© 2022


In the Western world, or in cities and places ripe with immigrant communities, something revolutionary is occurring: the normalization of consuming food from all over the world. For the first time in history, whether in New York City or London, you can easily prepare food from Korea, India, or Thailand.

This was once an example of status and power; even everyday basic spices like sugar, cinnamon, and pepper in Medieval Europe were considered luxuries available only for a select, wealthy few. Even as international trade and food accessibility increases, still only a select group of the wealthiest individuals can afford this, continuing a more detrimental legacy of colonial behavior and trauma.

Let’s start at the beginning. Upon discovering the New World, the European powers saw it as a land of opportunity. And so, they brought slaves from Africa and, later on, from South Asia. The intent of this was to cultivate sugar, tobacco, and cotton on plantations. European-based slavery continued in the Caribbean until 1848. When we think of slavery, we often focus on the inhumane aspects, missing the simultaneous environmental impacts.

With native communities wiped out by disease or killed, European colonizers were able to occupy their land. The creation of plantations led to massive deforestation efforts, water pollution, and poor agricultural practices. Typically, one type of crop would be planted – a form of ecological cleansing - which then leads to soil erosion amongst other damage. This practice causes catastrophic events if continued for a long time; the Dust Bowl in the United States occurred due to this very same reason.

History tends to repeat itself. In 2018, a U.K. report on the food industry called it “a high-risk industry for exploitation and abuse,”, equating it to having a high likelihood of involving modern-day slavery. While some local and national governments have done work to combat the impacts of this supply chain issue - passing legislation that requires transparency and ethical choices - the vast majority of institutions have done nothing so far. The demand for goods at low prices and maximizing profit has created a global problem.

Environmentally, food production is the culprit for 26% of greenhouse gas emissions, showing the strain we are creating to maintain our current demands for food. Roughly half of all habitable land is utilized for agriculture, which has accounted for the destruction of natural environments and habitats. In 2014, it was discovered that only 30% of arable land is actually necessary for agricultural purposes.

In the United States alone, roughly 40% of food is wasted in a single year, which means USD 161 billion worth of food is thrown away. Without proper balance in food systems and nutrition, this highlights the substantial inequality in food consumption. 20% of the American food supply is imported. Globally, almost one billion people are classified as undernourished or starving, and for Chad - the country with the highest index of being affected by hunger - 66.2% of its population considered to be living within severe poverty.

Increased food demand and low prices have led to a massive ethical issue within supply chains and our exhausted natural resources. While some foods and spices were once considered a luxury, they only became widely available in households due to human exploitation. Sugar, for example, became more affordable because of the slavery and plantation systems in place, allowing large quantities to be produced with fewer expenses. However, this led to the destruction of the natural environment in the Caribbean islands, leaving the soil infertile and with an inability to grow other crops.

With a climate crisis looming over us, evaluating and lobbying politically for environmental protection becomes even more critical. As the food industry has been built off of structural inequality racially and environmentally, looking for ethically produced and locally sourced food must become a priority.

ASHLEY HAJIMIRSADEGHI is an Iranian-American writer and artist. She is the author of the chapbooks cartography of trauma (forthcoming; dancing girl press) and cinephile (Ghost City Press). She is the co-Editor in Chief at Mud Season Review, co-Editor in Chief at Juven Press, and a poetry reader at EX/POST Magazine. A four-time Best of the Net nominee, Ashley has received scholarships and fellowships from Brooklyn Poets, the US State Department, COUNTERCLOCK, the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, and the University of Arizona, among others.

CLÁUDIA SALGUEIRO is a designer and illustrator focused on nature and sustainable projects. Through her work, she explores mediums like graphite, found-paper collage and alternative printing techniques.

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