“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would
still plant my apple tree.”  – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

“I’m a big believer in community gardens, both because of their beauty
and for their access to providing fresh fruits and vegetables to so
many communities across this nation and the world.”  – Michelle Obama
to the USDA

“Plant the tree of friendship and harvest the fruits of love
Uproot the roots of hatred for it brings forth boundless agony” – Hafez

“We bury our seeds and wait,

Winter blocks the road,

Flowers are taken prisoner underground,

But then green justice tenders a spear”

– Rumi

Benefits of Local, Organic and Ecologically Sustainable Food Systems

  • Provides urban food security by expanding access to fresh and nutritious food
  • Produces community food sovereignty by owning our own means of food production
  • Intervenes on corporate power by decentralizing food systems
  • Builds community alliances and empowerment through planting, harvesting, and sharing food together
  • Prevents hunger and obesity
  • Addresses the economic crisis as it is more affordable than grocery and corner stores
  • Provides jobs for local youth, unemployed, elderly, and disadvantaged
  • Protects workers from harmful chemicals and pesticides
  • Supports local economies
  • Remediates soil for future seasons of growing
  • Supports ecological sustainability of the land
  • Attracts wildlife
  • Increases biodiversity of edible plants by growing culturally relevant food
  • Builds connections between humans and the sacredness of the land
  • Passes on traditional knowledge of agricultural techniques
  • Reduces fossil fuel consumption and alleviates the need for oil from the Middle East
  • Less energy intensive
  • Recycles energy using Permaculture design
  • Conserves more water than the maintenance of grass lawns
  • Recycles water using Permaculture design
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions
  • More resistant to disease, droughts, and floods
  • Values life, land, and labor
  • Draws connections between seemingly disparate social movements such as labor, anti-war, anti-racism, environmental, Indigenous rights, health care, pro-democracy, social justice…

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is an approach to designing landscapes that works with nature rather than against nature. Permaculture seeks to create beautiful living systems that provide food (and other essentials) for people in sustainable ways.

Permaculture was “founded” in Australia by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970’s. It combines age-old indigenous wisdom with new insights emerging from movements for sustainability around the world. Permaculture is a dynamic, eclectic, and creative discipline now happening world-wide.

Permaculture is based on the following three ethical principles:

  • Care of the earth
  • Care of the people
  • Sharing the surplus

Some Key Permaculture Principles

  • Observation – One must have a clear understanding of their immediate environment and the surrounding bio-region to create appropriate designs. Micro-climates (warmth, sun, moisture etc.) and other unique features of an area can be discovered and used to enhance the design.
  • Native Plants – Since native plants are bested adapted to and integrated within the local ecology, they are preferred over exotic plants. However, carefully selected “exotic” plants can and should be used for particular purposes such as food production when there are no equivalent native species.
  • Perennial Plants – Where possible, perennial plants are favoured over annuals as they can become long term members of an urban plant community and generally require less labour and resources than annuals. In addition to the many species of fruit, berries, nuts, and herbs that do well in Edmonton, there are also numerous perennial greens that can be harvested throughout the growing season to be eaten in salads, soups, stews etc.. Annual vegetables and herbs, however, also have an important place in an urban permaculture system.
  • Relationships – Plants in a permaculture design are carefully selected and situated for the relationships they will have with other plants and other elements in the system. Diverse plants with diverse relationships are desired. These relationships will create a “synergistic” effect, creating a thriving ecological community.
  • Elements – All elements of a permaculture design will have multiple functions. For example, a selected tree may provide shade for a sitting area, berries for food, habitat for birds, screening of an undesirable view, and may build the soil by fixing nitrogen, thereby supporting the plants grown around it.
  • Functions – All functions are supported by multiple elements. For example, food will come from many plants, not just one or two. Many different plants will be used to attract a variety of pollinators and other beneficial insects. Water will be harvested and retained in a variety of ways, thereby reducing demand on city water and ensuring that the system will continue to thrive during times of drought.
  • Zones – As a tool for site analysis and planning, permaculture considers every system to be comprised of five “zones”. In brief, “Zone 1” is closest to the house and includes those elements that are needed most on a day to day basis (i.e. kitchen herbs and vegetables) . Zones progress away from the house to less intensively cultivated or harvested elements all the way to Zone 5” which is “wildland” left for birds and other local wildlife.
  • Resource Use – Permaculture systems strive to use as few external “inputs” as possible and to produce as little “waste” as possible. Natural resources such as sunlight and water are absorbed and maintained within the system as long s possible. Composting and mulching are used extensively to maintain and increase soil fertility. When outside “inputs” are required, they are preferably sourced as locally as possible and are ideally “waste” from the surrounding environment.
  • Stacking – Plants incorporated into a permaculture landscape are “stacked” both in space and in time. Plants will be chosen to occupy the following 7 layers; below ground (i.e root crops), ground cover, herbaceous plants, shrubs, small trees, tall trees, and vines. Similarly, thought should be given into the long term development of the landscape over time, ensuring that the system will be thriving many years from now.

