The Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Clinic and the subsequent abortion bans in several states have put all families on edge. Meanwhile, parents and caregivers continue to struggle to access critical nutrition for infants. This is the grand conundrum of racial capitalism that always rears its head, which is my core issue. SCOTUS has overturned the assurance of reproductive health and rights through Roe v Wade, effectively driving forced birth on folks who may not want to procreate at all; the federal government is airlifting powder formula to grocery distribution warehouses due to unsafe production and supply chain hang-ups. What happens when our American standard of a safe, resourced family turns out to be a mirage?
The U.S. affords us the land of milk and honey fantasy, especially for those with some capital of our own; safe housing, transportation, assets that provide financial shelter, etc. The bar can be low for mothers and parents who struggle just to make ends meet. The milk dried up for us all, honey! In more ways than one. Reflecting on this issue during National Breastfeeding Month reminds me that under-resourced families have an American experience of capitalism that puts necessities dangerously out of our control, and out of their reach.
Trade and Medicaid created an effective monopoly where the majority of the formula is produced and distributed from one warehouse. The helpless feeling of seeing barren formula shelves at grocery stores is indicative of the food insecurity that has plagued more than 10% of the population for decades. Whistleblowers exposed the issue with unsafe bacteria that is being resolved, so a functioning formula production line is on the horizon. Though access will return to normal levels, it has sparked a significant public conversation. 75% of American babies rely on formula at some point in their infancy; Black and Latinx families are more dependent on supplemental nutrition due to unsupportive hospital and workforce policies. Desperation from communities inspired groups like Black Women for Wellness to create infant feeding resources that consider allergies, sensitivities, health issues, and limited access to human breast milk. Thankfully, baby formula shipments from Canada and European countries have reached hospitals and store shelves while we wait. This leaves one to ponder who will protect wanted- and unwanted- American infants from malnutrition in the future.
Our federal and state governments create standards and virtue signals to maintain their status as a world power. However, our virtues no longer center on the entitlement of prosperity or a meritocracy where all infants have a chance at greatness. Our virtues emphasize producing humans for labor power, and may the odds be ever in your favor. Mamas and parents are blamed amongst this failure of capitalism and governance. Some consider birthing mothers as effortless milk cows, so patriarchal males discuss our bodily functions in legislative chambers. After talking about mamas as they would livestock, they reallocate public safety dollars to oil companies and 2nd amendment protections. They uphold structures rewarding corporations that refuse employed mamas the time and equipment to pump and store breast milk safely. These circumstances have racial implications and we are told that critical racial analysis is inappropriate for legislation.
Tandem attacks on reproductive health and this failure of critical food systems trample our ability to choose the family structure we desire and to parent in a safe and sustainable environment. Programs like SNAP and WIC provide a sense of security via respecting the human right to adequate food. We call it the “social safety net” for a reason. Not only is this hungry-baby conundrum disrespectful, but an issue of safety and human rights. Americans will never be entitled to an abundance of resources like breastmilk and food without honoring the means of production–the woman’s body and a sustainable capitalist model.
We are living through the saying “play stupid games, win, and stupid prizes.” Our bodies are part of the stupid game, and our hungry children the stupid prize of playing too deeply into American capitalism. This is only one of the racially inequitable issues behind the cluster created by the Supreme Court. State legislatures are now the ultimate arbiters of reproductive rights and they could take special interest in providing for families. Our power is in electing representation that cares for families and legislates based on our advocacy. This hungry-baby conundrum exhibits the disappointing lack of foresight–or the pure lack of concern–for the votership of women and parents rearing families for this American experiment.
Carmen Green is the VP of Research & Strategy at National Birth Equity Collaborative
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