African American foodways have historically shared many of the same imperatives prized by writers, experts, and pundits concerned with making food systems more sustainable—namely, encouraging farm-to-table food distribution networks, using “natural” or low-impact agricultural methods, and inspiring scratch cooking with local, fresh ingredients. Contemporary writing about sustainable food and agriculture in the United States locates the origins of this movement in Europe and northern California. In this article, we challenge this conceptualization by presenting what we call the “food imaginaries” of three key historical figures: George Washington Carver, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Edna Lewis. These imaginaries not only reflect the knowledge constructions of a social group and map future possibilities through foodways but also challenge damaging narratives about African American food histories, particularly across the south. We find that these imaginaries envision food as a pathway to freedom, autonomy, pleasure, and joy, and tell greater stories of how “organic” and “natural” falters when imagined outside of Blackness. These imaginaries, we argue, are central to American agricultural and political histories, and have important implications for sustainability and food justice movements in the United States.

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