Home-Scale Examples of Permaculture

Permaculture is just as relevant and useful for the city-dweller as it for a small farmer or alternative community. Some very basic examples of how permaculture principles and design can be used in the urban setting include:

  • Water Harvesting – Collecting run-off water from roofs, redirecting it to trees, shrubs and beds, and storing it in rain barrels for later use is an easy, economical and highly beneficial practice. Water can be further retained within the home landscape by using mulches, close plantings and by ensuring a high level of organic matter in the soil.
  • Perennial Plants for Food – Most urban dwellers equate growing food with a square vegetable patch in the back corner of the yard. Nothing could be further from the truth! There are abundant possibilities for growing a tremendous amount of food-producing perennial plants in cities like Edmonton. Fruits, berries, nuts, perennial herbs and perennial greens can all be included in an urban permaculture landscape.
  • Composting and Mulching – There is no substitute for home grown compost! Intensive composting allows for the recycling of resources within one’s permaculture system and contributes greatly to soil fertility, structure and long term sustainability. Specialized composting techniques such as “sheet mulching” can facilitate the generation of larger amounts of compost within the growing beds themselves. Regular surface mulching also contributes organic matter to the soil, retains moisture, inhibits weed growth and reduces soil erosion and soil compaction.
  • Use of Microclimates – City dwellers are blessed with numerous microclimates within their own yards. South facing walls, for example, can provide an excellent location for heat loving plants like grapes, tomatoes, or peppers and can also be good locations for extending the growing season. Lettuce and other greens, for example, sown in a passive cold frame on the south side of a house can produce a harvest in late March or early April and as late in the season as the end of November or early December. Microclimates can also be created, by such techniques as mounding up soil for an herb spiral which will have both hot and cool, wet and dry microclimates as well as creating additional surface area in the same amount of space.
  • Plant Selections and Placement – While the post card picture of suburbia includes a large lush lawn with 3-4 shrubs, 2 trees and a couple of flower beds, urbanites are discovering that their own yards provides them with enough space to incorporate many diverse plant species. In the permaculture design approach, all of these plants will have a particular purpose and will be placed in careful relationship with other plants.A “nitrogen-fixing” caraganna hedge, for example, might be placed on the north side of a yard to provide a windbreak for the home, some privacy and a “heat trap” for tomatoes placed on its south side. The tomatoes will benefit from the nitrogen provided by the carragana and will also enjoy higher rates of pollination thanks to the number of bees that are attracted to the carragana flowers. The carragana hedge can in turn be cut (at least once per season as it is a very fast grower) to provide material for the compost pile. There are countless other inter-relationships like this that can be designed into an urban permaculture system.
  • Forest Gardens – Mature forests occupy all available space with lush growth. “Forest gardens” model themselves after natural forest eco-systems but focus on plants that provide food, medicines and other resources. Urban yards can also take advantage of the possibilities of using vertical space to make up for what they lack in horizontal space. All 7 layers (root, ground cover, herb layer, shrubs, mall trees, large trees, vines) can be occupied by plants that offer not only beauty but food, medicine, or other benefits as well. When appropriately designed for a particular bio-region, forest gardens provide an abundance of food in a way that is self-perpetuating, self-fertilizing, self-mulching, self-watering, self-pollinating and highly resistant to disease. The following article by forest garden pioneer, Robert Hart provides an excellent summary of designing forest gardens for urban areas: http://www.risc.org.uk/garden/roberthart.html. For a listing of hardy plants for forest gardens in our climate, link to Plants for Edible Forest Gardens in Alberta.

