds to regain the power of their vote.

Race and Food Are Intertwined. Here’s How We Can Do Better.
Our food system is based on a history of inequity. UCS’s Ricardo Salvador offers action steps to fix that.

David Scott Sets Racial Justice, Food Security, and Climate Change as Priorities for House Ag
The first Black chairman of the powerful Agriculture Committee says his team is already lining up several spring hearings on key issues.

Savi Horne

Food Justice Requires Land Justice
Savi Horne, director of the Land Loss Prevention Project, says equality begins with access to land.

New Research Explores the Ongoing Impact of Racism on the U.S. Farming Landscape
Despite some progress in diversity and racial justice in the U.S. as a whole, a professor argues that farming remains deeply segregated.

Today’s food system is complex.

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Food and More: Expanding the Movement for the Trump Era
At the end of the Trump Administration, it’s worth looking back at this article from its beginning to understand how to apply the energy of the food movement to preserving our democracy.

Black Farmers Say They Were Dropped from the USDA’s Food Box Program
Despite successfully getting food to the hungry, Black farmers in the South say their federal food box contracts were not renewed, leaving their futures uncertain.

Black Land Matters. But Is Crowdfunding Enough?
As calls for reparations continue, multiple efforts are afoot to begin to help Black farmers gain access to land and rebuild stolen wealth and labor.

Kamala Harris Brings Food Justice to the Democratic Ticket
As vice president, experts say Harris would be able to advance her years-long focus on hunger, worker rights and protections, and environmental justice.

Black Leaders Discuss How the Food Sovereignty Conversation Has Shifted
Nearly two dozen Black farmers, chefs, and advocates took part in an online Juneteenth event to share stories of resistance, resilience, and the fight for land access.

A Black farmer loading produce into a pickup truck

Op-ed: The Farm Bureau Says it Wants to Fight Racism. Here’s Where to Start.
Addressing systemic racism in U.S. agriculture has to begin with the USDA.

How a Black Farming Community Found Justice
It was once thought Black farming communities would vanish by 2000. But families who run these farms are continuing this important work.

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Preserving Food, Practicing Politics: The Undercover Activism of Black Women in Rural Arkansas
Dr. Cherisse Jones-Branch’s forthcoming book explores the political impact of Black women in the USDA’s home demonstration program.

What Reparations Could Mean for Black Farmers
Some 2020 presidential candidates are talking about reparations. Can the conversation turn the tide on systemic racism in U.S. agriculture?

The Civil Eats Editors

Since 2009, the Civil Eats editorial team has published award-winning and groundbreaking news and commentary about the American food system, and worked to make complicated, underreported stories—on climate change, the environment, social justice, animal welfare, policy, health, nutrition, and the farm bill— more accessible to a mainstream audience. Read more >

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