Up next for the Anthropologies #22 Food issue we have this essay from Chhaya Kolavalli, who is currently a PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of Kentucky. Her research interests center on the raced and classed impacts of US socioeconomic policy, US cities, and the alternative agrifood movement. Her dissertation research explores the racialization process at the center of food justice work, through investigation into differential understandings of racialized urban space, understandings of hunger and ‘food desertification,’ and racially restrictive urban development. –R.A.
“In faith work, you want your faith to fuel you, personally, and it will shine out in what you do—you won’t have to try to convert anyone. We don’t want to tell people what to believe. But we do want to beg the question, ‘Oh my gosh, why are things going so well for them?—Well, let me tell you! It’s because of the light of the lord. And you know I’ll answer questions if people ask, but I won’t push it. And lots of times people start asking these questions in our garden”
– Carly Smith, co-founder of a Midwestern urban-agriculture centered faith based organization (FBO).
Federal welfare rollback has made nonprofits and faith-based organizations like Carly’s increasingly responsible for urban governance and welfare provision in the United States (Morgen and Maskovsky 2003; Swyngedouw 2005). The 1996 Personal Work and Responsibility Act (PWORA), specifically, ushered in drastic policy changes—PWORA’s “Charitable Choice” provision opened up funding for religious nonprofits, allowing them to retain religious identity while competing for government contracts (Nagel 2006). Concurrent with these policy changes has been the rise of new, youth-led conservative Christian movements—championed by former mega-church attendants, disenchanted with what they see as “consumer Christianity” and outmoded methods of evangelism (Bielo 2011b; Clayborn 2006). Many of these movement participants, largely white, upper-middle class Americans in their 20s and 30s, attempt to enact their faith through simple living and social service—an increasing number are moving to urban areas, staying in Catholic Worker houses, neo-monastic intentional living groups, forming non-profits, and working in service of the urban poor (Bielo 2011a; Bielo 2011b).
A dominant trend among these “new” Christians has been to utilize urban agriculture and community gardening as a means of feeding and creating community with the poor (Carnes 2011; Clayborn 2006; Roberts 2009). The garden, however, is also emblematic of new methods of domestic evangelism (Elisha 2008)—as outlined by Carly, above. For the evangelical urban gardeners involved in this study, the garden served as a site to recruit new church members and to ‘model’ several aspects of their conservative religious ideology—most notably, as I’ll argue, a heteronormative patriarchal family structure and gendered division of labor. Continue reading