What is Food Justice?

What is food justice?

Cheyenne: (00:10)

Food justice is people that have the least control on the food system, who deal with food insecurity and food-based oppression, having the most control and most decision making powers. And that also looks like them having access to food that’s culturally appropriate and relevant to them, and also having space to grow that food. So, for example, if someone’s living in a neighbourhood where there’s no affordable grocery stores, there’s a lack of fresh vegetables, there’s no community gardens, food justice is them having those things so they can live a happy and full life.

What is food-based oppression?

Some people don’t have the same opportunities to get apples and bananas and carrots and callaloo as other people. And that could be money, that could also be access to getting the food itself. So food-based oppression is the different barriers these people face to get the food that they need. It can also be based on their race, on their economic status, on how much money they make. It could also be based on the areas that they can afford to live and they cannot afford to live.

Why is food at the farmer’s market more expensive?

Cheyenne: (01:19)
Food at the farmer’s markets is often more expensive for a few reasons. One reason here at Sundance Harvest is because I pay my employees a fair wage. I pay above minimum wage because that’s what I would want to be paid. I try to treat them with respect and give them lots of breaks and they have time to live their full lives while also working at my farm. And to do that, I actually have to make sure the produce is a price that reflects their wages. Because if I sell my produce for $2 a pound of tomatoes, then I don’t get a salary and I don’t get paid and I can’t eat bread and I can’t pay my rent. So food is often more expensive at farmer’s markets because the cost of staff is higher. And also because we’re farming usually in organic ways, Sundance Harvest is farmed in an organic way.

Cheyenne: (02:03)
And I have to use a lot of different things that conventional farms don’t use to make sure I can have vegetables for all of you. For example, in the summer, there’s lots of bugs flying around, trying to eat my vegetables and I don’t want that because I want to sell you the zucchini. So what I have to do is I have to cover it with a type of net to stop the bugs from eating all the zucchini, and then that costs money. So farming organically and deciding I’m not going to spray my zucchini, but I’m going to cover it is usually why vegetables can cost more at farmer’s markets.

How can we talk about food justice with others?

Cheyenne: (02:36)
When you’re talking about food justice and you’re explaining food justice, an easy way to kind of explain that to people is to talk about fairness. So some people, um, growing up, from their grandfathers or great-grandfathers or great-great-grandfathers, they’ve had more opportunities than other people. And then some groups haven’t. So when we’re talking about food justice, it’s not about taking things from people, but it’s about giving people what they need. It’s about allowing people to have opportunities, land to grow food, access to healthy foods, to flourish and be happy as well, because some people start off life, very high up with lots of opportunities. And then some people start off fairly low with not a lot of opportunities and they have to catch up and it’s not by their own fault. It’s by a lot of different issues, such as colonialism and racism, and also economic barriers that some people face.

What can school communities do to promote food justice?

Cheyenne: (03:39)
So the first thing school communities can do to promote food justice is, one, making sure that all kids have access to healthy food that’s also culturally relevant. It could be having a breakfast program. It could be making sure that there is a way for kids to take fresh vegetables home with them. So having a community garden, or partnering with a local community garden or urban agriculture not-for-profit nearby so the kids can take vegetables home with them and they can share them with their families. And the second thing could be having gardens onsite. So having gardens at the school of a larger size. So every child has a chance to grow food and learn how to take care of themselves with a healthy diet and grow food from the ground and see that process. So those are the two things I would say.

What can families do to promote food justice?

Cheyenne: (04:24)
Families can promote food justice in a number of ways. If they have food and they aren’t food insecure or face any food-based oppression, they can advocate for those who are, so they can speak up, they can learn more about food injustice and why it affects some marginalized identities more than others. And they can also use their voices to be an advocate to say, Hey, I want more community gardens, or I want a community urban farm for my kids and everyone else to have a chance to grow food. So really using their voices. And if a family is food insecure, they can still advocate. They can still use their voice because they have a story to tell and they could be a really big help for the movement to share what they need. And hopefully others will follow suit. But ultimately what families can do for food justice is to just speak up and just to name what it is, and to work together, to find solutions.

If you have kids in schools, speaking up and advocating for your family and others can look like speaking to your school, asking your principal, could there be a community garden at the school for children to learn how to grow food and be able to take home fresh vegetables? That’s an easiest way I could probably think of having the most direct action with your children and other children and other families. The second thing is to get in contact with a local nonprofit that does work around food injustice, or does work around agriculture in your neighbourhood. And see if you can have a children’s garden there, if they have extra land to have a children’s garden if having a garden at the school isn’t a possibility.

Is there a way to support food justice at the supermarket?

Cheyenne: (05:56)
If you aren’t able to purchase food at the farmer’s market, which is totally valid – I never actually could afford to purchase any food at the farmer’s markets even before I became a farmer – the easiest way to support local is actually look at the little stickers. So the little sticker on the vegetable will say, is it from Mexico? The States? Peru? Or Ontario? Shopping for vegetables that are from Ontario is the easiest way to support local and the local economy, which is the local money around our neighbourhood and it’s for local people in your neighbourhood growing that food, who are packing that food. So if you can, in the supermarket, try to buy vegetables and fruits that come from Ontario or come from Canada.

