WORDS: KATE WEINER
For Loam's very first bookshelf pick, we're excited to share Natasha Bowens' The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience and Farming. The Color of Food is a multimedia ethnographic project that documents the experiences of communities of color farming and working within the food movement. I spoke with Natasha over the phone about the book and left feeling a lot more hopeful about our food system and the many incredible farmers and farm advocates that are moving us in a new direction.
The book stemmed from Natasha's blog, Brown.Girl.Farming. When Natasha first started blogging, she didn't really have an agenda. What she wanted to do was dig into her passion for farming and food firsthand and have an outlet for her frustrations with the racial disparities she was witnessing in the food movement. Her engaging personal stories and creative profiles of diverse granges showed a side of the food movement that had been largely underrepresented in mainstream media. She was frustrated with the perception of a monoculture food movement and eager to confront the systemic issues that shape the food movement.
After Natasha's blog was featured on Grist, however, she quickly realized the potential to "create a platform for our voices." After several years of growing this "living photographic story project," Natasha compiled the stories and photographs and sent a proposal to New Society Press to publish a book. She considered compiling "The Color of Food" as an opportunity to archive stories that have been excluded from the mainstream and to amplify marginalized voices. Part of what makes "The Color of Food" such a dynamic read is, in fact, that the chapters are told in the farmers' own words. As readers, we are afforded the unique privilege to listen in on the stories of others.
We're fed this idea that the food movement is a fundamentally elitist, upper-middle class white endeavor. Both Natasha's blog and book serve as evidence to the contrary. Whether or not the communities that she works with identify as food justice advocates and use organic practices varies. And in this way, Natasha's work is proof that there is no one type of farmer, no singular way of participating in and contributing to the food movement. Paging through "The Color of Food" asks us to exercise an openness to new ideas, to release ourselves from value judgments about the "right" way to eat or to farm, to recognize moments of discomfort as a catalyst for changing how race and class are addressed within the food movement.
As Natasha tells me, her ethnographic work required her to really learn how to listen and relinquish any sort of soapbox opinions. Throughout our conversation, she expresses gratitude time and time again for the opportunity to connect with these farmers. I'm moved by the force of her thankfulness because it's a practice we so often forget to integrate into our daily lives. "The Color of Food" accomplishes many things--raising awareness about class and race within the food movement, sharing the stories of communities of color, encouraging a more open and flexible approach to farming--but one of its byproducts may very well be gratitude for the farmers who are opening up their world to us and in doing so, shedding light on the multifaceted nature of farming.