“I can’t breathe.”
May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man was murdered in Minneapolis, MN. He was killed at the knee of a white man – with the help of other white men, enabled by a system dominated and controlled by white men. My wife was born and raised in Minneapolis. Five weeks ago, she gave birth at home to our second son amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. (It was amazing). I am happy to report that we are blessed to have two healthy children. Two healthy boys. Two healthy white boys. Two healthy white, privileged, boys. My inner monologue has looked something like this: “How do I manage that? What is my role as a father of two boys born into a system that will reward and protect them solely because of their skin color and sex? What is my role as a white male who has benefitted from this perverse system? How do we distribute our privilege to help create the equitable society in which we want these boys to grow up? Where do we start? How do I ask for guidance without sounding tone-deaf in this moment? What should I do?”
I have been writing this note for the past 10 days, attempting to find the right words. All the while, I’ve been reading and listening to others who are speaking out, recognizing that, “Saying something wrong is better than saying nothing at all.”
We at 4P Foods have spent six years working towards a more equitable food system – we take equity more seriously than nearly any other value. Yet, the collective racial awakening over the past two weeks has shaken me to my core as I see clearly that we are falling short as a company. When I wonder whether we are doing enough, I know deep down that we are not. We have done important work that I am proud of, but we have in no way done enough.
Our food system is fundamentally broken. Our economic system is fundamentally broken. We operate in a global marketplace where profits are glorified and manifested – almost universally by white men – at the expense of everything (and everyone) else. We externalize the true costs of production, distribution, and consumption onto people, communities, and the environment. In doing so, we have created a perverse reality in which those who have wealth and power are able to protect and perpetuate that wealth and power. It has been this way for 400 years.
Our systems need to change. According to Federal Reserve Data, the average net worth of white families in America is $171,000, while the average net worth of black families is $17,150. That incredible divide is a direct result of slavery and the institutional inequities that have persisted ever since. White families monetizing and profiting from free labor, while amassing assets in the form of land, education, and systemic influence have developed a system that allows those who have, to have more, and those who don’t have, to be held back. This is our shameful history. Let us look it in the eye, acknowledge it, and create a future that is different.
What to do?
We at 4P Foods stand for equity—racial equity. We stand for justice—racial justice. We stand for sovereignty—equitable economic sovereignty. We support minority-owned producers and community organizations leading the way for Black food sovereignty. As a food hub and benefit corporation, we are working to build a better food system where Good Food is the norm, not the exception, for everyone. And we are committed to doing more.
In recent days, we have had many long conversations at 4P Foods. While we recognize that our approach will likely be imperfect, we are committed to playing our part in systemic change.
- To our team: Thank you for your willingness to engage in this dialogue. I am grateful for those of you that have offered to lead the process of engaging the entire company staff in racial equity dialogues to include facilitated discussions, trainings, and education to bring all of us to a more clear place of compassion, understanding, and action. Let us enter into these conversations with open minds, big hearts, and a willingness to change.
- To our black-owned businesses and organizations: We support you. We love you. We are humbled by your strength and passion. We will continue to intentionally source from farmers and producers of color, while simultaneously recognizing that we can do better. We can do more. Further, we commit to elevating the dialogue around the fact that there are so few black farmers in our region because access to wealth and land was systemically stripped from them. We commit to fighting alongside you in the days, weeks, years, and decades to come.
- To anyone reading this who has privilege: Invest in businesses owned by black leaders. Give to organizations led by black leaders. Support black artists who are using their voice for change. We must begin the wealth transfer process that is reparations. As we do, *right now* you can inject capital into the businesses and organizations that have been fighting this fight for racial equity for years. Below are just a few here in our region:
- Dreaming Out Loud
- The Green Scheme
- Eat Well
- Sylvanaqua Farms
- Culinary Concepts
- Ruth Tyson – An artist who recently penned a powerful open letter to her employer about her experience as a black woman working for the organization, and why, ultimately, she decided to leave.
- The food system news source, Civil Eats recently shared a nationwide list of Black food sovereignty organizations. I invite you to learn more about their missions here and donate to them if you can. Similarly, here is a list of black-owned restaurants in DC that you can support, and a link to the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce, where you can find all kinds of black-led businesses.
- To everyone: We are listening. We are on one knee, in solidarity, with empathy and love… we are listening.
Let us not let this moment pass with just thoughts and prayers. Let us keep up the fight, the protests, and the relentless commitment to make lasting change.
With love and gratitude,
-Tom McDougall and the 4P Foods family
PS – Below is a list of resources aggregated by the DC Food Policy Council about racial equity in the food system.
- Ashanté M. Reese, Black Food Geographies, Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, D.C. (book)
- Food Solutions New England (FSNE) 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge
- HEAL (Health Environment Agriculture Labor) Alliance
- Building the Case for Racial Equity in the Food System, Center for Social Inclusion
- Marlysa Gamblin, Applying a Racial Equity Lens to End Hunger
- Sign up for DC Urban Gardeners (DUG) Newsletter
- Send others to [email protected]