What is “Food Justice”?

By Julie Gavin

If you’ve recently become acquainted with the work of Boulder Food Rescue, you’ve most certainly encountered the term food justice.  And, if you’re like me, despite being reasonably well-educated and well-informed, you may not know exactly what that phrase means.  Despite knowing 100% of its components, the compound phrase initially intimidated me.  Today’s post aims to explore and explain the concept.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 12.22.50 PM

Well, obviously you know food; you’ve learned/ taught yourself/ determined what constitutes “good” food, “bad” food, you may have an idea of how food production and distribution operate in the modern world, and you are aware of the giant world-wide problem of food waste.

Plus, you know the concept of justice.  It is defined as: the moral principle determining just conduct; fairness; lawfulness; just conduct, dealing, or treatment (thank you, Dictionary.com!)  Justice is present when people are treated rightly and fairly, with equity.

Perfect.  So, what are some experts’ understandings of food justice?  Below are three such explanations for you to come to your own definition:

  1. According to Ayinde Howell at Food Republic, “It means having a choice; being able to choose to live a healthy life is often taken away from certain members of society.”

In the above post, the author, a plant-based chef, examines the differences he’s seen between the choices available in wealthy communities versus poorer neighborhoods. He has determined that, “It comes down to money, education, and then choice” — meaning people will spend their money on what’s available, particularly if they are unaware of the consequences of the choice or the fact that it’s a choice in the first place.

  1.  In a review of Food Justice, by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi, Christof Bernau, of the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems at UCSC, articulates his understanding of food justice, in the following ways:” A central food justice goal… is that the benefits and risks of what, where and how food is grown, processed, transported, distributed, accessed and eaten must be fairly shared across all segments of society, both at home and across the globe.”

By this, I understand that the concept of food justice penetrates basically all aspects of food production and distribution in that each aspect contributes to whether food is equitably available to all.  The justice, or injustice, then is comprised of these factors as well as the human decisions involved therein.

He continues, stating, “Another core goal of the food justice agenda is to make visible the experience of food injustice and how these inequities can be challenged and overcome…what is clear is that food can be seen as a central metaphor that affects all members of society and a food justice framework can serve as a unifying focus for all groups working for social change.”FOOD

And, as he clearly states, the challenge that persists for anyone working for food justice and/or social change is: if people are not aware of the injustice/ inequity they or others experience, overcoming these is much more difficult.

  1. Sherry Linkon, of the Center for Working-Class Studies, defines food justice in the following way:

“Food justice aims to ensure that the benefits and risks of producing, distributing, and consuming food are shared fairly by everyone involved and to transform the food system to eliminate inequities.  That’s a highly inclusive definition that encompasses everyone from the farmer to the tomato picker to the home cook and the corporation that sells canned goods or fast food.  That defines food justice as a cross-class, multicultural movement that engages in a wide variety of work on local, regional, national, and global levels.”

In this definition, the responsibility is shared and therefore the benefits can be shared equally.  It’s important to notice that she articulates that all involved players can contribute to making our food system more just.

As you can see, food justice is a multifaceted concept with a number of components and players.  We all have a part in creating the equality and justice we want to see in our world.  If you’re interested in learning more about food justice and food security, consider attending the Forward Food Summit this spring, hosted in part by Boulder Food Rescue.  The mission of the event is “to address issues surrounding food justice by creating a platform for the collaboration of organizations and people fighting for a more equitable food system” (BFR, Forward Food Summit).


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