Photo courtesy of M J M, via FlickrAs the good food movement matures, its members have begun discussing its inclusiveness. This week, at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s ninth Food and Society Conference, speaker after speaker touched upon the topic of race and access to good food.
“Who is at the table?” asked Anim Steel, Director of National Programs for The Food Project, a Boston-based organization that works to engage youth in sustainable agriculture. Steel’s rhetorical question referred to a growing conversation among members of the sustainable food movement about helping the movement grow and include all people, not just those who can afford organic food.
This conversation’s incredibly important. It could also be awkward and uncomfortable, as it broaches the historically difficult topics of structural racism and environmental justice. “Nutritional redlining” was one of the phrases uttered in a conference speech by Erika Allen, who works with her father Will Allen doing the awe-inspiring work of Milwaukee-based food and farm organization Growing Power. Erika Allen’s speech also addressed the thorny topic of how food movement members can create healthy food systems in tandem with low-income communities, as opposed to imposing these food systems from the outside, without community buy-in and input. Of course, this issue isn’t limited to food systems building; low-income communities and communities of color have long suffered disproportionately negative impacts from externally-imposed urban planning and economic development decisions.
All of this talk of white privilege and power in the food system may sound like a circular return to past debates of environmental justice and the problems of an overly-white environmental movement, but in fact, the willingness of a relatively nascent coalition of good food and farming activists to listen and participate in a difficult conversation on race and privilege points to the movement’s growing power and maturity.
Everyone eats. Unhealthy food, grown in unsustainable ways, negatively impacts all the world’s people, and disproportionately impacts poor communities and communities of color. As minority populations in the U.S. grow in voice and number, and the alternative food movement’s willingness and ability to provide a welcome “place at the table” to all eaters, is not only logistically necessary, but morally imperative.