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Food Justice

September 6, 2020

Fresh fruits and vegetables at a supermarket, Author Wolfmann (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

“The right of communities everywhere to produce, process, distribute, access, and eat good food regardless of race, class, gender, ethnicity, citizenship, ability, religion, or community.”

-“food justice” as defined by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)[1]

“We weren’t the ones who made fresh food a luxury and junk food an easily obtained comfort.  We didn’t chase the grocery store out of …[the inner city] neighborhood…We weren’t responsible for the poverty that was eating the neighborhood like a cancer, leaving a generation of people exhausted and malnourished.”

-Harmony Cox [1A]

In an excellent article on Narratively, Harmony Cox makes the following points regarding food justice [1B]:

  • The link between poverty and obesity is not one of indolence.
  • There is an enormous divide between what those living in poverty are “supposed” to eat and what is actually available to them.
  • A food budget is more flexible than pre-determined expenses like rent. For that reason, it is frequently the first thing a family living in poverty will cut when trying to save money.

  • In the daily struggle to keep a family living in poverty fed, the food pyramid is largely irrelevant.
  • The assumption that those living in poverty who rely on fast food/junk food to feed their children do not love them is false. Love may take the form of deep-fried food.
  • Fast food/junk food is seen as a treat and unlikely to spoil.  Wasted food is wasted money those living in poverty cannot afford.
  • Even with a garden, a family living in poverty cannot grow milk or meat [3].
  • All too often dependent on supermarket leavings, food pantries will offer the poor high calorie, high fat baked goods or high sodium canned goods, rather than fresh produce.
  • Though necessary, the use of WIC and SNAP (“food stamps”) is deeply embarrassing to many of the poor.

As Ms. Cox says, “Food justice is not about forcing people to eat food they don’t want.  It’s about changing the world they live in so they can make choices about what they eat, and believing that those choices will lead them to a healthier and more enjoyable diet [2C].”

[1]  Oregon Tilth, “Food Justice Definitions” by Jeff Rowe, 7/6/16, .

[2A, 2B and 2C]  Narratively c/o Pocket, “My Life as a Public Health Crisis” by Harmony Cox, 5/17/18,

[3]  It is worth noting that the plant-based burgers gaining popularity are likely to be high in calories, sodium, and saturated fat.  See,  CNN, “They might be better for the planet, but are plant-based burgers good for you?” by Lisa Drayer, 8/14/19,


  1. I really want to appreciate your efforts in presenting such an excellent topic which is ignored by the society as well as the government. 👍🏻👍🏻

    • Thank you so much, Dulcy. I’m deeply impressed that a young girl would be concerned over this issue. Your intelligence and sensitivity are gifts to the world. ❤

  2. After thinking about this for some time Anna, it occurs to me that I had never heard the term “food justice” until now. While certainly a noble concept, I am still scratching my head that such a definition was deemed necessary. Perhaps I am either naive or simply do not yet understand, but I always believed that the “rights” contained within the IATP definition were a given. Obviously not.

    As for Ms. Cox, to whom is she referring to as “We”? To take it a step further, she appears to be saying that “We” are not responsible for the things she mentions, but her wording would indicate she is placing that responsibility elsewhere. Do you know the intended recipients of the blame she is speaking of? Perhaps she is referring to government agencies who have failed the poor?

    • Harmony Cox is writing on behalf of the poor. Her remarks are addressed to society at large (government included). I can state from years of experience w/ the poor of “inner city” Philadelphia that those remarks ring true.

      There are “food deserts” in most of America’s major cities. However, rural areas are not exempt. See, Large food stores often avoid the inner city. Rightly or wrongly, that avoidance is related to fear of crime and intermittent rioting w/ associated property damage. Staffing difficulties are another consideration.

      The poor can shop at supermarkets only if they have the means to travel outside the inner city. This can involve taking more than a single bus or train. Since the poor live hand to mouth, fares alone can pose an insurmountable obstacle.

      A greater difficulty may be the fear the poor experience in leaving the “safe”, i.e. familiar, setting of their neighborhoods. Of course, the elderly are not physically able to carry multiple bags of groceries on crowded public transportation. Then there is the prohibitive cost of food in the suburbs.

      This leaves the poor w/ two options: “mom and pop” grocery stores a/k/a bodegas or fast food chains.

      Small groceries cannot afford spoilage, so frequently do not stock much in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables. Food pantries, also, rely heavily on canned and dry goods. A few so called “arabbers” (street vendors selling fruits and vegetables from horse-drawn carts) still serve inner city Baltimore.

      I hope that answers some of your questions, Ron.

      • Thank you for the explanation Anna. I had never even considered why the very small grocery stores don’t stock fresh produce. It makes perfect sense now that I think about it. I mean, I knew those stores primarily stocked canned or packaged food items. It was WHY they did so that escaped me.

        Growing up as I did in the country, where we grew most of our own food and raised all of our own meat, I must confess to having been sheltered from the every day struggles of so many just to procure fresh food. Those endlessly long, hot days of working our one acre-plus gardens were necessary to ensure our “grocery store” was well stocked, and yet somehow I assumed others did the same.

        I must also confess to having not given the proper thought to those who must travel on crowded public transportation to shop for food. I truly cannot imagine how difficult that must be.

        You have given me much to think about my friend, not the least of which is my failure to adequately give thanks for the ease in which I can move about and do as I please any time I want to.

        As always, you’re the best!

      • You are wa-a-ay too kind, Ron. 🙂

  3. The same holds in our cities in Africa.

    • Christ said, “The poor you will always have with you…” (Matt. 26: 11 NIV). Sadly, that seems to be true.

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