Food Justice Now! By Joshua Sbicca

Introduction by
Charles Z Levkoe

The food system has been widely recognized as the source of many social and environmental problems but also as a catalyst for action. Critical scholars have demonstrated, the capitalist, industrial food system is doing exactly what it was designed to do – exploit labour and land to concentrate resources and power in the hands of corporations (Clapp, 2012; Holt-Giménez, 2017). Over the past few decades, there has been a rise of scholarship and activism that aspires to confront inequities in the food system and develop viable alternatives.

T

he food system has been widely recognized as the source of many social and environmental problems but also as a catalyst for action. Critical scholars have demonstrated, the capitalist, industrial food system is doing exactly what it was designed to do – exploit labour and land to concentrate resources and power in the hands of corporations (Clapp, 2012; Holt-Giménez, 2017). Over the past few decades, there has been a rise of scholarship and activism that aspires to confront inequities in the food system and develop viable alternatives (Allen 2004; Levkoe 2014; Alkon and Guthman, 207). In response to these developments, scholars have critically examined the politics and practices of food movements (for example, see Guthman 2008a; Gottlieb and Joshi 2010; Goodman, DuPuis and Goodman 2012). Building on this emerging field of study, Food Justice Now! Deepening the Roots of Social Struggle aims to push these discussions forward with a focus on social justice. With an astute analysis of the theory and a deep understanding of food movement efforts, Joshua Sbicca investigates the structural drivers of injustice in food systems with the focus on colonialism, neoliberal global capitalism and institutional racism. His core message is that food systems activism does not take place in a vacuum, free from other forces. To make an impact, Sbicca argues, activists must develop collective power and foster diversity through solidarity with other social movements.

Drawing on a range of theoretical ideas and original empirical research, Food Justice Now! explores three major understudied issues confronting food justice activists: racial inequality entrenched in systems of mass incarceration; under-valued food work and exploitation of food chain workers; and, inequalities faced by immigrant food chain workers. Through each issue area, Sbicca also explores activism around social justice and food politics through restorative food justice, reimagining relationships to food and land, new policy paths, economic justice and efforts to confront institutional racism. His engaged research demonstrates ways that social justice commitments motivate food justice to deepen the democratic potential of food politics through food movement organizations.

A core message of the book is that while food can be an essential organizational mechanism, it can also obscure underlying structural inequalities within food systems. Sbicca argues that food justice connects activist across a range of visions and efforts, and in turn, redefines food politics in relation to a broader range of social struggles. In other words, food justice exposes the limitations of identifying food as the site of struggle and pushes back against apolitical and individual food systems solutions. He writes, “A kumbaya politics dovetails with the post political when it masks oppression and depoliticizes inequalities” (141). The alternative he suggests, is embedded with the theory and politics of food justice: “This is qualitatively different from gathering around food as some lowest common denominator that ignores difference by prioritizing consensus. Justice is potent politically precisely because of the plurality of its social justice demands, which demarcate sites of social struggle to transform the relation of subordination” (144). Thus, by locating food justice at the foundation of these efforts and building alliances with other social justice struggles, Sbicca suggests that the food activists can become far more relevant and impacting. As an exploration into the history and practice of food movements, Food Justice Now! shows that food justice activities can learn from the past to inform current possibilities.

With the intention of provide contextual analysis and a critical reflection of Food Justice Now!, a group of critical food scholars came together through a special session at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers in Washington, DC. Following a panel presentation and dynamic discussion, the group agreed to synthesize their thoughts to develop a collective review of the book. To produce this piece, each author drafted an initial review which was then edited and curated and presented to Joshua Sbicca to write a response. This collective review is positioned as a reflection on the book and the food movement but also as a model for the kind of collaboration and engaged critical debate necessary to advance the food justice work. In what follows, each author presents a set of reflections based on their own work and scholarship. These critiques are shared as part of an ongoing and emerging conversation on the food justice movement in the United States and beyond.

Works Cited

Alkon A and Guthman J (Eds.) (2017) The New Food Activism: Opposition, Cooperation, and Collective Action. Oakland: University of California Press.
Allen P (2004) Together at the Table: Sustainability and Sustenance in the American Agrifood System. University Park: Pennsylvania State Press.
Clapp J (2012) Food. Cambridge: Polity.
Goodma D, DuPuis EM and Goodman MK (2012) Alternative Food Networks: Knowledge, Practice, and Politics. New York: Routledge.
Gottlieb R and Joshi A (2010). Food Justice. Boston: MIT Press.
Guthman J (2008a) Neoliberalism and the making of food politics in California. Geoforum 39(3): 1171-1183.
Guthman J (2008b) “If they only knew”: color blindness and universalism in California alternative food institutions. The Professional Geographer 60(3): 387-397.
Holt-Giménez E (2017) A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism: Understanding the Political Economy of What We Eat. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Levkoe CZ (2014) The food movement in Canada: A social movement network perspective. Journal of Peasant Studies 41(3): 385-403.
Taylor DE (2000) The rise of the environmental justice paradigm: Injustice framing and the social construction of environmental discourses. American Behavioral Scientist 43(4): 508-580.

essays in this forum

Where Is Farm Justice In Food Justice?

Food Justice Now! offers many important points—from crucial content to earnest analysis.

Exploring The Dissonance And Dialectics In Food Politics

‍Food Justice Now! joins a chorus of recent books that critique the food system through a lens of racialized oppression, arguing that neoliberal narratives that valorize individualism and markets often ignore the inequities that such positions emerge from. Though in agreement with many of its predecessors that the alternative food movement has largely ignored racial justice as a key component of food justice, one of the distinct contributions of Sbicca’s work is its conceptual expansion of food justice to include interrogating the carceral state, labor practices and inequities, immigration and increasingly policed borders.

Digging Into The Meaning Of Food Justice Praxis

“Food justice” has become nearly a buzzword in North America over the past two decades. Since a handful of community-based organizations began to use the term to describe the goals of their work in the late 1990s and early 2000s, interest in this idea as a way to understand and articulate change has grown, diversified, and some have argued, been coopted.

Food Justice Movement Strategy

Food Justice Now! is a welcome intervention in research on food politics, which has not focused enough on how marginalized communities think about the need for political action, or the means by which they take it. Such a focus necessitates an open and evolving politics of justice that can broaden a narrow interpretation of food politics to other issues.

Response To Reviewers

As scholars and educators committed to critically interrogating our human experience with agriculture and food, and who do so as activists embedded in an array of social change efforts, each of them expresses a praxis. I share this affinity for linking theory and practice. And it is a tension-filled commitment.