This year’s JustFood21 conference, organized by ASFS, AFHVS, CAFS, and SAFN, centers on the theme of food justice, highlighting how food is ensconced in systems of exclusion, oppression, and power. We reached out to several of our recently published authors in this field to ask: What does food justice mean to you?

“Food is a powerful way to bring people together and an equally powerful way to exclude and divide us. Food justice demands that we are unflinching in our analysis of the ways our food systems create harm, unwavering in the knowledge that other ways of growing, eating, and being are possible, and attentive to the places and spaces where people are already creating more just worlds through food.”

–Maggie Dickinson 

Maggie Dickinson is Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at the City University of New York’s Guttman Community College. She is the author of Feeding the Crisis: Care and Abandonment in America’s Food Safety Net.

Feeding the Crisis tells the story of eight families as they navigate the terrain of an expanding network of assistance programs in which care and abandonment work hand in hand to make access to food uncertain for people on the social and economic margins. Amid calls at the federal level to expand work requirements for food assistance, Dickinson shows us how such ideas are bad policy that fail to adequately address hunger in America. Feeding the Crisis brings the voices of food-insecure families into national debates about welfare policy, offering fresh insights into how we can establish a right to food in the United States.

“For me, food justice is a vital way of undoing all of the ‘isms in our food system . . . .particularly racism, classism and sexism. In approaching food justice in an intersectional way, we can build a food system that works for everyone.

–Teresa Mares

Teresa M. Mares is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Vermont. She is the author of Life on the Other Border: Farmworkers and Food Justice in Vermont.

In her timely new book, Teresa M. Mares explores the intersections of structural vulnerability and food insecurity experienced by migrant farmworkers in the northeastern borderlands of the United States. Through ethnographic portraits of Latinx farmworkers who labor in Vermont’s dairy industry, Mares powerfully illuminates the complex and resilient ways workers sustain themselves and their families while also serving as the backbone of the state’s agricultural economy. In doing so, Life on the Other Border exposes how broader movements for food justice and labor rights play out in the agricultural sector, and powerfully points to the misaligned agriculture and immigration policies impacting our food system today.

“Food justice seems unachievable until we look at all the times and places where it has been achieved. White supremacy has forced us to forget that a more just world is possible.”

–Amanda Logan

Amanda L. Logan is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University. She is the author of The Scarcity Slot: Excavating Histories of Food Security in Ghana. Download the free, open-access ebook.

The Scarcity Slot is the first book to critically examine food security in Africa’s deep past. Amanda L. Logan argues that African foodways have been viewed through the lens of ‘the scarcity slot,’ a kind of Othering based on presumed differences in resources. Weaving together archaeological, historical, and environmental data with food ethnography, she advances a new approach to building long-term histories of food security on the continent in order to combat these stereotypes. Focusing on a case study in Banda, Ghana that spans the past six centuries, The Scarcity Slot reveals that people thrived during a severe, centuries-long drought just as Europeans arrived on the coast, with a major decline in food security emerging only recently. This narrative radically challenges how we think about African foodways in the past with major implications for the future.

“At the heart of food justice is a commitment to equity – a promise that people across food systems will work together to ensure that everybody has equitable access to affordable food. Communicating about food justice can create paths to social justice by including more voices in the conversation.”

–Marianne LeGreco

Marianne LeGreco, PhD, is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. She is co-author of Everybody Eats: Communication and the Paths to Food Justice.

Everybody Eats tells the story of food justice in Greensboro, North Carolina—a midsize city in the southern United States. The city’s residents found themselves in the middle of conversations about food insecurity and justice when they reached the top of the Food Research and Action Center’s list of major cities experiencing food hardship. Greensboro’s local food communities chose to confront these high rates of food insecurity by engaging neighborhood voices, mobilizing creative resources at the community level, and sustaining conversations across the local food system. Within three years of reaching the peak of FRAC’s list, Greensboro saw an 8 percent drop in its food hardship rate and moved from first to fourteenth in FRAC’s list. Using eight case studies of food justice activism, from urban farms to mobile farmers markets, shared kitchens to food policy councils, Everybody Eats highlights the importance of communication—and communicating social justice specifically—in building the kinds of infrastructure needed to create secure and just food systems.

Food justice offers a powerful platform for organizing anti-racist, feminist food systems. It’s central to advancing a revolutionary politics of sustainability that values the contributions of food chain workers, unpaid care work, and the environment. School food is a great place to start!”

–Jen Gaddis

Jennifer E. Gaddis is Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Society and Community Studies in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is the author of the award-winning book The Labor of Lunch: Why We Need Real Food and Real Jobs in American Public Schools. Instructors can access a free curriculum guide and video series for the book here.

The Labor of Lunch aims to spark a progressive movement that will transform food in American schools, and with it the lives of thousands of low-paid cafeteria workers and the millions of children they feed. By providing a feminist history of the US National School Lunch Program, Jennifer E. Gaddis recasts the humble school lunch as an important and often overlooked form of public care. Through vivid narration and moral heft, The Labor of Lunch offers a stirring call to action and a blueprint for school lunch reforms capable of delivering a healthier, more equitable, caring, and sustainable future.

“As a practice, food justice has come to connote, at least in the U.S., BIPOC-centered practices to improve access to nutritious food produced with agro-ecological farming techniques. As an aspiration, it has come to mean nothing less than undoing the myriad ways that racial capitalism has suffused the production, distribution, consumption, and wasting of food. It remains to be seen how the still-limited prefigurative practices of food justice can be bridged to its abolitionist yearnings.”

–Julie Guthman

Julie Guthman is Professor of Social Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her previous books include the award-winning Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry, Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California and Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism. Read our Q&A with the author here.

In Wilted, Julie Guthman tells the story of how the strawberry industry came to rely on soil fumigants, and how that reliance reverberated throughout the rest of the fruit’s production system. The particular conditions of plants, soils, chemicals, climate, and laboring bodies that once made strawberry production so lucrative in the Golden State have now changed and become a set of related threats that jeopardize the future of the industry.

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