I came late to the food justice movement. I wasn’t even really aware of what food justice was again until 2004 when I first heard of calls to boycott Taco Bell by tomato pickers. I was living in Tampa, Florida at the time and had to commute past farms in order to get to work. As news of the boycott spread, I began to see the people working in those fields who were mostly migrant workers. I read about the conditions of these workers, mostly undocumented, who were often exploited because of their status. I also learned about exemptions for children on farms, which were meant to ensure that parents could pass down a farming tradition to their children but were used as a loophole to institute child labor. Although already a healthy eater, I began to purposely buy organic to better ensure that the food I consumed did not come at the expense of another human being.
I first read Alice Walker’s essay, “Am I Blue” when I was in college. In the work, she writes about how her visit to a farm anda moving encounter with a horse named Blue, prompted her to shift from being an omnivore to a vegetarian. The last sentences of the essay read, “As we talked of freedom and justice one day for all, we sat down to steaks. I am eating misery, I thought, as I took the first bite and spit it out.” Food nourishes us but how nourishing is that food if is grown and cultivated by those who live in deplorable conditions?”
Making sure our food comes from “just” sources is part of food justice but there are endless obstacles, which often make this task hard to accomplish. Many people, particularly those in low income neighborhoods live in food deserts, which are defined by the USDA, “…as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” Actor and activist, Wendell Pierce, attempted to remedy this with the introduction of Sterling Farms, a few years ago in New Orleans. Pierce wanted to introduce organic affordable food to low-income neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the store recently closed due to location issues but Pierce is looking to open stores in Alexandria, Virginia and Atlanta, Georgia using a new business model.
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Another important factor in regards to food justice is labeling of foods that we consume. In most countries, it is required that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) be labeled and in some countries GMOs are out and out banned. In 2012, Proposition 37, was a ballot initiative that simply stated that GMOs had to be labeled. GMO lobbyists headed by Monsanto, one of the largest GMO producers, flooded the airwaves with confusing language and the initiative failed to pass. One would think that we have the right to know what we are consuming. Even if we care little about GMO labeling, the fact that companies put millions and millions of dollars into defeating the measure should arouse some suspicion.
Globalization plays a huge part in the food we eat. When I grew up, we ate foods that were in season. Now we don’t question the fact that we can get oranges in July. We also have become accustomed to getting tropical and other exotic fruits whenever we want. Now the U.S.D.A. has passed a law that allows chickens to be slaughtered in the United States, shipped to China to be cut up into parts, and then reshipped back to the United States. Imagine the time and energy used to ship these chickens across thousands of miles. No matter how nonsensical, in a world ruled by a globalized economy, this is the better economic choice. The scary part is these chickens will still be labeled as, “Processed in the U.S.A.”. This practice will make it more difficult for those of us attempting to consciously eat from a food justice perspective to do so. The shipping of chickens overseas for processing also means the loss of American jobs.
Lastly, Americans waste an enormous amount of food. On his show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” the comedian and commentator blew the lid off of food waste in the United States. He pointed out that “sell by dates” are arbitrary, Americans are obsessed with pretty food, and if an aisle is not abundantly stocked we are less likely to purchase fruits and vegetables. In many ways, our perspectives about food are often as superficial and damaging as our attitudes and ideas about human beauty and appearance. We pay hyper attention to good looks and bling but very little attention to substance.
What can we do in our radical self-love journey to support food justice? Well, we can start where we are. In Los Angeles and other communities around the country there has been resurgence in community gardens. The fees to become a member are often inexpensive. I’ve been a member of my Hollywood community garden for three years now. I’d say I grow about 20% of my food and the yield increases every year as I figure out how to grow things in California. There has also been an exponential growth in farmers markets across the nation, many in low-income neighborhoods. Shopping there is often cheaper than we assume. When shopping in grocery stores, I tend to stay along the edges so to speak. Processed foods are strategically placed in the middle aisles. I am also a member of a food foraging group. A few Sundays a year, I spend time with two local food foragers. Although, it takes much time and study to figure out what one can eat safely in nature, when I go hiking I realize I have become more and more aware of the abundance that is right outside my front door. There are also food co-ops that deliver seasonal organic produce for as little as $26.00 per delivery.
Our smartphones can be great tools as well. There are sites like Food Revolution that lists numerous apps that ensure you’re eating GMO free. Apps like Locavore, and Seasons, help consumers know what foods are in season, while Farmstand, has a worldwide list of farmers markets. If you are growing your garden and are a newbie, Urban Farming Assistant Starter, is a great tool that allows you to set up task and reminders for your farming. The app also comes in Spanish.
Food justice is something we can all be part of at any level. As the world becomes a smaller and smaller place, we must become more conscious of how and what we consume. Using our pocketbooks to ensure food sustainable, not only protects us but also those on whom we rely to provide food for us. Taking the time to learn where our food comes from forces us to slow down and be mindful. Mindfulness is a center point of radical self-care. In our fast paced society, we are often on the go even when we are supposed to be nourishing our bodies. Making our food choices and eating a conscious choice provides us the moments to not only honor those who worked hard to grow the food on our tables but to also really take in the bounty that has been provided for us.
In order to continue producing high quality content and expanding the message of radical, unapologetic self-love, we need to build a sustainable organization. To meet these efforts, we’re thrilled to share the launch of our#NoBodiesInvisible subscription service. This service will provide our community with access to additional content and rewards for your monthly investment in furthering our radical self-love work.
[Headline Image: A brown skinned woman is at the right of the frame. She is in a kitchen preparing a meal at the stove. To the left there is a cutting board full of vegetables. In the background there is a counter with several kitchen appliances on it.]