Definition of food justice
Food Justice refers to a wide spectrum of efforts that address injustices within the U.S. food system. Weak forms of food justice focus on the effects of an inequitable food system, while stronger forms of food justice focus on the structural causes of those inequities. For example, reformist projects for food justice work to provide food access in underserved communities to alleviate food insecurity and/or strive to improve food and labor conditions within the industrial food system through niche markets (e.g. organic and fair trade certification).
Progressive forms of food justice take this a step further by producing food (typically with organic, permaculture and/or agroecological methods) and working for more equitable access to food-producing resources such as land, credit and markets, and for better wages and working conditions for all farmworkers and food workers (not just those benefitting from niche markets).
Radical food justice focus on redistributive, structural transformations in the food system that build political power in underserved, exploited and oppressed communities—including people of color, immigrants, women, LGBTQ people—and works to dismantle the laws, regulations, institutions and cultural norms that entrench corporate, monopoly and white, male privilege in the food system. Radical and progressive forms of food justice overlap with food sovereignty, a concept of international origin defined as people’s right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.
The U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance: Nourishing food justice
Resistance to the legacy of structural racism in the United States is an historical pillar of what we call “Food Justice.” The struggle for food justice takes place in the thousands of underserved rural and urban communities across the country—communities that are reeling from the negative impacts of the corporate food regime. The agrofood monopolies of this regime poison our workers and our environment with toxic chemicals to produce the cheap, processed food making us sick. Over 50 million people in the U.S.—mostly food and farm workers, women, children and people of color—are food insecure and suffer from devastating diet-related diseases. In the United States small-scale, family farmers now constitute less than 2% of all the registered farmers in the country… we have more people in prison than we do on the land.
Food justice in the U.S. takes many forms to address these inequities head-on. Underserved communities are farming on vacant urban lots and roof tops, a new generation of young farmers are growing organic food for their communities, farmers markets and community supported agriculture and local food policy councils are flourishing and policy advocacy on issues such as migrant labor, environmental justice, GMO labeling and public health are becoming more powerful.
In the last decade, the food justice movement has grown rapidly in the U.S. among communities that believe that our food system should serve—not exploit and poison—people of color. Many believe that radical food justice can be a path towards liberation. Thanks to the militant work of grassroots organizations, food justice is also being embraced by socially conscious consumers who demand chemical-free food, fair wages and dignified working conditions for workers. Everyone believes our family farmers should be paid fairly for the food they produce. Many are working to turn their local food systems into engines of economic growth under the control of underserved communities. All of us seek an end to corporate control over our food. Food should be for people, not monopoly profit.
It’s no coincidence that with the rise of Food Sovereignty movement, Food Justice has also emerged as a concept, a form of resistance and as a political proposal on a global scale. The growing convergence between the two is the result of international exchanges and connections between local organizations with global social movements, especially La Via Campesina International. In part this is because on one hand, the creation of Via Campesina and the rise of food sovereignty have influenced scholars, NGOs and grassroots organizations. Also, with the advance of globalization, racism in the food system is worsening around the world.
The U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance
The U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA), is a broad-based network of 33 grassroots organizations and NGOs committed to building the collective power of the Food Justice and Food Sovereignty movements. The USFSA was born when farmers groups and community, labor and food security organizations met to discuss long-term actions to highlight the root causes of the 2008 global food crisis (that had been largely brought about by U.S. companies and U.S. policies). That summer was the first meeting held by this working group in Washington, D.C. They called for a stronger policy agenda that included fair prices for farmers and consumers; equity in the food system; sustainable agriculture; workers’ rights and the Right to Food.
In 2009, the Working Group on the Global Food Crisis brought even more people to Washington D.C. working in grassroots food justice organizations. Out of that gathering, participants launched a series of two year initiatives to support a campaign to end the food crisis.
