Food justice is a broad term that means different things to different people. What they all agree on though is it’s rooted in the belief that everyone (regardless of race, income, employment status, gender, or national origin) has the right to access fresh, healthy food. The food justice movement says food is an unconditional human right. It says people deserve food that they can afford, easily get to and that honours their culture. It doesn’t just work to improve access but to examine the structural roots of the disparities in access including injustices linked to race and class. Here’s what it’s all about and the actions people are taking to make it a reality.
Food security is defined as the availability of food and one’s access to it. A household is considered food secure if the members don’t live in constant hunger or fear of starvation. In 2020, 768 million people lived in hunger. Approximately 418 million in Asia, 282 million in Africa and 60 million in Latin America and the Caribbean. Beyond hunger 1 in 3 people did not have access to adequate food. Three billion people don’t have access to healthy diets. One agenda of the food justice movement is to expose and make visible these injustices and inequities so that we can begin to work towards ways of challenging and overcoming them.
One group you wouldn’t expect to be classified among the food insecure is farmers. It remains ironic that the rural areas where the food most people eat is grown are the hotbeds of poverty and hunger. Food justice aims to ensure that the benefits and risks of producing, distributing and consuming food are shared fairly by everyone involved. This is especially critical as we live through climactic uncertainties and extremes caused by climate change. It’s unjust to force poor farmers to bear all the risks of farming in these uncertain times. Food justice demands living wages and fair working conditions for all food system workers.
In a society that is obsessed with personal responsibility and blaming individuals because of their circumstances, food justice takes a different approach. It recognizes that their food system is influenced by a variety of factors including race and class and situates the blame there.
It maintains that it is structural injustices that cause people harm and refuses to blame poor, food-insecure people for their circumstances.
It recognizes that part of the problem lies in the ways whole communities have lost control of their own food. In former colonies, for example, communities are forced to grow whatever plants the donors have decided are valuable, the kind of crops that can be exported and exploited by imperialist forces.
The food justice movement is about restoring power to the community to choose and direct food justice efforts according to their needs and circumstances.
Food security examines questions related to ownership and control of land, access to credit, knowledge, technology and other resources. Questions of land ownership and control are questions of class and imperialism, especially in former colonies like Kenya where large swaths of land are held by criminal politicians and the descendants of colonizers. Large segments of the food supply chain, for example in something like milk production are owned and controlled by the elite with farmers and consumers wholly at their mercy. Capitalism at its finest.
Beyond class, misogyny and sexism also come into play when it comes to exercising power and control over land ownership and other food system-related decisions. Women all over the world work the land but ownership remains male-dominated. This is just another layer of injustice in the food system.
Food justice movement organizations
Different organizations all over the world are engaged in different activities towards food justice. The different efforts include supporting urban gardening, education, directly feeding the hungry, amplifying the experiences of workers in the food system and redistributing food to reduce food waste.
Africa Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) is a Pan-African network of organizations that promote food sovereignty in Africa by advocating for the rights of small-scale farmers. It also promotes policies and practices that support local food systems.
GROW is an Oxfam campaign that focuses on empowering women farmers, promoting sustainable agriculture and holding corporations accountable for their impact on the environment and human rights.
Slow Food Movement with a presence in Kenya, South Africa and Senegal promotes local food systems, traditional food cultures and sustainable agriculture practices. It also works to empower small-scale farmers and promote food sovereignty.
Soul Fire Farm is an Afro-indigenous community farm whose work includes reparations and land back initiatives, urban gardens, food deliveries to insecure households and educating policymakers on food justice issues.
National Black Food and Justice Alliance is a coalition of over forty organizations representing black urban and rural farmers and organizers that works to protect black land ownership and food sovereignty in black communities.
Black Urban Growers fosters community support and networking for urban and rural farmers, encourages black leadership in Agriculture and assists black landowners in California who are facing the loss of their land with legal services and technical support.
In France, organizers agitated until a law was passed criminalizing the tossing of good food by supermarkets. All over the world supermarkets and other establishments that sell food throw out perfectly good food and then go as far as pouring chemicals like bleach on it to prevent the hungry from taking it from their trash cans. This law meant food banks and others got more food to redistribute to the hungry. A crucial win for the food justice movement there.
The food justice movement takes a broad look at the entire food system, identifying the inequalities and injustices and working towards fixing them. From capitalism’s obsession with profit-seeking even with something as crucial to survival as food to land ownership, racism and imperialism. As long as people need food to live and live healthy lives, food must be considered a human right. An unconditional human right. Anything else is the gravest injustice.
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