We recently held a meeting to debate the meaning of food justice in the city of Coventry. Twenty three participants were divided into 7 groups of 3 members each. Each group was given the task to discuss among themselves what they understood by food justice, what meaning it had for them and what they would like it to address. This process suggested that, while there were different perspectives on food justice that suggested it: focuses on underlying causes of hunger, connects to other issues of marginalization (class, gender, racism), fights for equal access to culturally appropriate food, includes concern for the environment, considers access to knowledge and focuses on a rights perspective (including the right to grow food). These perspectives all focus on creating systemic change and on addressing unequal power relations.
Food justice is essentially about right to food, about having access to food which is nutritious and culturally appropriate. It is also about addressing underlying causes behind the problems with access to food. An important dimension of food injustice is that it is connected to other aspects of marginalisation arising from divisions of class, gender, racism and disability. Food justice requires moving away from individual responsibility to a collective way of thinking about food.
To address the marginalisation issues, working on food justice means using food as an entry point…to get the conversation going around issues that matter to health and wellbeing. Food justice is about exploring the marginalisation which arises out of power relations.
Food justice is about flexibility in making choices about food that you want to have, it is about culture and taste, which you feel comfortable with. Food justice is also about skills and access to knowledge. It should stand for freedom of choice when it comes to deciding what to buy and from where. The availability of food in terms of being affordable and having easy access is important. Food justice is also about biodiversity – looking at the connections between what we grow and how that impacts nature and environment. Food injustice also emerges from energy poverty as it affects food consumption.
There are many food projects and food policies around but they do not reach the right people. Social inclusion of marginalised communities is important to food justice. Food justice is about looking at the barriers to making food choices. Food justice should make available healthy allergen-free food for all. An important consideration for food justice is the environmental costs incurred by the way we grow our food and how that affects the land, water and other natural resources we depend on.
An important dimension of food justice relates to knowledge – knowledge about food, about cooking skills, about the benefits from different food, about what to eat and how to cook/eat. A big question which emerges is why do we lack this knowledge? Is it because of lack of time? Food justice is also mainly about distribution issues – there is a lot of food around while at the same time people are going hungry.
Food justice is a complex issue – the different dimensions are interconnected as addressed by the other groups (described above). In order to achieve food justice, changes are required across the entire system – production, distribution and consumption of food. The right to grow food is an important dimension of food justice which is often neglected and overlooked.
Food justice requires achieving a balance between the different issues raised by the groups (as described above). An important point concerns the lack of skills or lack of equipment to cook food which affects health and wellbeing. Being able to have nutritious food is critical to achieving food justice.
In addition to concerns about growing food, about distributing food and having access to right food, the issue of food waste that is generated at different levels – household and at farm and industrial levels is an important consideration for food justice. Food justice requires a new way of thinking around food and media could play a big role in this. Given the complexity and multi-dimensional nature of food justice that we have all described above in our different ways from our observations and experiences, an important issue that can influence our understanding of food justice relates to the question – food justice for whom?