what is food justice?

whats up with the term food justice?

lots of folk talk about – bat it around and hold it up as an ideal, but how many of us are really working for it?  how many of us have a vision of what it means?  what is the difference between food justice and food sovereignty?

even though i don’t feel i can adequately answer these, i’m gonna take my own personal stab at it and try to work it though, and look forward to all of your thoughts.

first food justice vs. food sovereignty.  

there are several parallels between the two terms.  the food justice movement (if we can call it that – it certainly doesn’t often feel like one to me) has been hugely influenced by the food sovereignty movement, less so the other way around.  but food sovereignty at its heart is a peasant’s  movement, an agrarian movement, and food justice is focused on those that have long been divorced from the land.  food justice is largely focused on those communities that have been urbanized.

in my mind the signficant difference is that food justice is in countries where capitalism’s final plan to privatize all lands and food have been completed and food sovereignty is a movement to prevent that plan from happening where it has not yet occurred full.  in simpler terms, ones which i find inadequate, food justice is a movement of those in global north and food sovereignty is for those in the global south.

what is food justice?

to begin framing food justice and start thinking more deeply, i’ve found it helpful to start asking the following questions.

what if corporations controlled air?  what if they set the price? what if they decided who had access to air?  what if only those with money could afford to breath?   what if air was not a human right, but was a commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder?   what if most air was processed and filled with poisons causing people to get sick, while good clean air was either unavailable to most or was overly expensive?   what if the production of air caused massive environmental damaged?  what if air was used as a weapon – denied to those who did not cooperate with those that controlled the air?

it’s a pretty shocking proposal, a sickening  idea – but not all that unrealistic given that it’s already happened with our food system.  most would say that it’s always been that way, that it is the norm.   it’s certainly not the norm for all cultures.  for the most part it’s a pretty capitalistic euro-centric view-point, and even european peasants fought long and hard to keep their commonly held property from being seized.  the idea of privatizing lands and food have largely traveled with european colonization and created a new norm, one in which the idea that you can own a basic need for life is excepted as law.

but what happens when we state that food is a human right as the united nations has in article 25 on the universal declaration of human rights  which the united states has adopted.  based on the idea that food is a human right, it should mean that no one would be without, no one would be hungry or starve.  yet we consistently have people even in the united states who don’t have access to adequate food.  the united states and most countries fail to uphold this very treaty that they adopted.

is just making sure that we are able to access food enough?  are government handouts or soup kitchens anyway to make sure people are adequately well feed?  does this do anything to preserve human dignity?

while the united states acknowledges that food is a basic right (but doesn’t seem willing to create policy that insure it) the concepts of food justice go beyond this, much deeper.

food justice means respect for the earth.  it means love for the soil, the water, the microbes, everything.  it strives for growing food in methods that work with natural systems not against them.  food justice respect traditional cultural methods of growing.  the newest, most euro-centric methods are not necessarily the best, much wisdom can be gained in studying the methods traditional culture use.  food justice believes life is sacred, that no one can own the patent to seeds or genetic information.  food justice respect the animals that are grown for food and used for labor.  animals have the right to all things that allow them to express their very nature; fresh air, clean water, sunshine, space to roam, companionship.  food justice upholds the right of farmer and farm workers, and others working in the food system.  all those working in the food system should have safe, non exploitive conditions.  they should be free to organize themselves, and provided with fair wages.  food justice demands that food systems be locally controlled by communities.  the only way to insure that food systems are not used as a weapon against communities is for those communities to have control over those systems.  food justice insists that all have access to high quality, nutrient dense foods regardless of race or class.  all have the right to high quality food.  food justice respects the needs of all community members and that they shall have access to food that is culturally appropriate and sensitive to dietary needs.  food justice demands that communities have control over land use – since land is so intimately linked to the production of food and wealth.

what could this possibly look like?  i’m not all together certain.  i don’t think any one individual can define it, but that it takes a collective effort.  that i think is our next task, and i’m more than willing to try to think of what it means to me, but it needs to go beyond me.

what does food justice mean to you?  this is a work in progress, and i’m looking to you for helping it grow.

soundtrack for this writing – incredible string band’s hangman’s beautiful daughter & 5000 layers of the onion + j dilla’s instrumentals & the shining.


3 responses to “what is food justice?

  1. Thanks for taking the time to think of how to explain it simply Patrick. Much appreciated.

    We are seeing the loss of sovereignty over native plants happening here in New Zealand, with one company in particular still trying to patent the plant, or take ownership by way of PVR. Needless to say, there has been much discussion and conflict over this.

    Thanks again

  2. Pingback: photos from the first week of february | little house on the urban prairie

  3. Patrick, a most important topic and as a member of 350.org I have similar feelings regarding corporate control of our envirnoment. Look right now at the fossil fuel industry and as Bill McKibben has pointed out they have been allowed to use our atmosphere as an open sewer for the last few hundrfed years. One reason they are highly profitiable. The same, I quess, can be said of the agribizz corporate world..not accounting for external costs and putting the profits in their pockets…at a terrible price as you stated in your thoughtful essay.
    With Global Warming it will not matter how “organic” we become because even the most skillful farmer, like yourself, will not be able to “adapt” to extremes in the growing season (ie Texas).
    There are many aspects of “food justice”, right now we are exploiting illegal immigrant labor to maintaine our “cheap” prices at the grocery and factory farming is just as sinful to farm animals as if we did the same to our family “pets”.
    “Bread labor” is part of the answer and as Peter Bane of the “Permaculture Activist” recently spoke at a conference that it is taking it “home”. Producing outside our door and by passing the very economic system that produces these ills.
    Sometimes we get in a routine and become mindless and depend on displaced responsible (the government should take care ot it!) to feep it under the rug…however it is still there.
    You article made me ponder the ethics and challenge.

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