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.
“Leave No Stone Unturned”: Sustainable Belonging and Desirable Futures of African American Food Imaginaries
Endia Louise Hayes is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at Rutgers University. Her work examines sensory knowledge production of Afro-Texan women in the nineteenth–twentieth centuries as they navigate everyday social and cultural tension. Largely, Endia’s work spans historical sociology, sociology of culture, and Africana and cultural studies.
Norah MacKendrick is an associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University. Her research and teaching address the sociology of gender, food, consumer and consumption studies, and environmental sociology. She is the author of Better Safe than Sorry: How Consumers Navigate Exposure to Everyday Toxics (University of California Press, 2018).
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Endia Louise Hayes, Norah MacKendrick; “Leave No Stone Unturned”: Sustainable Belonging and Desirable Futures of African American Food Imaginaries. Gastronomica 1 May 2022; 22 (2): 64–74. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2022.22.2.64
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