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food Profit

Small farmers of indigenous foods lose income to capitalist food production, which creates ostensibly cheaper substitutes and stigmatizes indigenous food as unhealthy, inconvenient to produce, environmentally degrading, or inferior in taste.

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Tunde Wey, Edmund D. Fountain

ANOTHER ESSAY--TITLE AT END.

the standardized, mechanized, subsidized and sometimes industrial scale production— of food which benefits whites, europeans, small businesses in industrialized countries, as well as medium to large sized corporations globally— is capitalist food production.

it stands in contrast to african indigenous food production which is not necessarily its opposite because standardization, which delivers consistency and high quality, is a universal value that transcends whiteness and capitalism; because mechanization doesn't always mean utilizing the most advanced machinery but rather the most appropriate technology; and because subsidization also occurs outside a capitalist framework through collective pooling of labor and communal allocation of resources. even scale, a feature often identified with capitalist food production, is a component of indigenous food production, which is also concerned with meeting demand.

there is really only one significant difference between both production systems…

for capitalist food production to flourish it has to eliminate indigenous food production, and one important way this dismantling occurs is through displacement. an example is iru, fermented locust beans, and bouillon cubes, with the indigenous incumbent (iru) displaced for the industrially produced upstart. displacement does not mean complete destruction and in the case of iru it is still widely used, albeit in much more narrow applications and by less people, while bouillon cubes are ubiquitous in most dishes on the continent. the displacement of indigenous food production and consequently indigenous foods, continues the long running political project of disenfranchisement of black folks by white capitalists. and because its agenda is capitalist this displacement takes an economic and cultural dimension. capitalist food production initially supplants indigenous food production through coercion but then as it consolidates its stranglehold on the production ecosystem it withdraws the threat into the background and invests heavily in making the cultural case of its superiority. however, the threat is ever present though, it might recede but it never leaves.

small holder farmers and processors of indigenous foods like iru or fonio or moringa or masa are losing income to capitalist food production, which creates ostensibly cheaper substitutes to indigenous foods. this income loss is further facilitated by the cultural devaluation of indigenous foods through stigmatization. this is how we have lost indigenous crop varieties and indigenous cooking traditions, and gained nothing better— through the stigmatization of indigenous food as unhealthy, inconvenient to produce, environmentally degrading, or just plain inferior in taste. this narrative weaving is a way capitalist food production builds hegemonic power, shifting indigenous consumption habits towards white european tastes. the ultimate goal of this hegemony is to sell copious quantities of sugar cereal, spaghetti, canned corn, tinned sardines, packaged biscuits, alcohol, seeds, grains across the continent. even breastmilk, maybe the og indigenous food, has seen its market share fall to baby formula! this is how far capitalist food production extends, it has penetrated deep into our hearts, or at least our collective mammaries.

as capitalist food production expands, because that is its way, it eventually extends its logic into indigenous food production. along with displacing indigenous food it also absorbs it into the capitalist food production framework! whether in search of new customers, like “the ethical consumer,” or recognizing the importance of indigenous food production as more sustainable, capitalist food production is using its logic to produce, sell and market indigenous foods!

a key feature of capitalist logic is the infallibility of ‘the free market’ which will eventually, if given room to succeed, improve the wellbeing of indigenous communities. with their access to affluent markets (usually white and western) capitalist food production promises an improvement in the terms of trade for indigenous food producers-- meaning better prices for their products and increased incomes for the producers. this economic promise has cultural ramifications that promises the reversal of the cultural diminution of indigenous food production. here capitalist food production employs its hegemony to preserve indigenous food culture through its popularization and consumption by a white audience. destigmatizing indigenous food through the power of the very cohort who marginalized it in the first place. it’s a diabolical if accurate assumption because only proximity to white consumers, more specifically white capital, ultimately imbues indigenous foods with its value in the capitalist food production framework.

these capitalist food production projects which incorporate indigenous food production into a capitalist framework are sometimes called single origin, fair trade, bean-to-bar, farm-to-table or social enterprises. they appeal to health, wellness and alienness, using language such as ‘superfood’ or ‘ancient grain’ and an obsession with provenance, in their project to sell indigenous foods. their approach looks different depending on their ideological position within the capitalist framework (whether they are conservative, progressive, environmentalist, american, asian etc) or the particular food in question. sometimes they leave the indigenous production untouched, amplifying the novelty of the process to drive product value. sometimes they mechanize part or all of the indigenous production process creating price and production efficiencies which support industrial scale manufacturing. however, whatever the method employed by capitalist food production the promised returns never quite materialize for the indigenous communities.

instead of raising incomes they sometimes increase scarcity of domestic supply of the indigenous foods as producers direct production resources towards fulfilling the new market demand rather than local demand. this scarcity might drive up local prices. there is also a disruption of the local labor market as capitalist food production always improves efficiencies in ways which cut labor— with the now discarded labor pool not easily absorbed into more productive work. capitalist food production eventually displaces other indigenous food production in the ecosystem because it tends towards monopoly and oligopoly-- creating more labor and wage disruptions. these adverse outcomes are regarded as the unbiased consequence of the properly functioning free market system. in exchange for all this wahala they deliver industrial scale supply.

it is in examining the issue of scale, which capital food production has identified as a major deficiency of industrial scale production, that we reach the only true difference between the capitalist and indigenous food production systems. calling back iru as an example:

iru, which is wildly harvested— there are no iru plantations or farms— is consumed widely throughout west africa even though it is processed by small holders without significant mechanization in the process. in northern nigeria alone annual production is estimated at 200,000 tones. that’s a lot of iru produced without capitalist food production processes. iru as an example shows that all indigenous foods have always been produced at scale. on important difference between indigenous and capitalist food production in terms of scale is the ratio of producer to consumer. in the indigenous production model a small number of producers attend to a small number of consumers, while in the capitalist food production model, a small number of producers or even a single producer services a large consumer base. it stands repeating that capitalist food production tends towards monopoly or oligopoly. there is another aspect of scale within the capitalist food production system that reinforces the racist complexion of capitalism. this ratio of producer to consumer practiced in indigenous food production and stigmatized by capitalist food production as inefficient is also practiced in capitalist industrialized countries except it is labeled small batch production, or artisanal manufacturing. food products such as wine, beer, and cheese, sake, batch produced in france, belgium, vermont and hyogo prefecture in japan, even made with anachronistic practices (grape stomping, hand churning etc), fetch a higher price. indigenous food production, which is black, brown, indigenous, is never given the same treatment, unless its owned or controlled by producers from white and or industrialized capitalist countries.

the most significant problem with indigenous food production is that it exists within a racial capitalist economic system which promotes the idea that proximity to whiteness and capitalist production will enrich us. indigenous food production is not incompatible with scale, efficiency, high quality or a high quality of life, it is only incompatible with capitalism. back to breast milk, the original indigenous food. it is “produced” by an individual to meet the specific consumption needs of their child. it is also produced at scale— in theory all children have access to milk with interventions to address bottlenecks in the system, like wet nursing as a practice to mitigate breast milk “supply issues.” most importantly it’s free, which doesn’t mean there isn’t a cost but rather it doesn’t cost money outside a capitalist food production system. yet why does the capitalist food production model insist on displacing the ‘free’ and arguably better indigenous food (breast milk) for the more expensive capitalist food substitute (baby formula)?

PROFIT.

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