For additional information on the growing world-wide permaculture movement, follow the links to these websites:

The Permaculture Activist

Introduction to permaculture


“Care of the Earth” – this includes all living and non-living things, land, water, animals, air etc.

“Care of People” – to promote self-reliance and community responsibility.

“Return of Surplus” – to pass on anything surplus to our needs (labour, money, information etc) for the aims above.

Implicit in the above is the “Life Ethic”: all living organisms are not only means but ends.  In addition to their instrumental value to humans and other living organisms, they have an intrinsic worth.

Permaculture is an ethical system, stressing positivism and cooperation.

Definition of permaculture

Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems.  It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.  Without permanent agriculture there is no possibility of a stable social order.

Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its forms.

The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature; protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions.

The word “permaculture” can be used by anybody adhering to the ethics and principles expressed herein.  The only restriction on use is that of teaching; only graduates of a Permaculture Institute can teach “permaculture”, and they adhere to agreed-on curricula developed by the College of Graduates of the Institutes of Permaculture.

Real world design

The need for the establishment of sustainable systems globally is now obvious.

Sustainable systems:-

–         Produce more energy than they consume.

–         Create, or at the very least do not destroy soils and forests.

–         Produce most of the regional needs.

–         Recycle or produce nutrients.

Permaculture is primarily a design for a sustainable, human-controlled support system.

–         Polycultures of mixed systems and ecotones out produce per unit area any simplistic monocultures.  Mixed plant/animal systems are part of a total polyculture.

Permaculture concentrates on already settled areas and agricultural lands, and almost all of these need drastic re-design and re-patterning.  The result of redesign of food supply  systems integrated throughout our settlements with fiber and fuel forests placed in a nearby zone and the establishment of water catchments from our settlement run off surfaces, will be to free most of the area of the globe for the rehabilitation of natural systems.  These large natural systems need only be of use to people in terms of a very broad sense of global health

The Prime Directive of Permaculture.

The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children:-

–         We need to get our house and garden, our place of living, in order, so it supports us.

There is historical proof that within a region of environmental stability created by sustainable land use systems, stability in human population naturally occurs.  If we do not get our cities, homes and gardens in order, so that they feed and shelter us, we must lay waste to all other natural systems and we become the final plague.

Permaculture as a design system contains nothing new.  It arranges what was always there in a different way, so that it works to conserve energy or to generate more energy than it consumes.  What is novel, and often overlooked, is that any system of total commonsense design for human communities is revolutionary.

Principles of natural systems and design.

Guiding principles of permaculture design:-

–         Everything is connected to everything else.

–         Every function is supported by many elements.

–         Every element should serve many functions.

Design can be for aesthetic and functional purposes.  Permaculture design concentrates on function.

Functional design is:-

–         1. Sustainable so it provides for its own needs.

–         2. Has good production, providing surplus, for this to occur, elements must have no product unused by other elements and have their own needs supplied by other elements in the system.

If these criteria are not met, then pollution and work result.  Pollution is a product not used by something else; it is an over-abundance of a resource.  Work results when there is a deficiency of resources, when an element in the system does not aid another element.  Any system will become chaotic if it receives more resources than it can productively use.

A resource is any energy storage which assists yield.  The work of the permaculture designer is to maximize useful energy storages in any system on which they are working, be it a house, urban property, rural lands, or gardens.  A successful design contains enough useful storage to serve the needs of people.

Methodology of design

Permaculture design emphasizes patterning of landscape, function, and species assemblies.

It asks the question, “Where does this element go?  How is best placed for maximum benefit in the system?”

Permaculture is made up of techniques and strategies:-

–         Techniques are how we do things, (one-dimensional).

–         Strategies are how and when, (two-dimensional).

–         Design is patterning, (multi-dimensional).

Permaculture is all about the science and ethics of design patterning.

Approaches to design:-

–         1. Maps, “where is everything?”

–         2. Analysis of elements, “how do these things connect?”

–         3. Sector planning, “where do we put things?”

–         4. Observational.

–         5. Experiential.

1. Maps: A main tool of a designer, but “the map is never the territory”.  Be careful not to design just from maps, no map tells the entire story that can be observed on the ground.  A sequence of maps are valuable to see clearly where to place elements: – Water, Access, Structures, Topology etc.

