The University of Arizona

Notes on the practice of food justice in the U.S.: understanding and confronting trauma and inequity

Rachel Slocum, Kirsten Valentine Cadieux

Abstract


The lexicon of the U.S. food movement has expanded to include the term 'food justice.' Emerging after approximately two decades of food advocacy, this term frames structural critiques of agri-food systems and calls for radical change. Over those twenty years, practitioners and scholars have argued that the food movement was in danger of creating an 'alternative' food system for the white middle class. Alternative food networks drew on white imaginaries of an idyllic communal past, promoted consumer-oriented, market-driven change, and left yawning silences in the areas of gendered work, migrant labor, and racial inequality. Justice was often beside the point. Now, among practitioners and scholars we see an enthusiastic surge in the use of the term food justice but a vagueness on the particulars. In scholarship and practice, that vagueness manifests in overly general statements about ending oppression, or morphs into outright conflation of the dominant food movement's work with food justice (see What does it mean to do food justice? Cadieux and Slocum (2015), in this Issue). In this article, we focus on one of the four nodes (trauma/inequity, exchange, land and labor) around which food justice organizing appears to occur: acknowledging and confronting historical, collective trauma and persistent race, gender, and class inequality. We apply what we have learned from our research in U.S. and Canadian agri-food systems to suggest working methods that might guide practitioners as they work toward food justice, and scholars as they seek to study it. In the interests of ensuring accountability to socially just research and action, we suggest that scholars and practitioners need to be more clear on what it means to practice food justice. Towards such clarity and accountability, we urge scholars and practitioners to collaboratively document how groups move toward food justice, what thwarts and what enables them.

Key words: food justice, trauma, food movement, alternative food networks, antiracism


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2458/v22i1.21077