I’ve been speaking with student candidates for our summer internship positions over the past couple of weeks, and have been talking a lot about Food Justice. One question that I’ve asked every student I’ve spoken with is: “If you were a fruit, what fruit would you be and why?” The other question that I’ve asked each candidate is:
“What does Food Justice mean to you?”
I think it’s really important that we ask and answer this question, not just once but on a regular basis. I’ve heard answers that tie the concept of ‘Food Justice’ to nutrition and health, to ‘food deserts’ and access, to hunger, to the environment, and everything in between. There are also many people who have never heard the term before, even though they may be very familiar with hunger, poverty, and environmental sustainability.
It’s not surprising that the idea of food justice would be so hard to define. We have a national network of courts, judges and lawyers that is constantly writing and re-writing the rules of criminal justice, so we shouldn’t expect food justice to be any easier to set out (or attain). Moreover, since food is so central to our daily lives, and since a good chunk of us are directly involved with producing and serving food on a daily basis as well, we should expect food to mean many things – often different – to many people.
I like this definition from the NYC-based organization Just Food:
“Food Justice is communities exercising their right to grow, sell, and eat healthy food.”
I like it because it’s simple, positive, and provides a path for action and advocacy. I also like that it empowers us all to choose what we want for and from our food. It recognizes that Just Food is impossible to nail down and cement with a one-size-fits-all approach, and that what’s important is that we all benefit from the food that we grow, make, and eat.
Once we reach beyond defining Food Justice, I hope that we can really begin to use food justice as a powerful strategy for achieving social justice. To me, a Just food system is one in which the ways we produce, distribute, and eat food is not affected by systematic inequality or oppression based on race, class, gender, ability, or anything else. It is most effective as a way to connect people around something we all share – food – and collectively say “yes, those folks who are growing and cooking the food that I’m enjoying should make a living wage” and “no, black and Latino Americans should not have less access to healthy food than anybody else.”
I got to attend the LA Food Policy Council’s Food Day summit back in October and listen to Angela Glover Blackwell place food justice in context with current social and racial justice movements. She reminded me that food justice efforts can be really effective ways to address racial and socio-economic issues that affect much more than food. At the same time, she made me realize how much we need to connect the food justice movement with other contemporary social justice movements. We can’t expect to provide equal access to healthy food without equal access to jobs, education, transportation, well-being and opportunity.
Pasadena YouthBuild, one of our Partner Organizations, brings students out to harvest fruit as part of their leadership development program, and takes the fruit back to their after-school programs.
So when we talk about what food justice means, I like to think about what food justice looks like. There are many, many good answers, and they’re all true. Each one gives us a goal and a plan for action, and when we accomplish that goal, we can reach for the next.
– By Joe Bobman, Volunteer Coordinator