America’s food system exacerbates injustice
By Gene Baur, Opinion, New York Daily News
Jul 30, 2020
Baur is president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary
The COVID-19 pandemic and racist violence caught on video are drawing attention to deep-seated and systemic injustice in the U.S., spurring critical societal dialogue. Systemic inequality makes BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities, citizens without adequate access to healthcare and nutritious food, and slaughterhouse and food chain workers especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and other threats. If we want to create a healthier and more just society, abusive attitudes and extractive industries need to be transformed — starting with our broken food system.
Regrettably, billions of dollars allocated by the U.S. Congress for coronavirus relief have already gone to preserve entrenched and exploitive enterprises, like factory farming, which perpetuate cruelty and injustice with impunity. When thousands of slaughterhouse workers fell ill from COVID-19, leading to plant closures, an executive order was issued to require slaughterhouses to reopen that shielded big business from liability, while forcing exploited workers, disproportionately people of color, back into unsafe conditions.
The temporary interruption in slaughter caused millions of animals, mainly chickens and pigs, to back up in the supply chain, so instead of being slaughtered for food, they were “depopulated”; agribusiness received government funds to kill and dispose of these unfortunate creatures in unspeakably cruel ways.
Intensive animal production is violent, unjust and unethical. It embodies systemic oppression, and is a major contributor to our planet’s most significant ecological threats, including the climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity. And, it increases the risk of contagious pathogens like COVID-19. Government programs that have supported factory farming should be redirected toward sustainable, community-centered, plant-based agriculture.
We can feed more people with less land and fewer resources with a plant-based food system, which will lighten our ecological footprint, help restore degraded farmland and allow diverse natural ecosystems to recover. Plus, it presents powerful opportunities to build more just and equitable structures, instead of ones that abuse workers, animals and the earth.
Agricultural workers across our food system, including produce workers delivering fruits and vegetables to our dinner tables, currently work in unsafe conditions and are treated as disposable. If we replaced factory farming and disease-inducing animal-based food with diversified local farms and fresh plant-based food, we would increase resilience as well as create meaningful jobs and healthier citizens. We could save billions of dollars in healthcare costs every year through a whole-foods plant-based diet, which strengthens our immune function and quality of life while preventing chronic diseases that plague our nation. What’s more, this would reduce our risk of succumbing to illnesses like COVID-19 and help ward off the next zoonotic pandemic.
Food security concerns at this disruptive time have inspired a resurgence in gardening, which should be actively nurtured. The Victory Gardens during World War II produced 40% of our nation’s vegetables, and we can do the same today, while also creating jobs and building equity, especially among disenfranchised populations who have suffered losses because of systemic racism.
In 1921, the same year that Tulsa’s Black Wall Street was burned by white supremacists, there were nearly 1 million Black farmers across the U.S. In 2020, there are fewer than 50,000. Roughly 95% of U.S. farmers are white, while a disproportionate percentage of farmworkers are people of color. This unjust power imbalance is widespread and must be addressed.
As our nation battles COVID-19 amid structural racism and injustice, we have opportunities to make critical reforms, and while inequity cuts across myriad institutions, our food system sits at the center...
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