2. The analysis of elements: List the needs, products, and the intrinsic characteristics of each element.  Lists are made to try and link the supply needs of elements to the production needs of others.

An example that is easy to understand is the lists needed to link a chicken into a system:

Experiment on paper, connecting and combining the elements (buildings, plants, animals, etc) to achieve no pollution (excess product), and minimum work.  Try to have one element fulfill the needs of another.

3. Sector planning:  Includes (a) zones (b) sector (c) slope, and (d) orientation

(a) ZONES, it is useful to consider the site as a series of zones, which can be concentric rings, a single pathway through the system, starting with the home centre and working out.

The placement of elements in each zone depends on importance, priorities, and number of visits needed for each element, e.g. chicken house is visited every day, so it needs to be close (but not necessarily next to the house).  A herb spiral would be next to the kitchen.

Brief worldview of permaculture (what does it do and where?)

The planet is in crisis, the global ecological, food and water systems are all failing.  Climate change is accelerating; permaculture design offers positive solutions today.  There are now 750,000 graduates of this course worldwide with over 400,000 projects in 120 countries.  Permaculture design consultants are now recognized by the United Nations aid organizations and employed in both emergency and development aid projects.

Permaculture consultants are now used in regional development for environmentally sustainable design criteria demanded by local and national governments worldwide.

A Common Ground found through Food Justice: Growing Coalitions between

Environmental, Human Rights, Anti-Imperialism, and Labor Movements


This paper seeks to build alliances by drawing connections between seemingly disparate social movements through exploring different practices in agriculture. Using the case study of Cuba’s urban food systems, tracing the effects of a federally supported industrial agriculture in the United States, situating food systems through the power dynamics of race, class, gender, and national privilege, and pointing out the benefits of more localized, democratized, and bio-diverse food systems, this paper evidences how rising global crises may be simultaneously addressed through advocacy for the food justice movement.

Haleh Zandi

Anth 6850: Cross Cultural Issues in Social and Environmental Justice


Through the framework of environmental justice, this paper examines the violences currently dominating industrial agricultural practices and looks at the possibilities for justice through small-scale, organic food systems. First, through the case study of Cuba’s dramatic agricultural shift away from the “Green Revolution”, which relies heavily upon fossil-fuels, and towards a socialized, local, and organic food system, I evidence the ways in which urban agricultural practices enable environmental justice through food security. Then, I engage in a critical analysis of Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America (1977) to trace the ways in which agriculture linked to federal power in the U.S. created inequitable living conditions for United States urban residents as well as for small farmers around the world, particularly through the dynamics of race, class, and national privilege. Lastly, through Vandana Shiva’s critical analysis of industrial agriculture and globalized food systems in Soil not Oil (2008), I evidence the ways in which food justice addresses the overlapping crises located within the economy, the use of energy, and the health of bodies and the land. Ultimately, I propose that various grassroots social movements, predominately working separately under the divisions of the environment, labor rights, Civil Rights, or anti-war, may find ways to build alliances through the frameworks of the food justice movement.

“Si, se puede!”: “How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”

The United States embargo against Cuba, first enacted in 1962 and then codified into law in 1992, served to isolate this island from the globalized, capitalist economy; yet, the Cuban agricultural system hadn’t escaped the policies of neo-colonialism in the ways that high-yield varieties of cash crops were grown for export, never to directly feed the basic needs of the people. These cash crops, mainly sugar cane and tobacco, required the massive use of oil-based pesticides, natural gas-based fertilizers, and gasoline-based transportation (Morgan 2006). As Cuba relied upon foreign finite resources and technologies governed by relations of market power, the people lacked food sovereignty, which is the right to make one’s own agricultural and food policies (Patel 2009).

