Food Justice: ‘Our Common Ground’ Conversation Recap

November 26, 2021

Let’s all agree that everyone, everywhere, deserves sufficient, nutritious food. Food justice addresses barriers to making that fundamental principle a reality, as well as solutions to overcome those barriers.

And food justice was the topic of the November 10, 2021, episode of MALT’s ‘Our Common Ground’ conversation, in which MALT CEO Thane Kreiner, Ph.D., moderated a dynamic discussion among four expert panelists:

Challenges to food access

“There’s a maddening math behind the lack of access to nutritious food at home and away from home,” said Mark Goodman. “In many urban areas, it’s easier to get to a liquor store than a grocery store. And each year in this country, we waste about 110 billion pounds of food, which—were we to change our behavior—would be enough to feed everyone in this country. Forty percent of the food we produce in America ends up being wasted.”

“Even in Marin County, one of the richest counties in the nation, many residents are challenged to meet basic food security needs,” said Chandra Alexandre. “Too many people have to choose between paying rent or buying food.”

“I live in Long Beach, southern California, which is home to two of the largest ports in the country,” said Linsey Allen. “All this food is coming through the city, but it’s still a food desert. If that doesn’t demonstrate the inequality of power, I’m not sure what would.”

Chandra also talked about the rural versus urban divides that create a kind of food apartheid. And Matte Wilson pointed out that many indigenous communities have been separated from their traditional food sources and land. “In tribal communities, we talk about regaining food sovereignty, which is closely related to food justice,” he said.

Food justice is a systems-level issue

“The main problem is that modern food systems are, unfortunately, working exactly as designed,” said Lindsey. “City people are disconnected from food systems, which are now globalized. They literally don’t know where their food comes from.”

“We need to adopt a more holistic view of food, recognizing that it’s not only physical,” Matte said. “We eat with all our senses, and food has emotional and spiritual aspects. In our tribal communities, we look to the traditional food knowledge of our elders—eating with the seasons, sourcing food hyperlocally, using wild plants, avoiding processed foods.”

“There’s a large existential challenge to food justice,” Mark said. “We need to start by acknowledging the ‘original sin’: land was taken from indigenous people, and it was cultivated by slaves. Until we apologize and work to rectify that reality, we can’t rebuild the goodwill necessary to fix the food systems.”

Working toward solutions for food justice

“MALT has been protecting agricultural land since 1980 through our innovative agricultural conservation easements, and from one perspective we’re the largest property rights owner in Marin County,” Thane Kreiner said. “That means we have an obligation to help the people who are working on the land to steward it, and that need for stewardship is more pronounced in a time of climate change. How do we change food inequity, starting locally?”

“People can help the food justice movement by doing one of three things,” Matte said. “First, learn where your food is coming from and ask questions. Is it being grown using regenerative practices? Who’s profiting off it? Is anyone being harmed in its production or delivery? Second, amplify the efforts of those who are doing food justice work. Third, act by changing your buying habits to support locally grown food—and even grow your own food.”

“At Point of Origins, which tells stories of where food comes from, we’re working on a story on almonds in California,” said Lindsey. “That story is going to be very different from the story of cocoa growers in Ghana, or coffee growers in Vietnam, or pineapple growers in Costa Rica, or lobster people in Maine. Issues of fair pay, or stability, or other global-scale issues that intersect with food waste, migration, urbanization, climate change—they’re all linked to our food. And the experience of producing food differs from one place to another.”

“We need to address the fear around public benefits,” Chandra said. “Education and outreach can let people know it’s OK to access government support. And people can work to increase the knowledge of trusted messengers in the community to help ensure that everyone who needs it has access to public benefits. People can also volunteer to help support organizations that are improving the food system and working to alleviate food challenges locally. Finally, there’s advocacy around increasing local apportionment of public assistance so, for example, there’s increased access to food at farmers’ markets—and really supporting those farmers’ markets and the local growers.”

“Public policy is very important,” said Mark. “Large food companies often push back against farmers markets and food-to-table movements, which threaten the large companies’ economics that’s based on consumers going to grocery stores to get their food. As Chandra mentions, we need to remove the stigma of public policy around public access—to realize that everyone benefits when public access is available to those who need it.”

“Equity and justice are big words that require big action,” Matte said. “We must invest at all levels, from farm-to-school programs to food prescriptions, seeing food as medicine.”

“One thing that’s clear is that achieving food justice requires collective action,” Thane said, “No individual or organization can forge the path alone. And it’s really critical to help shift belief systems. Imagine if, when we think about food systems, we adopted the indigenous practice of considering the effects of our decisions on seven generations into the future. How can we act in ways that would enable people into the future to look back on us as good ancestors?”

Register for the December 1 session on Innovations in land access. Anyone can sign up to watch the conversations live free of charge.

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