Over the past couple of years, the term “food justice” has become more and more commonplace in conversations about food. It is often used in reference to a lack of access to healthy food in low- and moderate-income communities. As of late, the term “food justice” has begun to take on a new meaning. Instead of focusing solely on the types of foods available, it is now being used in the context of community building and social change. In an increasing number of grassroots efforts, people are re-imagining their relationship and their communities’ relationship with food.
In an effort to better understand the food system and the relationship between how food is produced, distributed, and consumed, Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor recently hosted an event called “Food Justice: Growing a Movement.” It is a part of a series entitled “Labor Lab,” in which faculty, students, and interested citizens take a creative look at labor issues. This first installment featured the author of Tomatoland, Barry Estabrook as well as Greg Asbed and Gerardo Reyes of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). The discussion was centered on the political economy of tomatoes. It is no secret that the tomato fields of South Florida have been a breeding ground for the emerging food justice movement, which so many of us are now familiar with thanks to CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food.
CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food and Tomatoland are reasons why mainstream America is starting to take notice about where their food comes from and how it reaches their tables. According to Asbed, the basic premise of the campaign centers on a simple question posed to consumers: “if there were two tomatoes in the store, one labeled “dignity and fair wage” and the other labeled “poverty wage, subject to verbal and physical abuse, and, in extreme cases, modern-day slavery,” would you buy the tomato possibly picked by slaves?”
Reyes invited participants to get involved in the campaign, which is meant to hold major food retail corporations accountable for the human rights violations in their suppliers’ operations and harness their unparalleled market power to demand more humane conditions in Florida’s fields. These are the same Florida tomato fields Estabrook describes in his book as he traces the journey of supermarket tomatoes from the fields to the store, delving into the environmental and human costs of the industry.
Education is the first point of involvement on this long journey to transform eating patterns and food distribution in our communities and, ultimately, the United States. As noted during the discussion and is often repeated by most food justice advocates, education must be coupled with action – the creation of practical alternatives. The answer goes beyond advocacy and direct service. It calls for organized responses to food security problems, responses that are locally motivated and owned.
What is it that you and I as consumers can do in our daily lives to improve the current situation?
Buying locally, non-genetically modified foods, and organic is a good start, but let’s face it, not everyone, including farmworkers, has access or the financial wherewithal to do that. Furthermore, it is often overlooked that buying organic does not guarantee child labor is not being used in the harvesting of that food. While America’s appetite for fast food and corporate farming, both defining facets of American culture, do not appear to be diminishing anytime in the near future, a strategy of what public policies targeted by food-centered, grassroots organizing campaigns needs to continue to be a priority.
If you are looking for more ways to get involved and support food justice, check out the Campaign for Fair Food and help spread the word. You can also find more information on our website about important issues migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families are currently facing, including child labor in U.S. agriculture.