The radical potential of the food justice movement

The two main threats to our people and planet are climate change and corporate control of our economy and polity. 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.

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.  

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On Sept 19, 2023 ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, climate activists gathered for a rally and civil disobedience outside Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan as part of the March to End Fossil Fuels wave of actions resulting in multiple arrests. Activists demand Bank of America to “Defund Climate Chaos and Defend Human Rights” Photo: Erik McGregor (CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed)

Let’s Save Each Other

Let’s Save Each Other

Illustration by Stephanie McMillan. Used with permission