Back in 2007, I was living in a small rural village in Ecuador for a few months. Something that really struck me then that continues to inform me was the cultural norm of sharing. If you wanted an ice cream, you bought one for everybody. If you bought a bag of nuts to snack on, you were expected to pass around this bag of nuts continually, not just gesturally one time. Also, if you were going into town, everyone was asked if they wanted to go too with the expectation you’d help pay to get them there. The bus fare was $2 I believe. As my friend Juan, one of the locals would say, “todos o nadie”, everyone or no one.
Thirteen years later, this past weekend, that phrase played on repeat in my heart. The spacex mission launched and cities burned across the US protesting ongoing state sanctioned violence---hundreds of years of it. Gil Scott Heron’s poem comes to mind, Whitey on the Moon. He calls out the gross expenditure of funds on a mission to the moon, a rocket ship to elsewhere, while his people suffer in slums. See Elysium. See The Hunger Games. See Wall-E. Whichever campfire tale gets you there to face the grotesque neglect, violence, and inequality that accompanies all the grand advances of our age. We’re clearly not “all in it together.”
It’s 2020 and I can’t believe I can chat with loved ones on a mini computer I can keep in my pocket. Meanwhile, maybe I’m gettin ovarian cancer from cell phone radiation. And where the rare earth metals are mined in China to make it all work, the plants won’t grow and people are sick. Hidden costs, hidden neglect---obfuscating suffering is the way of late stage capitalism and white supremacy. But also, as Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun write in this great resource on “White Supremacy Culture Characteristics,” we’re dealing with subtleties of culture too, behavioral patterns that aid in maintaining these structures of violence in our communities and organizations. These cultural traits affect how we relate to each other, how we react to newsfeeds, show up to demonstrations, and as allies. Upholding individualism, either/or thinking, right to comfort, private property -- these are all ways this toxic culture weaves its way into myself and most of my community. It’s why my experience in Ecuador was so refreshingly novel, why genuine sharing felt so alien.
Can we track white supremacy in our lives and worlds, see it in the more invisible ways, like we track and scout plants? How does it show up in our relationship to land or more specifically in “neo-foraging” culture? Is foraging an inclusive lifestyle/hobby? Are the laws around foraging set up for everyone or just people who own property or can “trespass” without fearing for their lives?
One of my favorite teachers, Rain Crowe, introduced me to this kind of shadow work, moving towards the scariest, ugliest parts of ourselves, and making acquaintances. This helps, to borrow her phrasing, “break the spell of” capitalism and white supremacy, because it helps us acknowledge our connectedness to the problem (I use “our” because she works specifically with white people in caucus spaces to face their issues around these topics). We can’t other it, shun it, send it to the moon (or leave it behind to rot). By simply noticing, we can start to break old patterns. When I catch myself gripping onto binaries (i.e. peace=good/violence=bad), I remember the power of paradox, both/and. This often requires a hawk’s perspective, soaring above my own myopia or fear.
This past weekend when I was rushing around trying to help my sweetie Greg get back to Schenectady, I nearly tripped on the stairs, grabbed a wooden beam, and got a splinter in my paw. Fortunately, Greg was happy to volunteer as a doctor. We were in my room and got all the excavation tools lined up and I began to brace myself for future pain. I clenched my fist and turned my head away towards the bookshelf. But something wasn’t right, there wasn’t relief in this breath holding. So all I did was what a meditation teacher Jill Shepard told me to do once, look for A Bigger Container (ABC), and turned my head to gaze out the window. I gave my pain space, letting it balloon out of confinement and like magic, by some great mystery, it wasn’t a big deal anymore. I mean, it still hurt but I let myself grow beyond my body and it helped disperse the sensation.
