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COVID-19 has exposed the racialized nature of food systems, but also potentially grants opportunities to build anew. Maywa Montenegro explores a series of breakdowns, from fractured supply chains to uncontrolled infection among essential food workers, among Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities scythed through by the virus along old grooves of race and class oppression.
She traces the likely origins of COVID-19 to spillover sites forged by agroindustrial expansion into forested regions where pathogens spring free and infect humans. Industrial animal agriculture drives these ecological changes that incubate future outbreaks. Pandemics have their roots in the violent separation of communities from their territories, seeds, knowledge and wealth. Racism enables such theft as fundamental to capitalist expansion.
To tackle pandemics and food injustices, Montenegro calls for an abolitionist agroecology. No anti-capitalist alternative can ignore the racism that is central to transnational food system. Scholars including Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Mariame Kaba have argued that although abolition is frequently seen as an oppositional strategy — to eradicate, for example, prisons and police — abolition is equally propositional. An abolitionist agroecology cracks open multiple possibilities that respond to the exigencies of a pandemic planet — there is no ‘normal’ to which we can safely return.
COVID-19 has circled the planet several times the first year into the outbreak, reshaping nearly all aspects of human society.
It’s now clear that the virus worsens the underlying forms of violence that capitalism imposes upon everyday people. Unemployment remains through the roof. Public health is damaged beyond the outbreak itself, with, for instance, riskier childbirths and failing campaigns in malaria elimination.1 In contrast, massive public bailouts are being handed over to the more politically connected industrial sectors, including, in the U.S., fracking companies, cruise ships, and airlines, as exploited frontline workers and whole communities go uninsured and unprotected.2 We see the impacts in the rise of racist, fascist rhetoric broadcast across countries. From street vigilantes to neoliberal and authoritarian governments, the coronavirus is painted as an exotic aberration originating in “other” people,
The pamphlet works through how recent analyses of the connections among urbanization, industry, and agriculture have been used to argue for more of the kinds of surveillance and population displacement that help bring about many of the world’s current crises, this time “updated” in the name of controlling disease. The commentary details a recent high-profile report by global change ecologist Rory Gibb and his colleagues in Nature on the interconnection between land-use change, biodiversity, and zoonotic diseases—diseases that emerge out of nonhuman animals. The authors highlight the importance of the group’s findings while also pointing out the perils of the way in which this work has been mapped onto policy and intervention. If followed through, the expectations and conclusions of the Gibb group are likely to further reproduce the very kinds of social and ecological damage that the study supposedly addresses. They finish up here by introducing agroecology, an environmentalism of the peasantry, the poor, and indigenous, long in practice, that treats agriculture as a part of the ecology out of which humanity grows its food. They present the approach as both a pathway forward for the world and as an alternative that folds in the insights of the Gibb study without falling into the worst of its traps.
The corona crisis reveals what is wrong and toxic — in ourselves, in relation with others, and in relation with the rest of non-human nature. But we can also look for what is good and life-affirming. The authors argue that the future must be founded on ‘kindness, social solidarity and an appropriate scale of time’, a future that cherishes life and the connections that transcend borders. This pamphlet is a vital contribution to much needed reflections and discussion.
This is a fabulous book. Usually a blurb or endorsement like this is supposed to enhance the book, but in this case the flow is in the other direction. For me it is a huge honour to be associated with it. Like many others, I have been trying for months to get my head around what is happening, trying to formulate my ideas, and then here it is, in these pages, so clear, so understanding, so challenging. How we now go on to shape the interconnectedness between people and between people and other forms of life will determine the future of humanity. The best, most sensitive, most realistic, strongest thing that I’ve read on the Corona Crisis. — John Holloway, Professor, Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, Autonomous University of Puebla, Mexico, and author of In, Against, and Beyond Capitalism:
The San Francisco Lectures
This pamphlet, part of Daraja Press’s Thinking Freedom Series, is written by Mark Butler with his colleagues at the Church Land Programme, a small independent non-profit organisation based in KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa, that seek to distill learnings that emerge from the work of militants on the ground.