Voices from the field

Voices from the field 1

Food Justice 2.0

LaDonna Redmond, Founder and executive director of The Campaign for Food Justice Now

I became a food activist because my son Wade developed food allergies at a very early age and I wanted to get the healthiest food I could for him. I really wasn’t any different from any other mother in my community. I wanted the best for my son. But that food—the best food—was not available in my neighborhood on the west side of Chicago. I live in a community where I can get a semiautomatic weapon quicker than I can get a tomato. The public health issue of violence is connected to the public health issue of chronic diet-related diseases.

For me food justice 2.0 is really about the narratives of people of color. The food justice movement tells the story of colonialism and the impact of historical trauma on communities of color.

We understand that the importation of African slaves to the United States provided the labor for what we now call our industrial food system. At the core of what I believe to be the problems in our community, particularly when we talk about the accumulation of wealth or the lack of health, is really a conversation around slavery. We have not reconciled the event of slavery or its impact. For us, food justice is not just about nutrition. It’s not just about growing the food. It’s about dignity. It’s about being visible.

We can be successful if we’re able to recognize that we have never had a just food system in the U.S. and we must join together and create a narrative where all of us can sit around a table and create the food system that we need. Reclaim your kitchens. Reclaim your stove and your table. Cook your food. Make your food. Know where your food comes from.”

Adapted from “Food + Justice = Democracy” presentation at TEDxManhattan, 2013.

Voices from the field 2

Community empowerment and resilience in Detroit

Malik Yakini, Founder and executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network

In Detroit, we currently have a population of about 700,000 people, which is down from 1,900,000. The city has been considerably depopulated as a result of the decline of the automobile industry and both the 1950s and 1960s white flight and more recently, black middle-class flight. We have massive unemployment, which is estimated to be anywhere between 18 and 20 percent. There are no major grocery store chains in Detroit. That leaves the majority of the population to get their food from gas stations and convenience stores. Much of the so-called food in those stores is in Styrofoam containers, boxes, and packages. The geographic footprint of the city is about 143 sq. miles. Of that 143 sq. miles, about one third of the city is vacant due to the depopulation and also the intentional disinvestment in the city of Detroit.

The reality of it is that Detroit and Detroiters are being spanked. And one of the reasons we’re being spanked is because of the 50 year and beyond struggle for black empowerment in the city of Detroit. About 80 percent of the city’s population is African American and we live in a metropolitan area that is one of the most highly racially polarized areas in the United States. We are now seeing many urban areas throughout Detroit being gentrified. We see young white hipsters moving into the core of the city and we see long-time residents being displaced. All of this is happening against the backdrop of one of the most insidious things that has happened in the United States and that is that the elected officials of Detroit have been disempowered by the appointment of an emergency manager by the governor of the state of Michigan. Effectively, the vote of the people of Detroit has been taken away.

Our organization has been working towards community empowerment and resilience. We are also concerned about creating democracy, the type of democracy where people are actually making decisions that impact their own communities and their own lives…We are fighting all of these struggles against the backdrop of these twin evils: capitalism and white supremacy, which manifests not only within the dominant industrial food system but also within our food movement and within the food sovereignty movement. We are concerned that we are all engaged in this work of divesting ourselves of internalized racial oppression. In fact, it’s not auxiliary to the work. This is the work.

Adapted from presentation at “Food Sovereignty: a critical dialogue” conference at Yale University in 2013. More info, here.

Voices from the field 3

Farm workers, a new sort of apartheid

Rosalinda Guillén, Executive director of Community to Community

I am a farm worker that now understands that we are but one small but very, very important component of a system. I am connected to the history of slavery in the agricultural industry of this country because we are the new slaves. I can say as a Mexican American, there is a new group of slaves making the agricultural industry very rich in this country.

In many of the communities where we are working in the United States, we learn how to live in a sort of apartheid system, an economic apartheid, a social apartheid, and of course a racial apartheid. We are hidden, we are silent, we work.

The average lifespan of a farm worker in the United States is still only 49 years. That is what it takes to keep up the production that is required by the agricultural industry so that you can have your berries and fresh vegetables. And some of us die before that age. Antonio Zambrano was killed by the police in Pasco, Washington for throwing a rock out of his frustration at the poverty he was living in and the disrespect and treatment he and his family have been receiving for many, many years.

To us, ag policy means that pesticides are still being used. Ag policy to us means that the piece-rate wage is the legal, institutionalized wage theft process that almost every farm worker in this country must use in order to receive a paycheck. That is why our lifespan is 49 years of age: piece-rate wage system and pesticides. Stop and listen, we are the canaries in the mine. The agricultural industry is unleashing chemicals into the fields of California that are going to be used all over the country and it will come back to you, the consumer. Listen to us, the farm workers.

We make the road by walking. We don’t know what that road will look like but we have to walk together and we have to live well as we’re making that road. That means we all have to give our commitment. The road we walk together must lead to the table where you can sit with your family and eat your food, knowing your dinner on your plate is free and clear of all exploitation of humans and of Mother Earth.

Adapted from presentation at Food First 40th Anniversary Panel in 2015.