Last Reviewed on June 21, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 331
As Eric Schlosser notes in his foreword to The Good Food Revolution, America’s agricultural history is “largely a history of racial exploitation.” He also mentions a study noting that a person’s zip code is an excellent indicator of their life expectancy. Will Allen’s book recounts his involvement in food production and efforts to increase healthy food consumption habits in the United States. In addition, he shows how race and related aspects of inequality shape people’s options. The book is heavily autobiographical, recounting his personal journey through more a conventional career trajectory for African American men—professional athletics—to a far less typical decision to commit to agriculture. Beyond his success in business, his decision to enter social activism around food issues and his insights into food and land justice all combine in this multi-faceted contribution to both food literature and memoir.
Not only Allen’s involvement in urban farming and related food-revolution movements but his writing about the subject is a relatively rare contribution to American food writing. To some extent, Allen’s work is a close companion to Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, in which Schlosser showed the reasons behind and negative impact of increasing consumption of fast food. Similarly, Allen joins the ranks of historically oriented analyses of changes in agriculture and diet, notably Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. One feature that makes Allen’s work stand out in this field, however, is precisely a key problem that he explores.
Over the last eighty years, the number of African American farmers has declined precipitously. From the Great Migration, in which black people fled the South through class-based upward mobility that leads to white-collar careers, the association of blacks with agriculture had been steadily declining. There are correspondingly few studies of contemporary and recent African American farming, a gap that is shrinking as related activism continues to grow. In this regard, Allen’s work is well situated alongside Leah Penniman’s 2018 Farming While Black.
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