The Trouble with the Global Perspective on Farming

Chris Newman
4 min readJan 4, 2023

Another great question from a recent Ask Me Anything:

Do you know anything about or have interest in exploring farming outside the US context? Smallholders in India and Indigenous farmers in Latin America seem to be doing some interesting stuff and are highly critical of the Gates Foundation etc that supports big ag globally. Wonder if there are any applicable lessons or if it’s just too different.

It goes without saying that there’s a lot of interesting things going on outside of the U.S., especially in the global south and Latin America where the modern food sovereignty movement has its roots. Gaining familiarity with the history of the food sovereignty movement and understanding how agriculture works in other parts of the world is an important exercise in establishing a context for the work we do here in North America (where most of our audience is based).

However.

I think that, for a lot of us, we’ve gone beyond looking at other parts of the world in order to contextualize local work, and have begun to instead develop a “grass is greener” attitude toward agriculture overseas. In some cases, we’re going so far as to fetishize food movements in other countries. Coming from a North American Indigenous culture myself, I’ve got a sensitive radar to people progressing from understanding to fetish. The symptoms of fetishization include:

  • Describing the target in purely positive terms
  • Ascribing any negative, difficult, or complex properties of the target to something external, especially hyperobjects like caplitalism/colonialism (thanks for Dagny Holt for the reference) that act as thought-stoppers.
  • Building a savior complex around the target that strips them of their humanity — in particular, their cultural evolution and complexity — reducing the target to a magic box from which solutions to all our problems should be found

When it comes to food and agriculture, fetishizing other cultures is nominally…

--

--

Chris Newman

Building a new, accessible, open, and democratic food economy in the Chesapeake Bay region @ Sylvanaqua Farms