What Is Food Justice?

Food justice is the belief that healthy food is a human right; so everyone has an inherent right to access nourishing, fresh food. Access considerations are a mixture of location, affordability, and cultural appropriateness. Food justice affects all of us because food is so deeply tied to our culture. We build community around food; it’s a way we share our love. Being able to enjoy and prepare food that actually nourishes the body and keeps us healthy is connected to our ability to thrive.

When we think of access to food, location might not be something we view as a barrier. For so many of us we enjoy the privilege of being able to drive a vehicle to a store we choose to obtain the food we need. Take away access to this vehicle and how would you navigate your way to get these groceries? If we are lucky we have a grocery store within walking distance and the physical ability to not only walk there but to carry groceries back to our home. Let’s say we don’t have a store within walking distance (as about half of Evansville residents don’t), now how are we going to get to the store? Let’s say we take the city bus. We now have to plan for the time the trip will take as well as, again, carrying our groceries back to our home by hand. Add having to bring children along with you if you are unable to access child care and this can become a daunting task. Now imagine having to do this about twice a month to get the food you need.

Affordability can be a monumental barrier in accessing nourishing food. In the previous discussion of location, the majority of avenues to get to a place that will have the groceries we want all have a cost associated with them. Assuming walking isn’t a reasonable option, the most convenient mode of travel is overall also the most expensive (personal vehicle). Other convenient options such as a taxi or Uber add up in cost, and if you are working under the constraints of a tight budget, that budget just got even tighter. Additionally, there is the obvious cost of the food itself. Too often the least expensive items are highly processed foods of low nutritional value. This presents a very obvious challenge when we are trying to feed a family on a budget. If the healthier, more nourishing items are financially out of our reach then we must nourish ourselves with foods that are devoid of much nutrition. This sets our bodies and psyche up for feelings of deprivation which may lead to chronic disease, or hopelessness as we then try to fill up with more of the same kinds of foods. It’s easy to see how this cycles continues over and over.

Cultural appropriateness as it relates to food is more nuanced. One aspect of food justice is to provide the avenues that allow us to feed our families with dignity. This means that the food I am familiar with, enjoy eating, and know how to prepare may not look the same as yours. If I provide you with a giant box of lovely, nourishing foods that you have never seen before, my good intentions fall flat. Not only are you not familiar with how to prepare these unfamiliar foods but perhaps nobody in your family will enjoy eating them. Different ethnic communities and cultural backgrounds eat different foods. This is more than just health, this is culture. We should all be able to maintain our great grandmother’s special dish or be able to prepare that dish that our dad always made for us, and we loved. These are things that should not be trifled with and need to be protected.

If you would like to find a way to help improve food justice there is much you can do. Choose a community you want to be part of; whether it is supporting a non-profit like Urban Seeds, a community garden, a faith-based group, or a food policy council. Choose the avenue that calls to you to engage with others working toward systemic change. Getting out there and participating in the discussion is vital.

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