food social justice

Four aspects of food justice

I’ve been reading a book called Generation Share this week, all about the people behind the sharing economy. It’s almost entirely in their own words, and I particularly liked a short profile of Malik Yakitini. He’s a city farmer, food justice campaigner and founder of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.

Food justice isn’t something we hear much about in Britain, though obsesity rates and food banks suggest we ought to be more aware of it. Yakitini summarises the issue of food justice through four different dimensions:

  • “Having access to high quality food regardless of economic status.”
  • “People working in the food system should be fairly treated. Currently, those who harvest food are paid wages that are deplorable and work in horrible conditions.”
  • “Community members should see the benefits of the money that someone pays for food. In my community, people from outside run the stores and money is stripped out of the community.”
  • “We are not separate from the animals and the birds who we share this earth with. Part of food justice is growing food that is sustainable so that we are good citizens of the earth.”

Our current system is based on industrialised production serving supermarket retail, and it works against food justice in all sorts of ways. It relies on distant supply chains that hide the low wages, the pressure on farmers, and the poor living and working conditions of workers, many of whom are seasonal migrants.

At the retail end, those who can’t afford to drive find it harder to access supermarkets, and smaller shops within walking distance often have very little fresh and nutritious food. The most heavily promoted foods are the ones that have ‘value added’ and are therefore more profitable, but are heavily processed and often unhealthy. As Michael Pollan observes, the healthiest food in the supermarket is the least likely to be advertised or on special offer, something he describes as “the silence of the yams.”

Big chain supermarkets out-compete locally owned stores, and then hoover money out of communities and off to shareholders who may have nothing to do with food production. And far too much of it comes at the expense of the natural world – from soil depletion, transport emissions, chemical use, and the exploitation of animals.

There’s no one solution, but Malik Yakitini is an urban farmer and his organisation runs the seve acre D-Town farm. Growing more food locally, with and for nearby residents, is a good way to shorten the distances and reconnect food production with the people who eat it.

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