In October of 2009, a small sub-set of allies organized the First Food Sovereignty Prize in Des Moines, Iowa during the annual conference of the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC). The Food Sovereignty Prize became an important strategy to disseminate the concept of food sovereignty in the U.S. by highlighting the work of grassroots organizations. During the CFSC conference, members of the Working Group discussed a long-term vision and strategy that was based on the creation of a broader alliance with different sectors in the U.S.
Then, the group mobilized of resources to support farmers’ leadership in national agricultural anti-trust hearings organized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This was followed by holding a People’s Movement Assembly on Food Justice and Food Sovereignty at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, Michigan in 2010.
The need for a national alliance between migrant workers, farmers, urban families and NGOs to tackle the issues of food justice and food sovereignty became clear at this gathering. For two days grassroots organizations, farmers and NGOs from several cities in the U.S. as well as representatives of Via Campesina International from Honduras, Palestine, Haiti and the Dominican Republic met to discuss how local organizations could join a political process to radically democratize the food system, rooted in a global agenda set by social movements. Four months later, in October of 2010, the USFSA was launched at the CFSC conference in New Orleans.
Since the launching of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, food sovereignty and food justice in the country faces a new set of challenges. In the name of “fiscal austerity”, the National Congress threatens to cut thousands of families from food stamps and other social programs. Seven states in the U.S. have passed “gag” laws that prohibit the documentation and dissemination of wrongdoings by agribusinesses. A growing police state has declared war on young people of color. But also, signs of a new wave of popular, mass movements for #BlackLivesMatter, Climate Justice and actions against Monsanto have emerged and are growing fast.
This October, the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance will hold its III General Membership Assembly and the VII Food Sovereignty Prize in Des Moines , Iowa, October 13-15th. As we reach our five-year milestone, we are committed to our mission to build the global struggle for food justice and food sovereignty by steadily building trust and nourishing the leadership of working class families and communities of color to reclaim their lives and their bodies from structural racism. By bringing together NGOs and grassroots organizations in a broad alliance with different social sectors in the U.S. and abroad, the USFSA is an important space in the defense of justice and sovereignty.
For more information on the USFSA contact Saulo Araújo and Tristan Quinn-Thibodeau, WhyHunger.
Black lives matter
The food justice movement is a reflection of the rise in social and political resistance against structural racism. Contrary to mainstream claims of a “post-racial society,” an alarming rise of institutional violence against young African-Americans and people of color in the United States has accompanied the food, fuel and financial crises. Movements for justice and liberation like #BlackLivesMatter are making it impossible to ignore the problem of racism any longer—on the right and the left.
On August 8, progressive presidential candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders appeared in Seattle to talk about social security and Medicare but was interrupted when two members of the local chapter of #BlackLivesMatter took the stage. August 9 marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, at the hands of the police and the protesters were asking for four and a half minutes of silence in recognition of the four and a half hours the police kept Brown’s lifeless body on a Ferguson street. They criticized Sanders and other progressives for failing to tackle racism. Many people in the predominantly white crowd became angry with the protesters and demanded that they let the senator speak but Sanders left the stage. He later released a written statement in which he said he was “disappointed because on criminal justice reform and the need to fight racism there is no other candidate for president who will fight harder than me.”
Ever since the event took place, there has been a lot of discussion about whether or not the protest was positive for #BlackLivesMatter. Some believe it was necessary in order to hold white progressives accountable for the issue of structural racism. Others are confused as to why Sanders was targeted since he has always been a supporter of civil rights. This protest, however, was not just about Sanders: it was about all progressives failing to take on the fight against racism. While Sanders may have been disappointed by the outcome that day, this experience will ultimately be valuable to him. It showed him what is important to the people, giving him the opportunity to address those concerns and gain support. #BlackLivesMatter is forcing progressives to have the uncomfortable conversation about racism and is pressuring political figures to take action. They are making it clear to candidates and to the public that we cannot move forward politically without addressing the violence of structural racism.
Read the full news story here.
The perspective of an indigenous man who was present at the event, here.