During this year's Think Again Conference put on by the amazing Abundance Foundation in Pittsboro, North Carolina, I was asked to give a talk on the subject of Farming, Fashion and Fiber. This was not the first time I had been invited to speak during many of the events that the brains behind Abundance Foundation organizes each year. The first time I heard about the organization was during my training in culinary school. One of the professors, chef Todd, had announced that the college had agreed to participate in a festival known as The Pittsboro Peppers Festival. He went on to explain that the student-participants would join about ten other local chefs and restaurants in preparing dishes using peppers that had been grown at Piedmont Bio Farm, which was located on a Bio diesel plant that actually gave the farm its name. Dough Jones was then the most renowned farm locally and especially due to his extensive knowledge about peppers. Dough Jones was one of my mentors during my formative years as I cutting my teeth in the nascent Food Movement. I would spend many hours volunteering at Doughs farm at the Bio Diesel Plant and at the Central Carolina Community College where Dough ran the student farm before he move to the Bio Farm. It was therefore not a hard preposition for me accept the invitation to volunteer at the food event that chef Todd was inviting the students to. I did not bother to mention that I had previous connections to the some of the people involved in the event, Pittsboro is a small town and I latter came to find out that the same people would appear at most progressive events.
The event, as it were, was rather small. It was held in the backyard of the Bio Diesel plant, surrounded by Doughs beautiful farm on all sides. The attendance was quite low and it would have been difficult to project how such an event would grow in a mere ten years.
During the event, I met Tami Sherwin who genius behind the foundation for the first time. Our relationship grew and I came to admire her commitment to building community, local economy and green energy. This relationship developed over time as we realized that we shared a lot of common interests. Tami would always keep up with what I was doing or simply the latest ideas that I may have be toiling with during the many events we would ran into each other. A year after I graduated from culinary school, she agreed to host a pop up dinner at the same plant. The dinner was held at a break room of the Piedmont Bio diesel plant with an adjacent small kitchen. I have to admit that the space for quite small for the number of guests we had but this also made for a very cozy dinner. The next gig that Tami and worked together on was when she hired me as a consultant for a climate change conference that with a focus on social justice a few years later. All this events allowed me to both expand my exposure to the complexities of food matters. Whenever she would reach out me with another request, I found it easy to see the role I could play and this just kept stretching my imagination. Then one day in 2017, Tami and Alisa, who rans Sparkroot farm, come up with an even crazier idea about hosting a Death Faire after they both lost loved ones the previous year. The Death Faire was a celebration of those who had departed as well a time to rethink how we have been socialized around the whole idea of death and to review the attendant emotions and how we could think about the whole process in more sustainable way that both serves our inner emotions and the environment as well. It is worth noting that both of their loved ones had green burials. I actually participated in the digging of the grave for Alisa's husband. That is however a story for another day. Green burial in a growing field that aims at eliminating those funeral practices that are detrimental to the planted. But I digress. At least I hope that the reward for such digression is a descent context for the story.
I therefore gladly accepted the invitation to give a talk about the above subject though I did not immediately know what I would exactly talk about. On the Sunday before the event, I went on a run at a near by park and by the end of the six mile run, the lecture was clearly outlined in my head. I could see a very clear connection between the title of the conference and my work as a food activist, anthropologist and chef. I have always know that the textile industry is the backbone of most developed economies and it is only next to food in ranking of the most important foundational industries which no liberated community can afford to ceed to a foreign power. I have heard the argument raised by many people and I may not even remember exactly where I first heard the argument or when I first articulated the idea in one of my lectures. What I do know is that my ideas about fashion has evolved a great deal since I formally started my work as an activist. As I learned more about how the fashion industry in organized to exploit the poor nations as a source of cheap labor that are a modern form of slavery, and the enormous amounts of profits that are made by those behind the industry, I become very disillusioned by the whole industry. I almost detested the veneration of the blood-soaked fashion industry, and especially the wrong-headed practice of poor people using the fashion as a status symbol. I found myself caring less and less about fashion as I freed my self from its centrifugal pull. I could see very clearly how it was a set up to keep poor people working against their best interests. By buying into the whole fashion industry, the poor were actually perpetuating the industry of exploitation. The whole industry was based on accepting a false narrative that wearing clothes or rather brands was a sign of progress. It mattered less that the clothes were made in sweatshop conditions, where majority of the money went to multinational corporations. It did not seem to make a difference that these corporations did not pay any taxes in the countries where these clothes were manufactured. Neither did it matter that many of this clothes, which were mostly made in areas know as EPZ, or export processing zones, where the clothes could not be sold to the local markets but were specifically made for export. The same countries that were exporting new clothes to Western countries were themselves importing the same clothes a few years down the road as used clothes. How crazy is this? Are others people, mostly people of color not dignified enough to wear new clothes that have not been disempowered by Westerners bodies and actually designed for white bodies and to promote White culture? Would it not be easier and better for the planet to make new clothes for those communities and for America and the west to make their own clothes in their respective communities and save all the transpiration costs?
