In an essay titled, “Call Climate Change What It Is: Violence,” Rebecca Solnit makes the argument that Climate Change is a violence perpetrated by the wealthy and powerful on the poor. She starts the essay off by saying,
“If you’re poor, the only way you’re likely to injure someone is the old traditional way: artisanal violence, we could call it – by hands, by knife, by club, or maybe modern hands-on violence, by gun or by car. But if you’re tremendously wealthy, you can practice industrial-scale violence without any manual labor on your own part.”
When she speaks about the tremendously wealthy, she’s referring to those in positions powerful enough to poison entire water systems with their production, enslave sweatshop laborers, and murder thousands with impunity through a declaration of war. It’s not much of a leap to see how the same tenets apply to modern food systems.
I was raised as a vegetarian starting at the age of 5. At age 16, partially for health reasons, I started eating fish. As I broke the seal, I tumbled through a list of failing moral arguments. At one point, I had opened my diet to fish and poultry but stopped short of the big animals for the argument that it takes a tremendous amount of grain to produce the meat we eat. The idea was that if we all stopped eating meat, we could solve hunger with the surplus food. It felt like a worthy stance to me! Not long after that, however, I learned about massive stockpiles of food rotting in storage for economic and geopolitical reasons, or at best, incompetent distribution models (read about a recent Covid-related example). Turns out, we have enough food to feed the starving, but by design, it will never reach them. (Nowadays, I can list a slew of stronger arguments for vegetarianism, but regrettably, I haven’t yet climbed back onto that bandwagon.)
The food systems of late-stage capitalism have robbed our soil and our food of their nutrients, in exchange for ever increasing chemicals required as supplements. They’ve swapped real food with addictive sugar and salt laden impostors. They’ve stolen water from the people who’ve stewarded the land for millennia.
They’ve built food deserts that keep the poorest populations, disproportionately populations of color, malnourished and broke. This is systemic violence on a mass scale with consequences that dwarf the crime porn we tune in for on nightly news.
Some may say this type of violence is simply consequential - part of life - no one’s fault. But violence through food is unmistakably engineered, and while the detriments may, in some cases, be emergent properties of a complex system, we as a society reward those that benefit from it with the ever-increasing power and choice making capacity to keep the system firmly buttressed in place. That’s a culpable offense perpetrated by actual people on a daily basis.