Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Anthropology and Environment Society
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists
Primary Theme: Environment and Environmental Inequality
Secondary Theme: Resilience
The food system — encompassing a swath of structures, institutions, practices and values — is a powerful lens through which to examine dynamics of power, privilege, resistance and resilience in socio-ecological systems. Interestingly, today it is common for the food movement to invoke “justice” as a way to couch efforts, often referencing local trustworthy and transparent connections between producers and consumers as central goals. Dominant voices in the mainstream food movement (e.g., Pollan, Kingsolver, Lappé, Berry) advocate relocalization, and the remaking of community connections between consumers and farmers to become more sustainable, more participatory, more democratic and more ecologically whole. In these visionings, local food equates to a more just world and an idealized nature. Yet questions remain about this approach, such as, who are local, what is local, and what is excluded? What conceptions of territory and place are privileged? Which histories and spaces are obscured? And how are idealized notions of nature constructed and produced?
Scholarship on the subject has begun to show how the current food justice movement centers mostly on the food narratives of elites (in western and non-western settings) that promotes a market-oriented, damage-centered narrative of both the environment and human populations targeted. However, in tandem to these narratives there is also an emerging collective movement that counters such an approach, one that is translocal, culturally and environmentally vibrant, attentive to the multipllicity of the lived experience, and unbounded to status quo notions that often perpetuate existing power dynamics. These voices—young, old, low-income, Indigenous and people of color—are calling for different approaches toward a just food system and society.
This panel proposes to incorporate ideas of resilience — cultural and environmental — to existing debates around just food systems. Currently, debates about the nature of justice can be grouped into three perspectives: political economic, communitarian, and cultural. The political economy approach places the onus of injustice on capitalism, corporate control (“Food, Inc.”), and market-based individualism. Communitarian theories extol the approach of moral economies, community and collective action to achieve a common, good life. Cultural perspectives on justice, conveyed by postcolonial, critical race and feminist theorists, argue that universalist notions of justice are exclusionary, as are particularist notions of social justice advocated by communitarians. Notions of community often (implicitly) assume homogeneity, modeled after and privileging Western, white, heterosexual, cis-gendered, wealthy males. Notions of “health,” “goodness” and “rightness” can be used as instruments of power to perpetuate oppression and exclusion.
Presenters will take a reflexive approach to understanding food justice, one that is multi-scalar, immersed in the contradictions and complexities of everyday life, and attentive to the processes and practices that foster resilience. We will discuss efforts to revitalize and diversify food economies, the need to relearn traditional knowledges and reconsider which socio-ecological systems are obscured, and share examples that illustrate pathways of change and liberation. We seek to create space to dialogue among and across difference to build robust understandings of the daily, lived and fraught realities of food insecurity, inequity and injustice around us.