As the dissolution of the Soviet Union occurred in the early 1990’s, Cuba experienced what they refer to as the “Special Period” in which the economy collapsed, food imports were reduced by 80%, and the fossil fuel-based agricultural system failed (Morgan 2006). By 1994, the average Cuban citizen had lost 20 pounds from malnutrition (Morgan 2006). The chemical fertilizers and pesticides had de-mineralized the land, turning soils into sand, and tractors sat idle on large agricultural plots. As it typically takes three to four years to rebuild and maintain organic, nutrient-rich soil through diversifying crop rotations and implementing composting systems and animal husbandry, the Cuban government invested in scientific research centers studying sustainable agriculture and organic farming methods which didn’t depend on fossil fuels (Morgan 2006). As small farms became necessary through the shifts towards appropriate-technology, the numbers of farmers increased by means of educational cooperatives and training schools (Morgan 2006). The large, idle farms were re-distributed by the government as a usufruct land system in which farmers were given the legal right to use the land, tax-free, in order to increase local food production (Morgan 2006). Through a diversified and decentralized food system, including private farms, cooperative farms, roof-top gardening in urban areas, and large government farms, people were encouraged to participate in growing their own food and a sense of ownership over a local economy led to greater productivity of foods. Cuban’s view of agriculture changed dramatically as farming was recognized as one of the most vital and dignified professions and farmers became one of the highest paid workers in the country (Morgan 2006).

In Cuba, the rise of urban agriculture was promoted by the highest levels of government in response to the convergence of economic, health, and ecological crises. But, it was the power of community, of cooperatives, and of human relationships which enabled the ability for Cubans to sustain themselves with at least 80% of their own local food production (Morgan 2006). Within the current context of the United States, as economic, energy, climate, and health crises expand as complex configurations of capitalist exploitation, a dependence on fossil fuels, mass consumption and waste, and the centralization of power, reliance upon the federal government seems dismal. An example is H.R. 875, the “Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009”, which is of concern to small and organic farmers because of the ways in which it could criminalize organic farming by listing them as sources of seed contamination and by forcing farmers to buy chemical fertilizers and pesticides, or else face up to $500,000 in penalties. Though environmental justice has been recognized by the federal government as an issue of concern since the 1990’s (See The First National People of Color Environmental Justice Summit in 1991 and the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Environmental Justice started 1992), this “safety bill” introduced into the 111th Congress is a deal with agribusiness giants such as Monsanto, Cargill, Tyson, and ADM as the pursuit of corporate profit and power imposes upon the health and livelihood of global citizens. In order for agricultural practices to enable environmental justice, United States citizens need to question relations of power determining dominant food systems and participate in their own relations of food production, whether through consumer responsibility, knowledge and skill acquisition in growing food, or building stronger relationships between rural and urban communities. These practices may facilitate an ethics of care toward just labor practices, sustainable resource management, and growing healthy bodies.

Building Alliances between Urban Residents, Small Farmers,

Communities of Color, and the Working Class

In the inner cities of the U.S. and on small farms around the world, historical oppressions linked to dynamics of race, class, and national privileges continue to function through the relations of power structured within the industrialized, globalized food system. As a history of the present understood by subaltern experiences, this section critically examines the intersections of nation-making and globalization through a reframing of the processes of industrial agriculture. By empowering strategic alliances, the food justice movement challenges the roles, identities, and relations between national institutions, globalized corporations, and local communities of both small farms and urban areas. What are urban relationships to the environment? How might urban agriculture intervene on individualized and commodified understandings of nature? Within the structures of the ruling capitalist democracy, how might urban/rural and local/global populations become blurred towards an understanding of mutual dependence and ethical commitments to the other? As urban areas predominantly rely upon resources extracted from the environment of the Global South, links between ecology and culture must be cultivated through a global civic participation which intervenes upon divisions of racial, class, and national inequities.

Writing from a farm in Kentucky within a post-9/11 context, Wendell Berry urges United States citizens to ask, what does real security and freedom require of us (Berry 2003). As people experience processes of violence which have nothing directly to do with warfare, but are accepted as normal to the capitalist economy of life (such as poverty, toxic pollution, soil erosion, and the destruction of biological diversity), these “externalized costs” are located through dynamics of race, class, gender, and national privilege.  In The Unsettling of America (1977), Wendell Berry describes the plight of small farmers in the United States under the industrialized agricultural practices codified into law through the federal policies of Earl L. Butz, the Secretary of Agriculture from 1971-1976. Though I am critical of the ways in which Berry’s analysis is situated within a Christian discourse of morality under the national structure, so that patriotism is privileged as the civic means for interrupting the violences of industrial agriculture, I find his description of the struggles of small farmers to be useful in examining the problematics of food systems linked to centralized power under the rubric of “progress” and “efficiency”.