What is food sovereignty?

Cheyenne: (06:38)
Food sovereignty is the public. So that includes farmers, people, eaters, everyone involved in agriculture – and really everyone on the planet is involved in agriculture if you need food – having control of the food system. So individual people, families, and not large corporations and large businesses deciding what’s best for us, we decide what’s best for us. So what that could look like is seed sovereignty. So if you cut open an apple, for example, or maybe a tomato … cut open a nice tomato from the supermarket … most likely, you can’t plant those seeds because those seeds are going to be patented, which means that someone owns the rights to those seeds, which is wild because you go to nature, does nature have any patents? No, you can just go to nature and get a pinecone and plant that, and that should be perfectly fine because everyone should have rights to seeds.

Seeds are for everyone and water is for everyone and land is for everyone. So with seed sovereignty, it’s really about having access to the seed and not being, having to buy a seed or having to pay a company to have the seed as a farmer. Instead, you have seeds for everyone. So food sovereignty is connected to that because without seeds there really no food. So food sovereignty really looks like everyone having access to seed, um, and there’s no need to purchase seed and there’s no need to patent seed or say that seed’s mine, it’s not yours, but it’s planet earth’s seed. And the second thing is to ensure that people have access to grow the fruit. So land is open to public. And also the biggest thing of food sovereignty is Indigenous rights to land, to fish, to hunt, to forage, and to grow their own food. So LANDBACK is the biggest thing for food sovereignty out of anything else. And then also respecting and understanding Indigenous planting methods and planting traditions is a really big piece of food sovereignty.

What are patents?

Cheyenne: (08:26)
So patents are something that is a bit difficult to understand, but let me break it down. So let’s say you have a pine cone, pine cones are great, you have a pine cone. You say, this is my pine cone. And you planted that pine cone. And maybe that pine cone produces a purple tree, not a green tree. And you’re like, wow, that’s really cool. And you say, I’m going to own the rights to this pine cone. So no one else can have purple trees. I’m the one who can have purple trees. And let’s say your neighbour would like a purple tree, because they like the look of it. And maybe it’s a very fun thing to have. I would like a purple tree. And then your neighbour says, can I have some of your seeds? Can you please share it? And I can grow purple trees for the community?

And you say, no, no, no. You have to pay me $50 for this purple pine cone. So you can get the purple trees. And then your neighbour says, well, I can’t afford that. And then the neighbour does not get the purple tree. So patents are basically when one person or one corporation or one company owns the rights to a seed. So obviously purple pine cones aren’t needed to feed the world, but things like corn, things like oats, things like rice can be patented so people can own the rights to the actual seed to grow food for populations. And when we’re thinking on a larger scale for the entire world, it gets very difficult because not everyone can afford to purchase seed that’s patented. And some people historically save seed each year as they grow it. So patenting a seed means not everyone can actually access that seed and grow food for their family. And if they try to grow that seed, sometimes it’s against the law and sometimes they can get in trouble for just trying to grow it.

What can kids do?

Cheyenne: (10:04)
So what you can do as a kid is something really fun: try to grow vegetables, if you can, that are open-pollinated. So that word may seem pretty big, but all it means is that the seed grows naturally how nature intended. So you can get a bean plant that’s open-pollinated, eat the beans, and save some of the beans and say, Okay, I’m going to plant this next year. And it looks exactly the same as the other plant. It’s totally fine. And nature is happy for it. So if you can, save seeds, a very simple way is you can even go in nature and say, oh, this wildflower has some seeds. I’m going to save that and sprinkle it on my lawn next year or in the park next year. So just saving seeds is the easiest thing you can do.

What is culturally-relevant food?

Cheyenne: (10:47)
Culturally-relevant food is very important. Not everyone will eat the same thing you or I eat. Some people will say potatoes and carrots and kale aren’t a part of my diet that my mother has cooked for me, my grandmother, my grandfather, my father has cooked for me. So culturally-relevant food is basically ensuring that people have the food that they’re used to growing up and that they’re used to in their family that can carry on the traditions, any food that they know how to cook. A good example is not everyone knows really how to cook with zucchini. So zucchini can be a crop that people feel okay about, but if someone’s new to this country and they say, well, I never had zucchini back home. And they may not feel confident or comfortable to cook with that, but maybe they like cooking with bitter melon. And they’re like, bitter melon is amazing. I can make soups, I can make stews, but I also don’t know bitter melon. So it’s important that everyone has a chance to grow the foods that they know how to eat and they’d like to eat and they have the opportunity to do so, because that way people will be less food insecure and also feel more confident and empowered to also maybe grow their own food. And for their own bitter melon or their own callaloo. (What’s callaloo?) It’s like a Jamaican spinach.

Click here for the full Finding Our Place in the Food Justice series.