Knowing Our Soils and Ourselves: An Analysis of Whiteness and Settler Perspectives in Alternative Agricultural Discourse

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2021-05

Authors

Johnson, Lauren

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Abstract

For as long as conventional, predominant forms of agriculture have existed in the United States, people have engaged with and theorized alternative forms of agriculture that ameliorate the perceived ills of the conventional system. Given the current state of conventional agriculture in the United States - a system characterized by factory farming, monoculture, soil depletion, and reliance on fertilizer and pesticide inputs - national conversation has developed about how agriculture can operate more sustainably in the future. This conversation includes, and is informed in many ways by, books, documentaries, and other cultural products created by thought leaders in the alternative agriculture movement. Agriculture is inextricably connected to settler colonialism and to the historical repression and exclusion of marginalized groups in the United States. As such, many of these cultural products normalize aspects of settler colonialism and whiteness in the alternative agriculture space. In this thesis, I analyze two recent cultural products that theorize a future of alternative agriculture: The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, a book written by farm-to-table chef Dan Barber, and The Biggest Little Farm, a documentary directed by farmer John Chester. I will locate the ways in which these sources normalize settler colonial and white perspectives toward agriculture, food systems, and history, a normalization which threatens to create a settler and white-dominated future of agriculture given these sources’ goal of providing audiences with a blueprint for creating the future of agriculture. Through this thesis, I seek to provide examples of common modes of normalization to enable the reader to more easily identify whiteness and settler perspectives in other cultural products and discourse in this space, with the overall goal of enabling a future of alternative agriculture that sufficiently empowers non-white and non-settler voices.

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