These pledges of progress and efficiency situated within a discourse of modernity disguise an officially sanctioned and federally subsidized exploitation of labor, land, and the basic nutrients of life. Under the partnership of the United States Department of Agriculture and corporate agribusiness, the industrialization and standardization of food systems expanded (Berry 1977). Recognizing the devastating effects notions of modernity have upon the knowledge of the indigenous Americans, upon the values of small farming communities, and upon the self-sufficiency of urban populations, “they (the colonial order) have always said that what they destroyed was outdated, provincial, and contemptible” (Berry 1977: 4). When Earl L. Butz declared that “food is a weapon,” he was officially calling for more production under the rubric of progress and efficiency “to be used to bait or bribe foreign countries (Berry 1977: 9). Berry points out that the “mechanization and chemicalization of farming, increase in the price of land, increase in overhead and operating costs, and the diminishment of farm populations” (1977: 10) was promoted by the highest levels of government while the “problems of overcrowding and unemployment increase in the cities” (1977: 11) and “soil erosion rates are worse now than during the Dust Bowl” (1977: VIII). Within a complex web of correlations, modern agricultural is an ecological crisis and a crisis of human security. The correlating effects of industrial agriculture are too broad, too complex, and too diverse to be effectively resisted within a singular solution. The industrial revolution “deprived the mass of consumers of any independent access to the staples of life: clothing, shelter, food, even water” (1977: 6), and Berry warns that “a mere consumer is by definition dependent, at the mercy of the manufacturer, the salesmen, and the agency that enforces the law” (1977: 23). As small farmers are pressured into the consumption of chemicals and fossil-fuels, as urban populations exist within consumptive relations to subsistence, as the land is perceived as an infinite resource to be exploited without means of regenerating natural cycles, an environmental justice approach to shifting ways of living becomes urgent.

Missing from Wendell Berry’s critical analysis of industrial agriculture are the ways in which structures of racial inequalities function at the expense of African American farmers in the United States. According to the 1997 Census of Agriculture, there are 18,000 African American farmers in the United States, which is a decline of 98% since 1920 (Wood and Gilbert 2000). The Pigford settlement, brought forth in 1999, evidences the ways in which 94,000 African American farmers, predominately in the South, experienced federal discrimination by the United States Department of Agriculture (GAO 2006). In the Pigford settlement, the court recognized decades of USDA discrimination against African Americans by denying, delaying, or otherwise obstructing African American farmers’ applications for farm loans and other credit and benefit programs (Holmes 2009).

During the decades in which African American farmers experienced economic and racial oppression in the South, Mexican and Central American farmers in California also endured structures of oppression in the dangerous working conditions of agricultural fields, inhumane housing conditions, unjust labor contracts, sexual harassment of female farm workers by the foremen and growers, and fear of retribution from government and immigration authorities (Araiza 2006: vi). In her dissertation published in 2006, Lauren Araiza describes the alliances made in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s between the Mexican and Central American United Farm Workers, led by Cesar Chavez, and various Civil Rights groups, such as the Black Panther Party, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, NAACP, and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. These alliances drawn between grassroots movements are critical in empowering resistance against oppression. Many communities of color and working class communities struggle against similar systems of oppression through overlapping structures of capitalism, the nation-state, and colonial discourse. Through tracing the alliances built through the United Farm Workers movement, Araiza points out how cooperation, solidarity, the mobilization of different communities, and a commitment to multi-racial equality enables processes of justice to be realized (Araiza 2006).

Alliance building is, in fact, a necessary means for achieving social change towards justice and human rights, and within the food justice movement in the United States, addressing white, middle-class privilege is one of the keys to building alliances between grassroots organizations working for sovereignty over affordable, nutritious food sources. Failure to confront social and cultural differences within liberal social movements and the ways in which the community food movement reproduces white privilege undermines the efforts of social change (Slocum 2006). As evidenced above, racism is an organizing process in the industrialized and globalized food system: people of color disproportionately experience food insecurity, lose their farms, and face the dangerous work of food processing and agricultural labor. Between 1990 and 1998, the total number of young Indigenous Americans who deal with diabetes increased by 71% (Acton et al 2002), and Indigenous Americans are 2.6 times more likely than European Americans to have diabetes, which has a direct correlation with one’s diet. Likewise, African American and Latino American households experienced food insecurity at double the national average in 2003 (Weil 2004; or see Shields 1995). Indeed, the United States’ food system was built upon a foundation of genocide, slavery, and racist institutions which have dispossessed racialized groups of cultural pride, land use, and the right to a dignified livelihood through the overlapping dynamics of race, class, and gender disparities.

