The radical potential of the food justice movement.

Author:Romer, Nancy
Position:Essay
 
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The two main threats to our people and planet are climate change and corporate control of our economy and polity. (1) These intertwined issues will take a mass movement of epic proportions to shift. Time is of the essence as climate, economic, and political disasters keep occurring, gaining in intensity, impoverishing people while enriching the transnational and national corporations. Agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership could further strip national governments of their rights to protect labor and the environment in favor of protecting corporate profits. The need to build dynamic and effective movements that embody our needs is an imperative for those who believe that only democratic struggles, led by the most oppressed and joined by allies, can create a new world. The Food Justice Movement (FJM) offers an entry into the complicated labyrinth of issues, analyses, and strategies of movements that exist and need to expand and form coalitions.

If you talk to people about these issues, particularly people who are not "in the movement," they back away, overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems. How can we engage people to be moved into consciousness and action? How can we learn from each other and understand what is happening to our planet? How can we build the kind of organizations with staying power that we need to sustain us emotionally and socially as we build new understandings, new alliances, new movements, and a new world?

Smaller problems, more manageable in scope, that still reflect the larger problems at hand can be entry points for learning; for building skills, confidence, and relationships; for creating a culture of participation and community; for generating the courage to participate in analysis, strategy, and change. That is what the FJM has to offer: it addresses our most critical problems and offers concrete projects that can be transformative for people who begin to engage politically, often for the first time in their lives. This is a global movement that has been growing over the last 20 years with institutions, organizations, and alliances of which most people in the U.S. have been unaware.

We've seen, quite recently, what happens when a mass movement such as Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring in Tahrir Square can be derailed without long-term strategies and organizations. These movements have contributed crucial popular concepts, such as "the 99%," class solidarity, mass uprising from dictatorships, and are likely to have far-reaching influence; right now they seem dormant. The more we build grassroots organizations of trust and shared experience, communities of learning and analysis, experiments in structure and action, develop

leadership of those most oppressed by the system, and, most importantly, create alliances and broad strategic approaches, the more our movements will sustain us in the future. The FJM has the potential to tackle cross-cutting issues of equality, environment, democracy, resilience, health, and power. It also has the potential to bring in crucial leadership of youth, people of color, women, the poor and working class--the people most marginalized by the present food system--and unite across class, race, gender, language, and nation.

Many North Americans and Europeans think of the "food movement" as "foodies" and gardeners: people who want to make sure they have their organic arugula and those who enjoy growing their own. The image the corporate media project is people, young and old, having a good time eating and enjoying their privilege or, in other words, recipes without politics. (2)

The Food Justice Movement is different: FJM wants everyone to have organic arugula and knows that the food system must radically change to achieve that goal. It sees race, class, and gender as central to food oppression and leadership. It sees the food crisis as a result of corporate control over our land, water, agriculture, food processing and distribution with heavy assistance from neoliberal governments and the corporate media. It sees the necessity of sustainable food systems (agriculture, distribution, processing) to mitigate climate change: that means an end to factory farms. It sees feeding the world's people as dependent upon decentralization of the food system so people can build resilient, culturally-appropriate systems that meet their own needs. It sees renewable energy as critical, and food workers and small family farmers as central to the fight to create a healthy, resilient, and just food system. It sees solidarity across the globe, in particular within the Global South, where the struggle for democratic control of the food system or food sovereignty has been developing exponentially.

The FJM is one of the largest cross-cutting movements today and, therefore, has the potential to create alliances, to understand how the present corporate-controlled world functions, and to create strategies for building a multisector movement. (3) The FJM has many parts, potentially creating a multifaceted and powerful movement for change. The parts, demands, and strategies, however, do not always fit neatly together, and there is sometimes conflict. The challenge of making these parts work provides creative organizational work for those who see its potential. For activists and students, it provides insight, hope, and endless opportunities for direct participation. In the next sections I will briefly describe and analyze the major parts of the Food Justice Movement and present directions for its future.

Sectors of the Food Justice Movement

Farmers in the U.S. Farmers are the central sector of the food movement, globally more than nationally. In the U.S., farmers working small- and medium-scale farms and connected to progressive farmer organizations are advancing the important idea of food sovereignty or maintaining control over farmland, practices, seeds, and distribution of food to feed people. Many of these farmers use agro-ecological methods that are as or more productive than factory farming methods. These farmer activists bemoan the reality that too many of their decisions around seeds, land use, and markets are taken out of their hands by agribusiness that works to control agricultural markets and determine farmers' practices. (5)

In the U.S., the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) represents family farmers struggling to earn a living, maintain the family farm tradition and practices, and provide food for the local food economies in which they are embedded. Too often farmers are caught between being a subcontractor juggling agribusiness's demands for use of their seeds, chemicals, and equipment and the finance industry that provides credit with which to buy these "required necessities." (6) They are outraged by the arm-twisting of the multinational agriculture, chemical, fossil fuel, and pharmaceutical corporations and their cronies in government. For the U.S. family farmer, these are the real enemies of food justice and the instigators of climate change, hunger, and poor health. (7)

Many of these U.S. farmer activists are keenly aware of their place in the class structure. NFFC and Family Farm Defender leader Joel Greeno led a "tractorcade" across the state of Wisconsin to Madison, the state capital, in 2012 to support public service union members who occupied the State Legislature to protest attacks on union members. Many independent family farmers see their future as connected to the success of an independent and organized, class-conscious movement standing up to corporate domination of our society.

NFFC advocates a return to agricultural supply management which attempts to keep farmers from going out of business, the result of decades of deregulation and "get big or get out" legislation. These policies insure the overproduction of genetically engineered corn, soy, wheat, and rice; these subsidized crops then are used in cheap, and often hormone and antibiotic-laden, feed used in animal factory farms. The overproduction of corn is processed into high fructose corn syrup that infuses junk food and contributes to obesity and disease. U.S. small and medium-scale farmers ask for price floors, guaranteeing their capacity to continue to earn modest livings while providing food for their communities and protection against climate change through sustainable farming practices.

In addition, U.S. farmers who have suffered land theft and government

discrimination have won lawsuits. The National Black Farmers Association won a $1.25 billion settlement (8) and Native American Farmers and Ranchers won a $680 million settlement plus $80 million in loan forgiveness against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for race discrimination. Latino farmers' lawsuits have had similar results. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives and the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives are examples of activist grassroots Black farmer organizations that see themselves as food sovereignty organizations similar to organized peasants from the Global South such as La Via Campesina (LVC), the world's largest peasant/farmer/fisher organization. This cross-fertilization of ideas and strategies advancing food sovereignty and justice across the globe represents movement building at its best.

When people in cities insist that government-subsidized food, including school lunches, be purchased from local farmers, it expands the local food economy, builds decent jobs in the food system, improves the sustainable practices of the local food system (fewer food miles and earth-healthier practices), and produces healthier, fresher food for children. It also builds crucial alliances between family farmers and local consumers and advocates.

Of course, there are conflicts. Small family farmers have trouble staying in business and worry about paying their migrant farm workers better; migrant farm workers live such marginal lives that they need to fight for their pay and rights. Working out contracts...

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