If you love good food, cooking and dining out as much as I do, allow me to invite you to make the food justice movement part of your culinary life, too.
Um, what is food justice? Good question. Let’s start with a definition. Here’s a good one from Boston University’s Community Service Center:
What Is Food Justice?
The Food Justice Movement works to ensure universal access to nutritious, affordable, and culturally-appropriate food for all, while advocating for the well-being and safety of those involved in the food production process. The movement aims to address disparities in food access, particularly for communities of color and low-income communities, by examining the structural roots of our food system. Food Justice addresses questions of land ownership, agricultural practices, distribution of technology and resources, workers’ rights, and the historical injustices communities of color have faced. Food Justice is closely intertwined with environmental justice and sustainability movements.
That covers a lot of ground. Break it down and we find concerns for people who don’t have enough to eat; people who can’t afford to buy nutritious food: people who have a hard time finding the foods that their ancestors enjoyed; people whose health and safety are at risk in farms and factories that produce the foods we love; people affected by the farm economy and corporate farming; exploited farm workers; racial inequalities in food access; and the impact of the environment and sustainability on food access. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget economic inequity for cooks, servers, bussers and dishwashers. And let’s not even start on the whole tipping economy.
Whew! That’s a lot to absorb. But it boils down to this. Those delicious restaurant dishes don’t just pop out of thin air. They require a lot of work by a lot of people, many of them struggling to make a decent living. And a lot more people have very little hope of sitting down to a luxurious meal like ours.
So, if we love dining out and enjoying delicious restaurant fare, it’s good to pause and reflect on where our food comes from and who works to get it to us. Behind every delicious meal is a complex web of farm workers, distributors, and kitchen workers who build our access to a diverse and abundant food supply.
Unfortunately, not everyone has equal access to nutritious and affordable food, which is where food justice efforts come in. By supporting organizations that promote food justice with our work or dollars, we can mobilize our passion for food to help address systemic issues of inequality and ensure that everyone has access to fresh, healthy, and sustainable food.
Where to begin? There are plenty of ways to get involved locally, both through organizations that help hungry people directly and organizations that press for policy change. Here are a few ideas:
Food banks and food pantries
• Volunteer at a local food bank or pantry. Food banks, like Louisville’s Dare to Care Food Bank (daretocare.org), are regional organizations that collect food – often through donations of excess or unwanted food from major food companies and local grocery chains – and redistribute it to individuals and families in need through food pantries at churches and community organizations.
Many of these organizations rely heavily on volunteers to sort and distribute food and assist with other tasks. This link (daretocare.org/volunteer/) offers more information about volunteering at Dare to Care.
Organizations that salvage food that would otherwise be wasted and redistribute it to community organizations offer another good option. Locally, check out Feed Louisville (feedlouisville.org, featured in our April 19 column), and Kentucky Harvest (kyharvest.org).
• Donate food or money to a local organization. Many food banks and pantries accept donations of non-perishable food as well as cash. You’ll often see Dare to Care donation barrels at groceries and other public spots.
• Volunteer with or even start your own community garden. It’s garden season in Louisville, and community gardens can grow and share fresh produce with those in need. These gardens make it easy for neighbors to come together and work towards a common goal.
Among local organizations well worth your attention, check out the Food Literacy Project (foodliteracyproject.org/), Louisville Grows (louisvillegrows.org/), and Food in Neighborhoods (FIN) Louisville Community Coalition (foodinneighborhoods.org/).
Advocate for change
• Advocate for policy change. Many national organizations work to address hunger at the policy level. For example Feeding America (FeedingAmerica.org) the national umbrella organization for food banks (formerly Second Harvest); and Bread for the World (bread.org), a religious-based nonprofit that describes itself as “advocacy organization urging U.S. decision makers to do all they can to pursue a world without hunger.”
Bread for the World makes a key point that concurs with my own experience when I worked for the national nonprofit World Hunger Year in the 1990s and wrote the book Reinvesting in America about that experience: “Churches, charities, food banks, and nonprofit organizations can’t solve hunger alone. Government programs and policies play an especially important role. Thanks to an abundance of resources, federal nutrition programs provide 10 times as much food assistance as private churches and charities combined.”
Organizations like these advocate for policies that address the root causes of hunger, including poverty and unemployment. We can get involved not only by supporting them but by directly contacting your elected officials and urging them to support policies that address hunger and poverty.
Let’s make this as simple as can be: On Saturday morning, May 20, at 9 a.m., I’ll be helping out at the monthly drive-through food pantry at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 330 N. Hubbards Lane. If you’d like to join me in sharing out boxes of Dare to Care groceries to hungry families, email me at [email protected] and I’ll give you the details. Fighting hunger, one day at a time: We can do this.