What about Food Justice?

I think we can all agree that the U.S. is facing some complicated issues, many which have rightfully come to the forefront due to the coming election. Political positions aside and not diminishing any other issues we face, there has been a major element I’ve felt is missing from the conversation: Food Justice.

As an RD/Chef, food and nutrition take up a lot of my headspace and and I’ve been wanting to hear more in the political conversation about what we can do to not only protect, but ensure that people’s right to food is being met and our food system is sustainable.

According to the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, the right to food includes…

Availability: Food should be available in a quantity and quality sufficient to satisfy the dietary needs of individuals, free from adverse substances, and acceptable within a given culture.

Accessibility: Food should be physically and economically accessible in ways that do not interfere with the enjoyment of other human rights.

Sustainability: Food should be secure, or accessible, for both present and future generations.

Non-Discrimination: Any discrimination in access to food, as well as to means and entitlements for its procurement, on the grounds of race, color, sex, language, age, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status constitutes a violation of the right to food.

These rights aren’t being met for many people. Nearly 50 million individuals are living in poverty which threatens their food rights. According to Feeding America’s data, out of the individuals who use their services 69% of individuals have had to choose between food and utilities and 66% have had to choose between food and medical care. Hunger is often an invisible issue, meaning that if you aren’t actually going through it, you don’t notice it occurring. If you remember my post on Food Waste from last week, you also know that people are going hungry while up to 40% of food produced in the US to be eaten is never actually eaten. It doesn’t make sense.

People living in poverty suffer disproportionately from obesity-related diseases due to lack of access to grocery stores and nutritious foods, fewer resources, higher levels of stress and exposure to energy dense foods/marketing efforts from the companies who make them. All of this in turn, creates a major stressor on the health care system. It’s estimated that $147 billion was spent on treating obesity-related diseases alone in 2008. Again, this doesn’t make sense. Individuals who have access to nutritious foods are less likely to become obese in the first place.

During the presidential campaign of 2008, Michael Pollan published an extensive letter to the future president in the New York Times discussing the necessity of reforming Food Policy during the next presidential term – many of the points still hold up and shine some light on the importance of fixing our food system and making it work for everyone. Check it out here! As Pollan mentions, the way we manage our food system has vast social and environmental implications that extend well beyond the next 4 years.

Since eating is something we all need to do, I am a little surprised we don’t talk about it more in a political sense. Regardless of what happens at the top (and I’m hoping for the best), there are some things we can do in our own neighborhoods to support food justice and help shape a more sustainable food system by shopping locally, supporting neighborhood farms/gardens, seeking out fair trade goods, donating leftover food and volunteering your time at an organization that provides food to those in need.