The questions I asked myself are too many to list here. What I did realize and raised as a major point in my lecture is that Food and Textile industries are the backbone of any local economy. Food and clothes are the two things that you have to use every day, unless you live in a nude beach. If any country wants to conquer another, control of its food and textile is one of the easiest way to keep them as perpetual slaves. If someone is feeding you and clothing you, it goes without saying that you will start worshiping that person as your god. For all intent and purposes, the person who feeds and clothes you ultimately makes you. If you take the highly processed food that many in the developed nation consume, the result has been an overweight and sick nation. The effects of consuming highly processed food has far reaching consequences on the kind of society we become and the kind of influence that America and the west has on the rest of the world. In fact, its not coincidence that American diet is widely know as SAD, standard American diet. The idea of food stamps for example had little to do with helping people to eat but with business. During the Depression, the farmers in this country had no market for many of their produce as many American had little or no money to buy their food. The government then figured that it could buy the food from the farmers and keep them from going bankrupt and defaulting on their loans. The poor families become a great way to make the whole idea work as they become the consumers of the food that the government bought. That period also marks the beginning of the weight problems in this country. The food that the government subsidized was highly processed and had little nutritional value. Processing food is a darling of large corporations and a way of creating jobs. So the American government financed the enlarging of corporations by giving them guaranteed government business but also created a huge burden for the country as obesity rates ballooned in the U.S and now in the developing world as America exports its processed food as its local markets become saturated.
This model has been perfected by the Farm Bill that continues to give too much money to the wrong people to grown too much of the wrong food that does too much damage to the environment and finally does too much to dispossess the American people. What is an even more damning indictment is that this is not limited to this country only. The final blow of the whole process is that the process was like a pilot project. We can see a similar process in international affairs. Food and textile are being welded as tools of war globally. In addition, the financialisation of many economies around the globe are taking on the same model. The Bundesbank in Europe is forcing other countries like Greece to accept more loans just to keep the banks in Germany and France that loaned Greece money from loosing money. That means that these powerful countries are forcing Greece to take up more loans to pay loans that it has already defaulted on. How is taking more loans going to help a country that cannot pay its current loans? The solution would be to just right off part of the debt and renegotiate the rest. However, the consequences of these forced loans to Greece have resulted in a shrinking Greek economy. A shrinking economy means that the debtor country will be less likely to afford its current loans, leave alone any new loans. We also know that most of these loans do not even touch the Greek Central Bank but are paid directly to the German and French banks.
I am drawing your attention to the continuous process of exploiting other nations by the current super powers. Germany has plenty of blood going back to the Genocide in Namibia, a country where majority of the land is controlled by tiny minority of Germans. Africans in that country continue to suffer under systemic racism , just as most indigenous populations are globally.
I continued to use the the analysis to draw a connection of how newly independent countries by having no control over their food and textile were essentially forced to abandon democratic practices. This is because the countries are already set up to fail but having been denied to grow a local economy. What resulted was a situation where by these newly independent countries were being forced into the global financial system that was so slanted against them that all they could hope for is to continue being a source of raw materials for the same countries that had colonized them or exploited them. The World Bank and IMF had the sole purpose of making this oppression as smooth as possible.
One of the ways in which the recently independent countries were condemned to be despotic is simple. A president is elected by a population that expected to have jobs and an improved standard of living. Under normal circumstances, the food industry and the textile industry would create huge employment for the new nations. If you think about the growing of food and textile just by itself must employ millions of people. Then there is the technical know how to support the growing, the research, the processing of the textile and food. Then you add more jobs for the transportations and warehousing. There is also the design for the textile into fashion that has so many different sub sectors which include the organizing the whole fashion industry, the printing of fashion magazines and the whole model and fashion shows that come with the more developed fashion industry.. The marketing and retailing would also add millions of jobs. All these jobs are wiped out by having relief food and used clothes. Therefore any leader, however righteous would find it difficult to make up for the loss of jobs in a continent with such a youthful population. The natural solution of a leader for one of this young country would be to protect his or her position in power through autocratic means. This is one sure way of making a dictator. Let us not forget that the same countries that send used clothes and food ,subsidized by the Americans tax payers through the Farm Bill, make it their business to have autocratic leaders in Africa. These autocratic leaders are know to steal huge amounts of money from their poor countries. That is one of the major reason that these countries are poor. That stollen money ends up in the Western countries but who are owned by corporations. The small scale farmer in the U.S suffers at the hands of a government that is in the hands of the corporations and he is used to oppress other poor people in other countries globally by buying new clothes from the EPZ, ran by the same corporations that is getting subsidies from the government at the expense of the small scale farmer. These corporations use the money to buy influence through lobbyists in western governments so that the government spends less money on the poor or middle class but more and more on giving to the rich and the corporations. There is one reason we have a department know as Food and Drug Administration. So the next time someone tells you that Let your food be thy medicine", you know they are playing a conn game on you. Food is food and medicine is medicine. You don't go to the drug store to buy food and neither should you go to the food store to by drugs. But the corporations have blurred our intelligence. They sell us nutrients and vitamins instead of food. Its all in line to keep the ponze scheme going. Once you realize that your appetite is the main cause of pain for majority of people of color and the major cause of global warming, we will be on our way to breaking down the curse that have visited mankind and is about to take us out of here. I concluded by restating the old adage "let food be thy medicine" with "let food and textile be your gift and not curse to yourself and the world"
Examine how you eat and how you dress and you will find the secret and not so secret reason why you are unhappy, unhealthy and far from being free. The illusion that westerners are free or better off than many in the developing work should remind all of the sword of Damocles that hangs above our head. We are all slaves of the multi-national corporations. They have no boundaries, profits have overcome politics. That is a death sentence for anyone who knows what capitalism is all about. The false independence tied to food ,textile should be out of fashion both for Africa and for YOU.