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An Introduction to Food Justice

Editor’s Note: We spent the first half of 2021 exploring the roles that race, social revolution, food sovereignty, and food justice play in our food system through a pilot program we called the Food Justice Book Club. Led by CSA member, former librarian, and book indexer Amron Gravett, we read and discussed three incredible books that introduced us to topics such as farming as resistance; seed sovereignty; decentering whiteness in veganism; and much, much more. I am so grateful to Amron for her guidance, and to our participants for their bravery, vulnerability, and grace as we explored new and sometimes uncomfortable topics. Although this iteration of the book club has ended, you can find all of the resources – including book titles, author biographies, and discussion questions – on our website ( under Community > TCSA Resources. We welcome and encourage you to use these resources in your own book club or as a guide for yourself as you dig into these rich texts. Below is a short introduction to food justice, which is beneficial for all and especially helpful to know before you dig in to the titles we chose for our book club.

We are here to understand the cultural in “agricultural.” To frame the present and futures of gardening and farming through a clearer view of the past social, economic, and racial histories of food systems. We are going to dip into some academic fields such as urban sociology, environmental studies, public health, civil rights, and critical race theory, in order to understand more about the intersectionality of food with racial and social justice. We’ll [learn] about collective memory, cooperatives, land politics, poverty, racial segregation, slavery, and urban redevelopment, among other things.

There is a great deal to comprehend, to contextualize, and to apply and our hope is that this primer will encourage you and guide you to read further, in order to think deeper about larger social systems like racial injustice and inequality, land displacement, and loss and how they have affected the food on your own table and the people’s history that journeyed with it. We hope to understand how Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers and gardeners are excavating the historical relationships among farming, oppression, and resistance and to make critical connections between the brutal racial history of the United States and its contemporary social, economic, and health consequences. According to Kirsten Valentine Cadieux and Rachel Slocum in their essay What does it mean to do food justice?, the foundation of food justice lies in four pillars: trauma/inequity, exchange, land, labor.

All of the following concepts are critical to understanding food justice:

Big Ag – Refers to the industrialized food system based on capitalistic principles that prioritize profits and scale over the impacts on people and the environment.

BIPOC – This acronym stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. It is used to refer to African American, Asian, Caribbean, Indigenous, and Latinx communities and individuals, when more specific information on a person or group’s racial and/or ethnic identity is not known. It acknowledges and respects the complexity of racial and ethnic identities, which cannot be ascertained from observation. 

Environmental Justice – A term used to refer to the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

Environmental Justice Movement – Was started by individuals, primarily people of color, who sought to address the inequity of environmental protection in their communities.

Food Justice – Refers to “the right to grow, sell, and eat [food that is] nutritious, affordable, culturally appropriate, and grown locally with care for the well-being of the land, workers, and animals.” (Alkon and Agyeman 2011, 5)

Food Justice Movement – Is a grassroots initiative emerging from communities in response to food insecurity and economic pressures that prevent access to healthy, nutritious, and culturally appropriate foods.

Food Sovereignty – Means a community’s right to define their own food and agriculture systems. (Alkon and Agyeman 2011, 8)

Food insecurity – Lacking access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. For example, 

Food Desert – “Area[s] with limited access to affordable and nutritious foods, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower income neighborhoods and communities.” Also known as “food apartheid”, which is a more comprehensive term that looks at the whole food system, along with race, geography, faith, and economics.”