These disparities must be understood in relation to white privilege lived and experienced as dominant white land ownership, greater food security, and lesser vulnerability to malnutrition and disease, and also in relation to overlapping structures of class and gender inequities located within systems of domination (Slocum 2006). Non-profit, grassroots, and community organizations participating in the food justice movement must remain attentive to the ways in which race remains invisibilized within liberal understandings of the environment and of cultural differences in relation to food, both within organizations, through community-based work, and while participating in advocacy and alliance building. White allies in the movement for food justice must remain self-reflexive and work towards understanding pressures of assimilation, differences in gender, histories of slavery and exploitation, and neo-colonial relations of domination. Through focusing on issues such as land tenure, food sovereignty, labor rights, resistance to exploitation, political inequities, and the cultural politics of hunger and obesity, the food justice movement may speak to communities of difference towards the social realization that the others’ freedom and security is linked to one’s own. Alliance is not just for a people, but for a movement towards the ongoing process of freedom and justice.

A Coalition of Environmental, Human Rights, Anti-Imperialism, and Labor Movements

In her text Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis (2008), Vandana Shiva links correlations between the food crisis, the climate crisis, and the oil crisis through evidencing the problematics of industrialized and globalized agricultural systems. Shiva’s most convincing arguments are located in her critical analysis of the current dominant food system’s reliance upon gross amounts of fossil fuels. She describes that “industrialized, globalized agriculture is a recipe for eating oil. Oil is used for the chemical fertilizers that go to pollute the soil and water. Oil is used to displace small farmers with giant tractors and combine harvesters. Oil is used to industrially process food. Oil is used for the plastic in packaging. And finally, more and more oil is used to transport food farther and father away from where it is produced” (2008: 96). Shiva demonstrates how solutions to these ecological, economic, and human rights disasters are addressed simultaneously through practices in biodiverse, localized, and democratized food systems, which are more resistant to disease, droughts, and floods; provide much needed jobs for small farmers and landless laborers; create nutritious food sources for more people; lessen environmental impacts on the earth; protect workers from harmful chemicals and pesticides; regenerate soils for future seasons of growing; expand local economies; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; lessen dependency on foreign oils; and ultimately work towards processes of freedom and justice (Shiva 2008).

As the United States, as well as every place on earth, continues to face depleting oil resources, rising food prices, an unpredictable climate crisis, and an economic collapse, solutions based upon centralized, corporatized, mechanized, and standardized food systems will never adequately deal with the needs of the people. The path that Cuba took in response to the “Special Period” evidences the multiple ways in which urban agricultural practices address economic, energy, health, and food crises, and there is still much more to be learned through the remembering of different cultural practices in relation to food and in ways of living. As movements for environmental justice, human rights, anti-imperialism, and labor rights struggle to address the needs of their constituents, a broader understanding of the complexities and confluences between their issues of concern may serve to build coalitions and strengthen their power to intervene upon systems of domination and violence. For citizens of the United States, as the inner-cities struggle for survival, as aggressive wars in the Middle East continue, as workers are laid off by the thousands, and as the earth responds to exploitation with increasing force, new understandings of a global civic responsibility must emerge towards sustainability and security for all.


Acton K. J., Burrows N. R., Moore K., Querec L., Geiss L. S., and Engelgau M. M.

2002 Trends in Diabetes Prevalence among American Indian and Alaska Native children,

Adolescents, and Young Adults. In American Journal of Public Health 92(9): 1485–1490.

Araiza, Lauren Ashley

2006 For Freedom of Other Men: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the United Farm Workers, 1965-1973. PhD Dissertation in History, University of California Berkeley.

Berry, Wendell

1977 The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

2003 Citizenship Papers. Washington DC: Shoemaker and Hoard.

Environmental Protection Agency Office of Environmental Justice

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