#3 Digging Into Food Justice

Ever since What’s the Story began a few weeks ago, I have been struck by the vast network of people who are involved and invested in the program. I have been approached by close friends who took the class last year, and people I had never even spoken to, about the work I am doing. Everyone asks me the same question: what topic are you exploring? And so far I have only been able to provide vague answers comprised of some combination of “access to food”,“healthy food”, or “right to food”. It’s not that I have a vague idea of the topic I am exploring, it’s that I don’t have a single word or phrase to pin it down. Because as I have begun to research the topic more in depth, I have found that the terms “food desert” and “food security” are not always the most accurate, or appropriate, ways to describe the issue. Food deserts are often defined as regions where people lack access to healthy, affordable foods, and food security is defined as  “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active and healthy life”. Both of these definitions involve access to food, though neither addresses the factors that influence how a person accesses food. They focus on hunger, rather than the reasons why people go hungry. I am interested in the big picture; I want to investigate not only what happens, but all the elements that lead to what happens. So, I have come up with my own term to the describe the topic: Food justice. I think that this phrase it broad enough to encompass food deserts and food security, while also addressing the hows and the whys. There is no doubt that food deserts and food security relate to the issue, but I believe they are not the whole issue.

Over the past week, I have found so much relevant and compelling information on food justice in Vermont. In fact, I discovered so many great resources that I had to take a step back and reassess how I wanted to go about my research process! I have always been the person who takes 10 pages of notes on 5 pages of reading. I have trouble distinguishing between what is truly important and what is just interesting. So, as I was scrolling through pages of articles relating to food in Vermont, I started to wonder: how do I take a complex topic that people have written books about and summarize it in 350-500 words? So, I closed some of my tabs (partly to refocus my attention and partly to prevent my computer from shutting down), and thought about the issue in the most simple and logical way I could. I created a sort of chain of events that helps describe how and why some people don’t have access to the food they need.

First, there is no law in the United States that establishes food as a right. We don’t go somewhere every week to get free food from the government just because everyone needs it to survive. Instead, we have to buy it. Some people, however, have more money to buy food than others. Grocery stores are more often built in neighborhoods where people do have enough money to buy their food, and low-income neighborhoods tend to rely on gas stations and convenience stores. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that many people living in poverty do not have easy access to transportation, making it even more difficult to access healthy food.

Obviously, this is a very simplified description of very complex problem, but it’s a start!

The conflict of food justice is simply…there isn’t any. We all need food to survive, yet not everyone can get the food they need. There are many organizations attempting to bring food justice to Vermont, including Hunger Free Vermont, the Vermont FoodBank, and food shelves throughout the state. All these organizations believe in a right to food, though not all Americans agree. Some believe food is an individual’s responsibility.

As I continue to delve into this topic, I would like to answer these questions:

  • Are food shelves only an immediate answer for a hungry person, or are they a sustainable resource to create food justice? In other words, are they a BandAid or are they a cure?
  • How effective is a federal program like SNAP in creating food justice?

Featured image by Getty Images

Magazine, Kiwanis. “Life in a food desert.” Kiwanis Magazine, 24 June 2016, kiwanismagazine.org/2015/12/14/life-in-a-food-desert/. Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.
Vogel, John. “Vogel: Food Insecurity Solutions.” Vermont Public Radio, digital.vpr.net/post/vogel-food-insecurity-solutions#stream/0. Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.
Daniels, Bob Kinzel Patti. “Hunger Rates Improve In Vermont, Mostly.” Vermont Public Radio, digital.vpr.net/post/hunger-rates-improve-vermont-mostly#stream/0. Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.

4 Responses to “#3 Digging Into Food Justice

  • Emily Rinkema
    7 years ago

    Katherine–Food Justice. That’s fantastic. So much more targeted than your initial topic idea. The term really politicizes the topic as well, implying injustice, which implies a power differential. In this case is the unequal power between the rich and the poor? Is it that simple?

    Rarely in my 46 years have I ever had to think about access to food. I have been hungry, but only because I have chosen not to eat for a while or have planned my day poorly. I have never felt hunger that comes from lack.

    Your term “food justice” makes me angry about this inequality and makes me want to act. For some reason it’s more powerful than “food insecurity”. So I think you’re on to something. I look forward to more!

  • I really appreciated your guiding questions:
    “Are food shelves only an immediate answer for a hungry person, or are they a sustainable resource to create food justice? In other words, are they a BandAid or are they a cure?
    How effective is a federal program like SNAP in creating food justice?”

    (As a side note I would add WIC to your SNAP question)

    That is a great new phrase by the way, food justice. I, along with Emily, haven’t given much thought to the justice of food. The right to eat. When I think about our rural area, and the ability to grow food compared with those in cities I think even more about justice.

    I really admire you researching this topic, as I too feel its importance. We certainly would have a healthier community with far less disease or medical issues if we could eat with health in mind. Imagine that world?

  • I really like the way you’re exploring your topic so far! I agree that when you’re looking at something so complex, comprised of such numerous elements and experiences, you need a term that allows for flexible movement within the topic and I think that “food justice” is perfect because it addresses the fact that injustice exists and is the root cause of food insecurity.
    I’m a bit of a crazy socialist so I have to note that the amount of money people on SNAP are provided with for food is negligible and barely enough for them to survive. I wonder whether investigating taxation (specifically the increase of tax rates for the wealthy) could help to inform ways SNAP could have a greater budget and become more effective.

  • Hi Katherine!
    Wow, I found it incredible that you are taking a topic and are redefining it to show what really matters in that issue. I personally thought it gave a huge boost to your argument, and really helped you find more questions about this issue. I also think you’ve really found a strong foothold in your topic. You have identified exactly what you believe is the issue in your topic, you’re asking the essential questions about multiple, and varying different parts of the topic. I think the only thing you’re missing to make you’re argument absolutely amazing, is the answers to those questions. I’m really excited to see what you find out in your #5 blog post about all these different questions, and think you’re on the track to really figuring out how this issue can be helped. Your issue is so important and I really am excited to find out more.

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