"We feed the world": the political ecology of the Corn Belt's driving narrative



Industrial grain production occupies most of Iowa's farmland. Around the edges of corn and soybean monocultures, however, small-scale, diversified farmers establish alternative agricultural operations and sell to local markets. One narrative, "we feed the world", stretches across these two spheres; its roots lie in post-World War II geopolitics, and its contemporary iterations reflect the actions of private agricultural interest groups. As a rhetorical strategy, asserting "we feed the world" invokes neo-Malthusian fears to reposition differences in agricultural production systems within a moral framework where yield primarily determines agricultural legitimacy. This article ethnographically analyzes how this narrative intersects the lives and livelihoods of conventional and alternative farmers alike. Today, the narrative serves three functions: defending industrial agricultural systems against criticisms,justifying the pursuit of ever-higher yields on moral grounds, and gatekeeping agricultural legitimacy. Examining this discursive mechanism yields insight into the diversity of strategies through which actors within the industrial agricultural system reproduce particular land use practices in service of their own interests.

Keywords: Agriculture, development, agrarian change, narrative, industrialization, United States

How to Cite: Rissing, A. L. (2021) “"We feed the world": the political ecology of the Corn Belt's driving narrative”, Journal of Political Ecology. 28(1). doi: