In Haiti, as in many developing countries, the prospect of enhancing food sovereignty faces serious structural constraints. In particular, trade liberalization has deepened patterns of food import dependence and the export orientation of peasant farming. But there are also powerful cultural dimensions to food import dependence that further problematize the challenge of pro-poor agrarian change. Food cultures are sometimes underappreciated in the food sovereignty literature, which tends to assume that there will be a preference for local or ‘culturally appropriate’ foods. In Haiti, historically ingrained and persistent ideologies of racism magnify class hierarchies and the common perceptions of peasants at the bottom of the social order. This paper explores the intersection of socially constructed ideologies of racism with peasant aspirations for socio-cultural mobility, drawing from 30 qualitative interviews with key informants in government, non-governmental organizations, and social movements, and 108 qualitative interviews and 216 food preference surveys that were conducted in three sites in rural Haiti between November 2010 and July 2013. The core argument is that racially-coded class hierarchies exert a powerful influence on dietary aspirations, as ‘peasant’ foods like millet, root crops and molasses bread are commonly denigrated by Haiti’s poor, including peasants themselves, while ‘elite’ and ‘foreign’ foods like white flour bread, Corn Flakes, and spaghetti get held up as superior. This suggests a need to appreciate how the cultural geographies of food interact with—and can in fact exacerbate—political and economic inequalities, which raises challenging questions for peasant movements and advocates of food sovereignty.

Class, Food sovereignty, Geographies of food, Haiti, Peasant studies, Race
Agriculture and Human Values
Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs

Steckley, M. (2016). Eating up the social ladder: the problem of dietary aspirations for food sovereignty. Agriculture and Human Values, 33(3), 549–562. doi:10.1007/s10460-015-9622-y