Editor’s Note: “Burning Questions” takes an in-depth look at the hot-button issues facing today’s farmers. The ideas expressed here are not the opinions of Hobby Farms, but of individual farmers and food advocates rooted in the local-food movement. If you have thoughts or opinions about what is expressed here, please contribute them in the comments below. We want to hear from you, too!
What does “food justice” mean to me? I’d never really sat down to consider the idea until last month. Fresh Stop Community Supported Agriculture, a biweekly CSA focused on providing fresh food to families of all income levels by offering a sliding-scale payment option, is starting a drop-off point in the rural area of Kentucky where I live. This program is based on the Fresh Stop model developed by the nonprofit food-access organization New Roots in Louisville, Ky., and organized by a group of community members, including one of my good friends. I asked if I could help out on the education component of the program (a core element of all of the Fresh Stop programs), and she invited me to help plan the food-justice meeting and potluck that was held last month.
I suggested that we engage meeting attendees by asking them to write down their answer to the question: What does “food justice” mean to me? So the night of the event—three weeks after our planning meeting—I was handed an index card and asked to write my answer. I have been involved in sustainable agriculture and food systems in varying degrees for almost 10 years, and I had three weeks to think about this question specifically, but when I sat down with my blank index card, I had no idea what to write.
Food justice is a huge concept that is not just about the food. It covers everything from seed to plate:
- How and where were the seeds sourced?
- Who profits from the production and sale of the seeds, the plants, the food, the processing and the final product?
- What propagation and cultivation methods were used, and how do these affect the community and the environment?
- Who is laboring to grow, harvest and process the food, and are they justly compensated?
- How many miles did the product travel, including shipment of seeds, inputs, the raw product and the final product?
- Is the final product healthy, affordable and accessible?
I feel like I put as much effort into crafting an answer that I was happy with as I do into writing my weekly “News Hog” blog. This is what I eventually came up with:
Food justice = affordable access to responsibly, sustainably, humanely produced food for everyone. It is knowing where your next meal is coming from and knowing it was grown and handled with your best interest, the best interest of the community and environment in which it was produced, and the best interest of the people working to bring it to you.
It isn’t nearly as eloquent as some of the other responses we received that night. Check them out in the Facebook album below.
Arriving at a standard definition of a vast concept like food justice is a small but important the first step in long road to achieving it. Good work is being done by people and organizations all over the world, from large-scale, international nonprofits to small organizations like the Fresh Stops right here in Kentucky. (There are nine Fresh Stop groups this year!)
The last activity we did that night at the Food Justice Meeting was a webbing exercise. The crowd split up into four groups to discuss four different areas of the food system: production, processing, transportation and sale. We talked about how these tasks used to be carried out, how they are carried out now, and how we’d like to see them carried out in a transformed, just food system. Throughout the discussion, we pinned keywords to a wall and used string to connect them to related food-system terms. Talk about connecting the dots! Even for me, working as a farmer and an ag- and food-writer—and having done so around the world—our food system’s interrelatedness was driven home. Food justice, entrenched in each one of the cards put on the wall, is complicated, indeed. Follow the web yourself in the photo below.
Food justice—seed to plate—is a complicated concept, but it’s not beyond us to work toward our own personal definitions of food justice. What does food justice mean to you? What if each of us wrote this on an index card and posted it somewhere that we can look at it every day? Could we make a move toward improved food justice—toward a more just food system—if we were each more mindful of our food-related actions? I think so, and I invite everyone to give it a try.
We asked you on social media how you’d define “food justice,” and here’s what you said:
Annika Johnson To me it means that I, the consumer, can choose what I want to eat. If I want to buy raw milk from a farmer neither I or the farmer should be punished for that. When you tell people what they can and can’t buy/eat you assume that they’re too stupid to recognize what is healthy and what isn’t.
Beka Berty Robertson: Being allowed to grow my own food and store/collect water without restrictions.
Kaye Welch: Food justice to me is when all living things have access to clean healthy food sources.
Alexandra Grey: Equal access to healthy food for the poorest members of our society.
Naomi Witzke: It’s when our food choices support the health of the planet, the well being and humane treatment of all its creatures, and the equitable distribution of real, nourishing food to all people around the world. Ahnorrah-Rose Sutton I’d say when we take the government out of small farming and stop mass production with harmful GMO’s and chemicals. That’s justice. Separation of Plate and State.
Continue sharing your thoughts on Facebook!
About the Author: Freelance writer Lisa Munniksma blogs every week about ag news and opinion forHobbyFarms.com’s The News Hog, and you can also check up on her adventures in sustainable living, agriculture and food systems around the world at www.freelancefarmerchick.com.