We watch in horror, as the global explosion of the Sars-CoV-2 virus continues. The spreading medical emergency starkly reveals the real wages of neoliberalism and its extractive austerities. Gutted national healthcare systems that put profit over lives have left millions of people without access to medical care – a de facto death sentence for many. Every day now, we see where that leaves us in a pandemic. The healthcare crisis unfolds within a larger context of crisis: the underlying economic crisis of late capitalism and the planetary ecological crisis of late capitalist modernity. In the Covid19 emergency, the next crisis to arrive, before the medical crisis is over and just as the economic one begins to kick in, is likely to be a crisis in the capitalist food system.
The growing, picking, processing, packing and delivery of our food is vulnerable at many points in the long supply and delivery chains that stock the shelves in our grocery stores. Farmworkers, food processors and delivery workers are asked to work in unprotected conditions that often make social distancing impossible. Pickers on the industrial farms, many of whom are undocumented or precarious migrants, typically travel from squalid work camps to the fields in tightly packed buses. Workers at Amazon, the largest corporation dominating the end-delivery chains, have begun walkout strikes as Covid19 spreads through their warehouse workplaces. It is hard to see how breaks and bottlenecks in the global flows of food will be avoided without cynically sacrificing the workers who feed us. We need to understand and anticipate this, because food is at the center of life and social reproduction. The struggles for food sovereignty that will soon come to the fore will not only help to keep us alive – they highlight values of care, mutuality, gender equality, and climate and environmental justice that can orient the fight against fascism and the refusal to go back to normal, when all the dead are buried. If the Covid-19 pandemic is pushing us to think an alternative form of social and natural symbiosis, food production is an essential facet of this operation, even more, a nodal point for its utopian and practical dimensions.
For an End to Big Agriculture
The capitalist food production system is ecocidal and genocidal; paradoxically, extinction is its immanent drift. The rupture of Covid19 is at least an opportunity to overthrow a destructive and unsustainable mono-industrial paradigm and replace it, everywhere, with more localized systems of polyculture and agroecology. Founded on the 17th century slave plantation system and forced on the world from the 1950s on under the obscene misnomer “the green revolution,” the current capitalist food system is dominated by large transnationals that grow cash crops for export on huge monocultural farms and neo-plantations. These “Big Ag” monopolies are fossil fuel dependent, are heavy with pesticides and chemicals, waste precious water (70-90 % of all freshwater used by modern society!), drive bees and other needed pollinators as well as birds and other small predators to collapse and extinction, and discharge toxic runoff that causes red tides and dead zones when it reaches the seas. Moreover, capitalist food production is fully implicated in driving global warming and climate chaos: