Ruin Their Crops on the Ground
The Politics of Food in the United States, from the Trail of Tears to School Lunch
by Andrea Freeman
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Pub Date 16 Jul 2024 | Archive Date 09 Aug 2024
Henry Holt & Company, Metropolitan Books
The first and definitive history of the use of food in American law and politics as a weapon of conquest and control, a Fast Food Nation for the Black Lives Matter era
In 1789, to subjugate Indigenous tribes, George Washington ordered his troops to “ruin their crops on the ground and prevent them planting more.” Destroying the sources of food is just one way that the United States has used nourishment as a political tool. To prevent enslaved people from or escaping or rising up, enslavers restricted their consumption, providing only the least desirable and nutritious foods. Since the Great Depression, school lunches have served as dumping grounds for unwanted agricultural surpluses.
From frybread to government cheese, Ruin Their Crops on the Ground draws on fifteen years of research to argue that American food law and policy have historically been used to create and maintain racial and cultural inequality. In an epic, sweeping account, Andrea Freeman, who pioneered the term "food oppression," moves from missions to Americanize immigrant food culture to the commodities supplied to Native reservations to USDA nutrition programs to milk as symbol of white nationalism. She traces the long-standing alliances between Washington and the food and agricultural industries that have produced gaping racial health disparities. And she shows how these practices continue to this day, in the form of marketing for unhealthy subsidized goods that target communities of color, causing diabetes, high blood pressure and even premature death.
Marrying Michael Pollan’s insights into food psychology with Michelle Alexander’s new understanding of race in the United States, Ruin Their Crops on the Ground is a groundbreaking addition to the history and politics of food. It will permanently upend the notion that we freely and equally choose what we put on our plates.
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Average rating from 10 members
In the most respectful way, reading this book felt like when a friend sits down in front of you and is like "are you ready to hear some BULLSHIT?" and you're all ohhhh let's go and then they proceed to incisively detail exactly how and why some situation is complete and total wretched nonsense such that if situations would able to feel emotions the whole shebang would be left a shriveled up humiliated mess by the end of it. And it is GREAT.
Absolute fury at each of these injustices undergirds every chapter of this book ending in a positively delicious excoriation of the US government and the Supreme Court in particular. If you're picking up this book you probably already know that the whole US food system is on some fucked up shit (example: student lunch debt...exists), but Andrea Freeman makes it clear that girl, you don't even know. I learned a hell of a lot, I got super mad, I spent some time brooding about how everyone in the whole government needs to be strapped down and made to read this and acknowledge what they've done and fix ittttt. Because yikes, man.
This book is sourced to hell and back btw, so if you pick it up thinking it's very, very long, that is a trick - the book ended for me at 59% and the remaining whole 2/5ths of it was footnotes. The length is actually perfect. Fantastic work all around.
My thanks to Henry Holt & Company and NetGalley for the ARC.