Our VoiceHealth & Environment

New Timeline Shows Connection Between Race, Labor and the Food System

Kalia Abiade • Oct 18, 2013


At first glance, it may not be quite clear what race and racism in the United States have to do with labor and food. But a closer look reveals that, similar to many institutions in this country, race and racism have been foundational in the establishment of the food system and continue to have an impact on how we eat and the people who cultivate and process our food.

A first step to understanding how tightly race and racism are intertwined with our food system is being aware of U.S. history. A new timeline published by the Center for New Community highlights some of the significant policies, practices and events that continue to shape the food system in the United States.

The chronology begins with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Though there were existing indigenous civilizations and established agricultural practices, his arrival set off a wave of conquests and settlements that laid the foundation for what became the United States. The timeline takes readers through slavery, land grabs, forcible migration — all backed by the power of the law — wars, union battles and immigration and citizenship laws, all of which have imposed a racial hierarchy that is still in place today.

As you read through the timeline, we challenge you to ask the following questions:

  • What patterns can you identify in the timeline?
  • In what ways do these policies, practices and events affect your daily life?
  • In what ways does this timeline inform your thoughts about race, labor and food in the United States?
  • Whose stories are missing from this chronology? What would you add?

The very ideas of citizenship and humanity have been and continue to be in question, with the workers responsible for growing and producing our food at the forefront of these battles. As the federal government turns its attention to immigration reform and a farm bill — and as communities engage in conversations about workers rights, wages and food sovereignty — we hope this timeline serves as a tool to more deeply consider what’s really at stake.

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