Equity Tensions

Intersectional Identities and Power

Food sovereignty movements (originating in the global south) and food justice movements (originating in the global north) are closely allied with other movements for equity. Integral to food system transformation are struggles for equity, intersectional identities, and power, among all historically marginalized groups defending and claiming multiple racial and ethnic identities, rural-urban differences, gender and sexual diversities, religious practices, age-related and other diverse identities.

The concept of “all our relations” is an important metaphor for understanding intersectionality within and beyond the food system. A historical perspective positions different forms of oppression as part of ongoing cycles of injustice based on white supremacy and extractive economics. Colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, development and globalization draw on the logic of elimination and replacement, power, domination, settlement, expansion and control.

The Legacies project acknowledged different manifestations of oppression, the pervasive nature of social inequality woven through institutional and individual consciousness. Legacies collaborator Leticia Deawuo describes in detail the structural and material ways food injustice is perpetuated in the Black Creek neighbourhood. “For me, the word apartheid makes it clear that these are systemically constructed communities, in the way that food is distributed across the city and the way that people experience food. The fact that you have the Jane-Finch community (in Toronto) with fast food restaurants at every corner, and a community that pays more than other communities for fresh produce, a community where police are surveilling the grocery stores, this is food apartheid.” While, in Quebec, Anna outlines how food security is a structural privilege based on the services available and the way these services are made available.

“All our relations” helps us see that human and non-human communities are simultaneously marginalized by oppression.1 The degradation and abuse of land and people through industrial agriculture, the subjugation and enslavement of Indigenous People and racialized communities, the imposition of what is “human” and what is “other” in European knowledge, the exotification of some food cultures, racial exclusion in some alternative food spaces, are all linked and interconnected issues. These are all themes that arise over and over again in our discussions with Legacies collaborators.

Equity issues, as they are expressed by Legacies collaborators, echo global movements working on food system transformation, decolonization and equity. In their special report on Climate and Land the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) outlines the gender and equity dimensions related to food security and climate change, highlighting the central role women play in agriculture and how climate change impacts are uneven depending on age, ethnicity, gender, wealth, and class, with poor and vulnerable communities facing greater impacts. The IPCC states that a rights-based approach that explicitly recognizes women is critical is we want to improve food security, as well as achieve global climate adaptation and mitigation targets.

Using even stronger language, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in its Global Assessment Report states “the character and trajectories of transformation will vary across contexts, with challenges and needs differing, among others, in developing and developed countries. Risks related to the inevitable uncertainties and complexities in transformations towards sustainability can be reduced through governance approaches that are integrative, inclusive, informed and adaptive. Such approaches typically take into account the synergies and trade-offs between societal goals and alternative pathways and recognize a plurality of values, diverse economic conditions, inequity, power imbalances and vested interests in society.”2 

Globally, there is growing momentum for a “Just Transition.” This term has its roots in labour and environmental justice movements, and is being applied by climate and justice advocates. The Just Transition Alliance3  outlines that “Just Transition is a vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes, and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy. This means approaching production and consumption cycles holistically and waste-free. The transition itself must be just and equitable; redressing past harms and creating new relationships of power for the future through reparations. If the process of transition is not just, the outcome will never be. Just Transition describes both where we are going and how we get there.”4 

For food systems, the Just Transition concept is extended beyond organized labour to include agricultural, food process and distribution workers who are often migrant, racialized, undocumented and working in vulnerable or informal contexts growing, processing, cooking and distributing food. In the past decade, there has been a burgeoning of organizing by racialized farmers,5 small and medium-sized farmers,6 migrant workers,7 and food chain workers.8

The experience of the environmental justice movement illustrates how communities of colour and low-income communities have been disproportionately impacted by pollution and industrial practices, including industrial food system practices like chemical intensive agriculture, confined animal feedlots, deregulated supply chains, and highly processed foods.9 The environmental justice movement emphasizes centering the voices, experience, and knowledge of those most impacted and engaging communities to “build thriving economies that provide dignified, productive and ecologically sustainable livelihoods; democratic governance and ecological resilience.”10

The world-wide uprising against anti-black racism and police violence that was sparked by the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, U.S. in the spring of 2020 revealed a convergence of movements against centuries of Indigenous and black oppression. Many identified with the brutal action of the “knee on my neck.” Thousands took to the streets in the middle of a pandemic that had exposed a blatant disregard for racialized bodies, while also revealing the frailties and injustices of the global food system. Especially among youth protestors, there was a greater consciousness of the interconnectedness of all inequities. And of the necessity of alliances to work toward systemic change.

  1. Freire, P. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder, 1972.
  2. IPBES (2019): Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. S. Díaz, et al (eds.). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany. p. 17.
  3. Just Transition Alliance (http://jtalliance.org/)
  4. Climate Justice Alliance (https://climatejusticealliance.org/just-transition/)
  5. National Black Food and Justice Alliance (https://www.blackfoodjustice.org/); Soul Fire Farm (http://www.soulfirefarm.org/). See also Leah Penniman. Farming While Black: Soul Fire’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land. Hartford, VT: Chelsea Green, 2018.
  6. National Farmers Union in Canada (https://www.nfu.ca/); National Family Farm Coalition in the U.S. (https://nffc.net/); Via Campesina (https://viacampesina.org/en/).
  7. https://migrantworkersalliance.org/ in Canada; https://ciw-online.org/ - Coalition of Immokalee Workers in the U.S.
  8. Food Chain Workers (http://foodchainworkers.org/)
  9. IPES-Food. 2017. Unravelling the Food–Health Nexus: Addressing practices, political economy, and power relations to build healthier food systems. The Global Alliance for the Future of Food and IPES-Food.
  10. Just Transition (https://climatejusticealliance.org/just-transition/)