A Food Justice Reading List

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In our current political climate, reliable access to fresh and nutritious food remains an issue throughout the United States and other parts of the world. Check out some of the books below to get your Food Justice 101 and learn about some solutions proposed by scholars to help solve this pressing issue.

Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California by Julie Guthman

In this groundbreaking study of organic farming, Julie Guthman challenges accepted wisdom about organic food and agriculture in the Golden State. Many continue to believe that small-scale organic farming is the answer to our environmental and health problems, but Guthman refutes popular portrayals that pit “small organic” against “big organic” and offers an alternative analysis that underscores the limits of an organic label as a pathway to transforming agriculture.

More Than Just Food: Food Justice and Community Change by Garrett Broad

Focusing on the work of several food justice groups—including Community Services Unlimited, a South Los Angeles organization founded as the nonprofit arm of the Southern California Black Panther Party—More Than Just Food explores the possibilities and limitations of the community-based approach, offering a networked examination of the food justice movement in the age of the nonprofit industrial complex.

Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, and the Politics of Production by Sarah Bowen

Divided Spirits tells the stories of tequila and mezcal, two of Mexico’s most iconic products. In doing so, the book illustrates how neoliberalism influences the production, branding, and regulation of local foods and drinks. It also challenges the strategy of relying on “alternative” markets to protect food cultures and rural livelihoods.

The Weight of Obesity: Hunger and Global Health in Postwar Guatemala by Emily Yates-Doerr

Based on years of intensive fieldwork, The Weight of Obesity offers poignant stories of how obesity is lived and experienced by Guatemalans who have recently found their diets—and their bodies—radically transformed. Anthropologist Emily Yates-Doerr challenges the widespread view that health can be measured in calories and pounds, offering an innovative understanding of what it means to be healthy in postcolonial Latin America.

The Unending Hunger: Tracing Women and Food Insecurity Across Borders by Megan Carney

Based on ethnographic fieldwork from Santa Barbara, California, this book sheds light on the ways that food insecurity prevails in women’s experiences of migration from Mexico and Central America to the United States. As women grapple with the pervasive conditions of poverty that hinder efforts at getting enough to eat, they find few options for alleviating the various forms of suffering that accompany food insecurity. Examining how constraints on eating and feeding translate to the uneven distribution of life chances across borders and how “food security” comes to dominate national policy in the United States, this book argues for understanding women’s relations to these processes as inherently biopolitical.

Ethical Eating in a Socialist and Postsocialist World edited by Yuson Jung, Jakob A. Klein, and Melissa Caldwell

Current discussions of the ethics around alternative food movements–concepts such as “local,” “organic,” and “fair trade”–tend to focus on their growth and significance in advanced capitalist societies. In this groundbreaking contribution to critical food studies, editors Yuson Jung, Jakob A. Klein, and Melissa L. Caldwell explore what constitutes “ethical food” and “ethical eating” in socialist and formerly socialist societies.

Balancing on a Planet: The Future of Food and Agriculture by David A. Cleveland

David Cleveland argues that combining selected aspects of small-scale traditional agriculture with modern scientific agriculture can help balance our biological need for food with its environmental impact—and continue to fulfill cultural, social, and psychological needs related to food.

The Darjeeling Distinction: Labor and Justice on Fair-Trade Tea Plantations in India by Sarah Besky

In this nuanced ethnography, Sarah Besky narrates the lives of tea workers in Darjeeling. She explores how notions of fairness, value, and justice shifted with the rise of fair-trade practices and postcolonial separatist politics in the region. This is the first book to explore how fair-trade operates in the context of large-scale plantations.The Darjeeling Distinction challenges fair-trade policy and practice, exposing how trade initiatives often fail to consider the larger environmental, historical, and sociopolitical forces that shape the lives of the people they intended to support.

Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic by Margaret Gray

Labor and the Locavore focuses on one of the most vibrant local food economies in the country, the Hudson Valley that supplies New York restaurants and farmers markets. Based on more than a decade’s in-depth interviews with workers, farmers, and others, Gray’s examination clearly shows how the currency of agrarian values serves to mask the labor concerns of an already hidden workforce.

Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism by Julie Guthman

Weighing In takes on the “obesity epidemic,” challenging many widely held assumptions about its causes and consequences. Julie Guthman examines fatness and its relationship to health outcomes to ask if our efforts to prevent “obesity” are sensible, efficacious, or ethical. She also focuses the lens of obesity on the broader food system to understand why we produce cheap, over-processed food, as well as why we eat it.