Reflecting on white supremacy as cultural traits, not the simply the evil “other,” checking its pervasiveness in my own life and mores, is both tremendously personal but also an ABC move. There are workings beyond me, before me, and after me. My ancestors were colonized and also were colonizers, my bloodlines a living paradox. I have rage at the system but also directed inward, in the ways I benefit and promote it. My job is to give all the feelings a bigger place to live and own just enough, so as not to get so bogged down I’m gridlocked by my own fear of pain or self flagellating perfectionism. Again, so attached to my own comfort, I’d always be bracing, never expanding or opening to change.
The way I see it, in the work I do at Acorn Kitchen and its offshoots, setting capitalism and white supremacy ablaze IS necessary and integral work to building a healthy, inclusive food system and caring for all earthlings. It’s not tangential, it’s required. Everyone or no one.
Foraging isn’t inherently a radical act, but it can be. Just like any popular, revivalist idea of our times, it can be farcical, destructive, and riddled with status quo aesthetics and values. It can also be an affirmation of community land stewardship, resurrection of once common ecological knowledge and simple, invisible care taking. It can be a subversion to private property notions, end to resource hoarding, disruption of oil reliant supply chains, and interrogation of longstanding colonial structures/identities that are tired, violent and ripe for composting.
The truth is, many of the current laws we have now around foraging are rooted in white supremacist values and racism. Sure, if you have a backyard and garden (or know a nice person who does), you can eat those dandelions. But if you want to eat a dandelion in central park, it’s illegal, and you could get fined (or worse). Baylen Linnekin wrote an informative paper on the legal questions of foraging, specifically focusing on how racism and colonialism help found trespassing laws:
After the Civil War, plantation owners in the American South moved forcefully and systematically to restrict the foraging rights and practices of newly freed African American slaves. Many slaves freed after the Civil War understandably sought to leave farm work—and the farmers who had enslaved them—behind. As they had before the Civil War, freed slaves earned money by selling foods they foraged and hunted. In addition to income, foraging provided African Americans with some degree of self-sufficiency and self-determination. But the Southern planters who had recently owned the region’s African Americans sought to prohibit the freed slaves from continuing their subsistence foraging practices as a tool to chain freed men to plantation work. In service of this goal, Southern states zeroed in on practices that would allow freed slaves to be truly free by restricting access to foraging through the enactment of criminal trespass laws.
Anti-foraging sentiment among the powerful classes continued to spread in the decades following the Civil War. Some Native American tribes also found their previous foraging practices were now illegal, sometimes due to treaties they signed with the United States government. The United States Supreme Court and other federal courts historically sided with expansionist federal government efforts to limit the land rights—including, specifically, foraging rights—of Native Americans. Property laws that allowed private landowners to bar foragers continued to spread until they were, by the mid-1900s, the norm nationwide. (Click the link to get the footnoted version)
A Bigger Container is a form of context nesting. When we get acquainted with history and the legacy living through each and every one of us, through the land, we can build a more cohesive understanding of what’s happening. We see that the whiteness of farming, permaculture, and nature connection circles is not the way it’s always been, so why is it this way now? A long history of white washing and structural racism has made it so. White people own 98% of the rural land, over 856 million acres. African Americans who make up 13% of the population only own 1%. It’s no mistake then that most neo-foragers are white folks; they have the greatest access to land. But people are talking about it. We want to change it. We need to change it.
Now is the moment for ABC, get better acquainted with context, listening to stories of black and indigenous pain, giving all the grief and rage and imaginings of a better, more just world space. To offer support, and recommit to ending the terror wrought on this land and centuries of violence, exclusion, and erasure of black and brown bodies.
Everyone or no one.
Here are a couple great organizations doing work to improve access to land and food sovereignty, through reparations/wealth redistribution:
Resource Generation’s: Land Reparations and Indigenous Solidarity Toolkit
Soul Fire Farm’s: Reparations Map for Black and Indigenous Farmers and a feature about it
Here are some background pieces for more information:
How to Use Deep Connection and Holistic Resistance as Tools for Inclusion and Equality with Aaron Johnson---Racism in the rewilding community and barriers to nature connection for people of color.
How Racism has Shaped the American Farming Landscape