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Food sovereignty represents a refusal of a globally commodified food system in favor of systems and institutions that support self-sufficient communities.

By Any Greens Necessary” looms large on an Illinois billboard. The sign, advertising a local farmer’s market, is sponsored by Trinity United Church in Christ. Trinity is an Afrocentric Christian church known for its unapologetic militancy in freedom struggles over many generations. Now it is one of a growing number of Black congregations and communities in the fight against food insecurity.

Food insecurity is the inability to access nutrient-rich foods and fresh produce. In the United States more than 38 million people, including 12 million children, are food insecure. Unsurprisingly, Black communities are disproportionately food insecure relative to white communities, a fact which leads activist Karen Washington to reframe food insecurity as food apartheid. Food insecure communities, in which a supermarket or grocery store is over 2 miles away, are defined by the US Department of Agriculture as food deserts. And residents of food deserts are often debilitated by diet-related chronic diseases including hypertension, coronary heart disease, and diabetes.

To explain the political economy of food insecurity, many development scholars turn to Harriet Friedmann’s theory of international food regimes. According to Friedmann, we are approaching the consolidation of the corporate-environmental regime. This regime, the third since 1870, has co-opted the environmental movement of the late 1980s and early 90s and is commodifying more and more natural resources. Alongside the fossil fuel industry, the regime may destroy the environment, small-scale farmers, and the world’s population beyond repair.

Food regimes are, in Friedmann’s terms, “a specific constellation of governments, corporations, collective organizations, and individuals” that, through global governing bodies, unregulated transnational trade, and the corporate takeover of domestic agriculture, aim to remove the “social and political barriers to the free flow of capital in food and agriculture.” For profit, the current regime has monopolized the industrial agrifoods complex – the world’s food-producing resources such as land, labor, water, air, and seeds.

In response to the deleterious effects of the corporate food regime, activists around the world are fighting for food sovereignty. As defined by the leading agrarian justice coalition, Via Campesina, food sovereignty is the right of each community to develop and maintain its own capacity to produce basic foods, respecting cultural crop diversity and agricultural techniques.

Decades after Via Campesina first defined what was mostly a movement of peasant farmers in the Global South, the term “food sovereignty” has been adopted by Black communities across the United States. It is no coincidence that sovereignty, understood as self-determination or the capacity of a community to choose its own destiny, is a touchstone for activists. Black revolutionaries have long believed that liberation is predicated on a community’s ability to produce its own food and securely steward land.  

Indeed, for centuries, generations of Black radicals have known one thing to be true: liberation is from the ground up. Black participation in the food sovereignty movement echoes past liberation movements from antebellum marronage to “free the land” and “back to the land” movements of the 1960s and 70s – hence Trinity’s allusion to Malcolm X and the Black Power Movement. Malcolm X, in his Message to the Grassroots, unequivocally declared that “revolution is based on land.” For Black activists, sovereignty is what it means to be free – and food and land are liberty’s primary ingredients.

In analyzing the corporate food regime, sovereignty–when understood as the absolute power over life and death–is illuminating, if not alarming. As Amy Trauger explains in We Want Land to Live: Making Political Space for Food Sovereignty, the corporate food regime profits from exercising biopolitical power over the world’s poor and powerless. The regime’s biopolitics–the power to foster, define, or manage life according to the sovereign’s aims–is implemented through land seizures, restrictive zoning, and food system regulations that make it illegal for small-scale farmers to transport goods or plant unauthorized genetic material, such as heirloom seeds.

Moreover, the regime disappears indigenous agrarian knowledges (and people) to subject the land to unsustainable agricultural practices, such as monocultural farming. Monocultural farming, in contradistinction to sustainable agricultural practices like crop rotation and plant diversity, leads to soil erosion (read: the 1930s Dust Bowl) and ultimately contributes to global warming. It also demands that peasant and small-scale farmers sacrifice their land, and subjects agricultural workers to brutal working conditions and unlivable wages, thereby creating a class of citizens for whom self-sufficiency is always out of reach.

Left unchecked, the food regime will continue to divide the world’s population into the wealthy few who can afford organic, high-quality foods, and the poor who are conscripted to produce the nutritious foods they cannot afford or legally produce. The poles of the divide look like Serenbe, a luxury “agrihood” that offers sidewalks lined with edible vegetation, vis-a-vis plantations in South Georgia where trafficked workers were brutally forced to pull onions from the grounds with their bare hands.

In other words, the legitimate worry of food sovereignty advocates is that industrial farms and food deserts will devolve into Giorgio Agamben’s “camp,” a place where humans are reduced to bare life, or the minimal requirements of biological survival, to sustain state-corporate power. If not prefigurative camps, or sovereign states of exception, food deserts are what Katherine McKittrick might call demonic grounds of state-corporate power. Food deserts are bounded geographies in which the human right of self-sufficiency and access to life-sustaining food is suspended for market-driven profits. And given the state violence, surveillance, and the force of militarized police that consume so many Black communities, one might argue that the camp is closer than we care to admit.

Yet, as always, the oppressed resist. Even in the midst of prefigurative camps and neo-plantations, those who have been racialized as Black refuse the bare life that biopolitical sovereignty produces.

What I have observed through ethnographic study is that Black resistance to food insecurity has been motivated by an allegiance to another sovereignty, like an ontologically Black or ethnically African Jesus, or the telos of popular sovereignty. For example, in Baltimore, Maryland–where one out of three residents face food insecurity–the Black Church Food Security Network is organizing Black churches, rural farmers, and urban growers into a locally controlled, farm-to-table distribution system. Inspired by the Black Jesus of Rev. Albert Cleage’s Black Christian Nationalism and the legacy of faith-based activists like Fannie Lou Hamer and Rev. Vernon Johns, the Network is facilitating Black liberation through the collective stewardship of life-sustaining resources. Legitimized by a sovereign that supersedes state-corporate power, they are tilling church grounds and planting gardens in resistance to biopolitical control.

Another example is The National Black Food and Justice Alliance. The motivations of this collective are diverse. Some are driven by Christian and/or African spiritualities, others by anarchic sensibilities, and some by collective economics. What they have in common is a practice of refusal. According to critical theorist Tina Campt, a practice of refusal represents a rejection of subjecthood predicated on “death, fungibility, precarity, and disposability.”

However, despite what one might assume, refusal does not end in despair or hopelessness. Instead, in its negation of subjecthood, Campt argues, refusal is generative. Refusal creates the space in which a Black fugitivity is born. The activist as fugitive, then, is one who abandons the exclusion that produces their precarity and diminished subjecthood and sets out to create new worlds in which their self-determination and moral agency are unencumbered by state-corporate control.

What I see, building upon the work of historian Robin D.G. Kelley, is that the new worlds planted by Black food sovereignty activists like the Network and the NBFJA are promised lands of the radical imagination – a place/space in which Black life is restored to the land in ways that promote Black liberation and flourishing.

In her study of Freedom Farmers, sociologist Monica White calls these promised lands “everyday utopias” or “spaces of prefigurative politics” that are radically alternative political systems. In constructing everyday utopias where everyone has adequate access to nutrient-rich food, activists are challenging the death-wielding power of the corporate food regime – not with an appeal to libertarian individualism or electoral politics, but with the collective self-determination that comes from the earth’s bounty. What hopefully develops from these sites of prefigurative politics, White suggests, are autonomous and economically independent communities.

The movement for food sovereignty is more than a public health initiative calling for reform or more charitable distributions. And unlike the previous “green revolution” of the late 1980s and early 90s that was eventually co-opted by the (neo)liberalism of the corporate-environmental food regime, the food sovereignty movement rejects the premise that solutions to environmental degradation and world hunger depend on efficiently commodifying natural resources. Instead, food sovereignty represents a refusal of a globally commodified food system in favor of systems and institutions that support self-sufficient communities. And given the immense harm that a commodified food system has inflicted upon Black communities in the US, people in the Global South, and the environment, the fight for food sovereignty is not just about food. The fight is a contest between sovereign wills. The movement for food sovereignty is a fight for life itself – a fight activists intend to win by any greens necessary.

Annotated Bibliography

Trauger, Amy. We Want Land to Live: Making Political Space for Food Sovereignty. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2017.

In turning to Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, and other theorists of sovereignty, Trauger explains the biopolitics of the global food regime as a sovereign power that mobilizes the commodification of agriculture to claim territory and subject small-scale and peasant farmers to bare life for profit. What Trauger also makes clear is that the global food system’s biopolitics is highly contested and by no means absolute – although it attempts to present its power and control as natural and infallible. Her analysis is accompanied by ethnographic case studies of resistance in the Global North – from a community garden in Lisbon, Portugal to a permaculture garden in Athens, Georgia. What connects these geographically diverse movements are alternative social imaginaries and utopian hopes for a new commons premised on deep relationality, collective land rights, friendship, and love.  

Kelley, Robin D. G. Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. Boston: Beacon Press, 2002.

Kelly’s Freedom Dreams suggests that the enduring telos of Black radicalism in the United States has been a particular freedom dream – the dream of a “New Land.” The New Land symbolizes an enduring quest for material and temporal territories free of antiblack racism and the deprivation such racism produces. (The Black food sovereignty movement, I argue, carries forth this freedom dream.) As evidence, Kelley offers a genealogy of Black radicalism over generations – a moving survey of fugitive practices from marronage to the surrealist jazz of Sun Ra.  He also includes in-depth case studies of Black nationalists, communists, and radical feminists – from MOVE, the Republic of New Afrika, and the Combahee River Collective. In bringing the marginalized voices of these activists to the forefront, Kelley’s Freedom Dreams begins to fill the lacuna of radical voices, voices most marginalized from Black political histories.

Cleage, Albert B. Black Christian Nationalism: New Directions for the Black Church. New York: WMorrow, 1972.

Cleage’s Black Christian Nationalism is a political theology that diagnoses the problem of modernity as a contest between the sovereignty of white supremacy and the Black Messiah. Thus, antiblack racism is the primary issue of concern for Black Christians, and the gospel of the Black Messiah demands that the Black churches prioritize the struggle for Black liberation and self-determination. To this end, Cleage’s text offers a blueprint for community development that instructs churches to institute afro-centric educational and collective economic programs within their congregations, in partnership with the broader Black community. These programs can successfully be carried out, Cleage suggests, by utilizing de facto segregation as a community asset (as opposed to investing more resources into integration). What’s more, Cleage understood the importance of land for the sake of community sovereignty, and the legacy of his text, and his activism, birthed Beulah Land farms, a 2000-acre farm in South Carolina stewarded by the denomination Cleage established – the Pan African Orthodox Church.


Native survivance, in [Gerald] Vizenor’s parlance, is a combination of the words “survival” and “resistance,” and it “creates a sense of presence.” According to him, “The suffix -ance designates a condition, a nature, or a quality that is more than a mere description of survival.”


Where relationality is most productive in critical projects is where it transcends its projects of critique and explores the possibilities—ethical, political, and theological—of its account of subjectivity and community.


Facing the violence of contemporary terror, many intellectuals have spoken in our present times about a return of political theology and religion in its violent forms. Attention to the concept of martyrdom has reappeared due to an increasing interest in religious conflicts.


In autopoiesis, there is no separation between what we do and the particular way in which the world appears to us.


Where state sovereignty as theology would have subjected groups accept their condition with its attending violence and suffering, the micro sovereignty I propose here – not merely as a futuristic idea, but more as a reflection on how subjected groups have dealt with subjection – invites us not to accept that violence and suffering, but to find creative ways out of it through the cracks of Empire.


Abolition is a process of imagining alternatives to the settler colonial, carceral present; it requires modes of kinship and care to replace prisons and policing.

Gratuitous Violence

Signifying a critical homology between the fields of Black studies and political theology, gratuitous violence is an important keyword for interrogating how religio-political concepts can afford unique insights into issues of slavery, race, and the human which continue to inform our world today.  


Asian American literary criticism’s analysis of contemporary orientalisms centered around the figuration of Asian subjectivities reminds political theologians that unconscious (white) fear and fascination with the Orient still guides political and theoretical engagement with the Asian “other.”


Thing as concept can be helpful to elucidate the specific yet ambiguous interaction of the religious and the political. Using recent thingly theoretical work within these two spheres, with an emphasis on body and shape, I will suggest ways through which thing (and things and thingness) both clarifies and challenges that interaction.


Diaspora might be a problem for political progressives for the very reason that it is so alluring. Diaspora promises both freedom and connection: freedom from national borders or the essentialisms of race and language, connection between people who affirm shared memory and heritage.
But heritage is never really free.


If there is one thing that can be said about blackness, it is this: blackness is unruly.

Black Reason

Black reason is propelled by a fantastic imaginary, a changeling animus that aggregates and transmogrifies the desires and fears of whiteness.

Racial Capitalism

The historical and theoretical relationships between race and capitalism are internally contested and in need of further exploration from theologians and scholars of religion.


Sometimes referred to as “population control,” other times “better breeding,” eugenics has been seen as a religious solution to social ills, and sometimes a new religion unto itself.


Gilroy’s “planetary humanism” contributes to political theology by offering more than a critique: in his work, humanism is a starting point, a concept to guide multicultural political projects today.


Official responses to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have encouraged us to understand risk in individual terms. They’re wrong: risk is all about interdependence.

Food Sovereignty

Food sovereignty represents a refusal of a globally commodified food system in favor of systems and institutions that support self-sufficient communities.


Doxa is a term used in sociology to contend with belief and orthodoxy without reducing either to behavior or cognition. It explores disposition and embodied belief—the gut sense of the world which is acquired through practice rather than discourse.

Settler Colonialism

I propose Decolonial Settler Theology as a contextual political theology that is uniquely the task of the settler, who must face their own complicity in narratives of ongoing colonization and aim at their undoing.


In an era during which police institutions and ideology are so fundamental to our cultural common-sense, how can theologians and critical theorists challenge this form of power?


This essay takes taboo as a critical term to trace the history of our modern present and as a conceptual companion with which to think through the complex entanglement of the ethical, the theological, and the political.


What is still nascent… is an explicit conversation between political theology and critical theories of affect, particularly in a way that might contribute to constructive projects. The sort of political theology that might emerge from such collaboration would consider how affective regimes intersect with theological constructions or religious performances.


While kinship has traditionally held a vibrant conceptual life in anthropological inquiry, more recent studies on kinship as a form of spiritual relationality have opened up a new space of interdisciplinary exploration for political theology.


The modern state form itself is inextricable from the commandement, not just as an emblem for sovereignty in Schmitt’s sense, but also because the exemplary political form of modernity, the nation-state, has racist and exclusionary tendencies that can be understood as political-theological transfers of monotheistic principles.


That structural violence is always also relational, proximate, and personal is, perhaps, one of the core insights that the concept of mourning brings to the fore for political theology.


The conversation about nature’s personhood and rights is always political, often legal, and sometimes theological. Most importantly, it is a localized conversation about the boundaries of a given community – who is part of the community and who isn’t.


For political theology, we might find ourselves compelled by practices that seek to connect us with our ecologies, our communities, and our relations with ourselves – in ways that are more about humility and provisionality than finding cures or solutions.


Queer, I think, should remain different, differing, dissonant, and plural. It shouldn’t contract or calcify into anything singular or solid.


If theorizations of care are to more directly address the current “crisis of care,” we need not only to prioritize the kinds of embodied, particularized care that care ethics has highlighted in the past, but to explore a wider range of caring relationships and their diverse structures.


A preliminary question for political theology is how to understand the meaning and significance of matter. The response to this question shapes how a political theology does or doesn’t engage political economy and theological tradition.


The triangulation of money, sovereignty, and divinity is a good point of entry to study the mutual constitution of theological and political concepts and the questions about ultimate value and social form that they raise.


Refusal is a strong current resisting the structure of settler colonialism. It crashes, churns, and erodes the death-dealing dams of settler knowing. Its path turns away from the settler’s gaze.


Seva lends itself to easy appropriation across political and religious contexts, while also furnishing mutually intelligible tropes of service, welfare, and social betterment.


Political theology intimately understands that given reality teems with forms of life that remain opaque to us.


Spillers, Cheng, and Halberstam provide us with tools to approach the histories of violence, economics, relationships, desires, and contestation that infuse our experiences with flesh in its multiplicity. Flesh is never neutral.


It is not always possible (or advisable) to separate the “political” from the “religious” or “cultural” in Indigenous contexts. Indeed, all of these are concepts developed by outsiders to describe Indigenous life. Instead, Indigeneity invites scholars of political theology and related fields to consider the relationships between these threads of cultural life.


As we watch the illusion that was Man fall apart, we also see these more-than-human worlds that Man called “animal” disrupting and revealing the cracks and fractures in his own divine intentions.

Temporality I: History

William Apess, like Walter Benjamin a century later, sought to shift the paradigms of society with history and theology as orienting poles for colonial critique. Anticipating Benjamin, Apess looked to those who had been wrecked by the advance of colonialism as the grounding site for historical and political theological inquiry.

Temporality II: Futurity

Both Benjamin and Apess discern that historical narratives are imbricated with notions of futurity, that is, which bodies and polities are allowed to inhabit and thrive within the temporality in which the “not yet” and the “always already” co-constitute each other.


In this short essay, written from my perspective as a Jewish feminist, I draw together a plurality of engagements with natality to engender new conversations in political theology.

Critical Race Theory

CRT is a framework or an approach to understanding the way racism is foundational to systems of judicial, political, social, cultural, religious, and theological power.


[S]ituating demonology more fully in its religious and theological contexts furnishes resources that not only nuance understandings of movements for whom demonization is central, but also recontextualize discussions of core political theological concepts, including sovereignty, power, economy, subjectivity, and freedom.


From Myanmar to Mariupol, from the streets of Memphis to the waves and winds of the Mediterranean Sea: resistance to violence takes many forms. So does political protest against precarity. At which point does the unavoidable vulnerability of the living condition come to expression as political agency? Can such precarious politics constitute or configure an alternative community?

Hunger Strike

“Instead of neatly separating the forms of resistance to biosovereignty into life-affirming struggles and necroresistance and mapping them (and life and death) onto the reform/revolt dichotomy, I suggest that we conceive life and death as relational rather than oppositional categories. For every differentiation and intensification of death creates new possibilities of life; and every differentiation and intensification of life entails experiences of “death” that cannot be reduced to the power of one’s death.”

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