How to Survive the Disruption of Higher Ed? Focus on Rigor, Relevance and Reach

by Garrett Broad, author of More Than Just Food: Food Justice and Community Change

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Association of Geographers conference

We’re an easy target, us academics.

Most people don’t really know what we spend our time doing (hint: those lectures you see us deliver take time to prepare, squeezed in between advising students, committee work, research and writing), the idea of tenure seems both luxurious and archaic (it’s actually a pretty grueling process, and hardly automatic), while the skyrocketing cost of tuition suggests that faculty get rich at the expense of vulnerable young people (in truth, even the lucky ones aren’t rich, while our “adjunct underclass” often lives around the poverty line).

9780520287457With all of this in mind, it’s no surprise to see that “Thriving in a Time of Disruption in Higher Education” is one of the themes for this month’s conference of the American Association of Geographers (AAG). I’m actually not a geographer – my PhD is in Communication – but I will be attending the AAG conference, in part to hear what other scholars have to say about this question of “thriving” in such a precarious moment.

Without a doubt, there are aspects of this disruption that are completely beyond our control. But as I’ve come to learn in my early career as a scholar, there are things we can do as communities of professors, researchers, and university administrators to make academics less of an easy target in the future.

Three words come to mind: Rigor, Relevance, and Reach.

I am borrowing here from the mission statement of the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California, which introduced these terms as the “new three R’s” that should guide community-engaged research in the 21st century.

These new three R’s were central to the scholar-activist approach I took in writing my new book, More Than Just Food: Food Justice and Community Change. I knew the work had to be rigorous – any serious contribution to the research community or society at large must be methodologically and theoretically sound. The project was inherently relevant – food injustice is an everyday reality for too many citizens of the globe, while the food movement needs to do a better job of confronting systemic inequality in its varied programs. The reach part, however, has proved a bit more challenging – academics are still incentivized to write esoteric books and papers that very few people read, so it takes extra work to connect with audiences outside of the ivory tower through both multimedia and interpersonal platforms (like writing this blog post and doing community events during my Spring Break).

I know I’m far from the only academic who sees relevance, rigor, and reach as important to their work. Before we are disrupted out of a profession, let’s make sure other people know that’s the case.

Garrett M. Broad is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University.


Food Matters – But It’s Not Magical

by Garrett Broad, author of More Than Just Food: Food Justice and Community Change

9780520287457Stop me if you’ve heard this oft-repeated claim of the alternative food movement:

We know that low-income people who live in “food deserts” tend to eat unhealthy foods and suffer from diet-related disease. So, if we could simply get them to understand the importance of healthy eating – perhaps by having young boys and girls taste a carrot grown in their own school garden – we would all be well on our way toward community health and sustainability.

I beg to differ, and my new book – More Than Just Food: Food Justice and Community Change – counters this oversimplified, feel good story.

Indeed, throughout the life of the alternative food movement, many of its most popular programs have failed to recognize that nutritional inequity is actually linked to broader histories of racial, economic, and environmental discrimination. The “magic carrot” approach to community health promotion – which imbues gardening and nutrition education with almost mystical powers – has ultimately proved ill-equipped to tackle the systemic barriers that are at the root of food injustice and the health problems associated with it.

Based on years of ethnographic research and scholar-activism, More Than Just Food highlights the work of community-based food justice activists who do engage with these systemic realities. While these practitioners employ many of the same strategies that have come to characterize the alternative food movement in general – building gardens, providing nutrition education, and improving access to healthy food through alternative food networks – they do so in the purpose of a much larger cause. Situating food as a vehicle for a more expansive, people-of-color-led social justice transformation, they look to the legacy of groups like the Black Panther Party and its “Free Breakfast for Children Program” as a model for revolutionary food activism.

A primary aim of the book, then, is to highlight the capacity of community action to serve as a power base for a twenty-first century food justice movement. At the same time, however, the research cautions against overly romanticized visions of autonomous, community-based change, emphasizing instead the complicated and often contradictory nature of nonprofit food justice organizing today.

We are in a moment in which food justice groups, inspired by the likes of the Black Panther Party, also depend upon grants from the United States Department of Agriculture to achieve their community-based goals. What does this mean for the possibilities of a food revolution?

Read the book to find out more. But be advised that it contains neither magic carrots nor magic answers.

Garrett M. Broad is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University.