Why we need to talk more about “Food Justice”

The information presented here has been informed by and distilled from the sources listed at the bottom of the page. We at FamilyWorks encourage you this Hunger Action Month to continue the fight against hunger by growing your understanding of food injustice by looking into these sources or others related to food injustice. As we learn and understand more about the sources and root causes of inequity we can be better equipped to take action towards creating a more vibrant and resilient community for all.

We hear the term ‘food insecurity’ a lot, but I want to suggest that we center food justice instead. Let me explain: Food insecurity acknowledges the immediate experience of hunger, but food justice teaches us that food insecurity is the direct result of structural inequality, and access to healthy food is a human right. Food insecurity is the what, but food justice is the why. And when we tackle food insecurity, we need to understand the root causes of injustice. As the Director-General of the UN’ Food and Agriculture Organization, Jacques Diouf, once said, “Hunger is not an issue of charity. It is an issue of justice.” To me, food justice is the key to understanding why hunger exists and how we solve it.

The food justice movement reveals that low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected by our dominant food system. The harsh irony is that the people who produce our food often have the worst access to it — our food system has failed the very people who feed us. Food justice teaches us that that food access, or food security, is not accidental, nor is hunger random. Hunger is a result of poverty, of racist policies, and of land grabs– it’s closely tied to housing insecurity, low wages, unaffordable healthcare and so much more. And in order to fight hunger, we not only have to meet basic food needs, we also need to fight he systemic inequalities that result in oppression. These issues are intertwined, and we can’t push forward on one without addressing the other.

Food justice also emphasizes the importance of nutritious and culturally relevant foods – the sheer presence of food is not enough. At FamilyWorks, we work hard to dispel the myth that food banks only provide canned veggies, dried beans and pastries. We believe that every individual has a right to the foods they need, whether that means organic, halal, or vegetarian.

It’s why we have prioritized our participants’ ability to choose their foods over pre-packed options, and why we are taking care in the upcoming holiday season to ensure that folks have access to what they need.

At FamilyWorks, we can alleviate the daily pain of hunger, but without structural change – without affordable housing, a well-paying job, reparations, affordable healthcare and so much more – we can’t solve food injustice. Because hunger is not only the lack of food, it’s also the lack of justice.

But as we continue to push for structural change, FamilyWorks works hard to meet the immediate needs of our community. I was first drawn to FamilyWorks because of the way that we support and empower people holistically. We’re providing essential food resources, while also building community and a support network by offering resources for working parents, and assisting to navigate the complex web of unemployment benefits and job applications.

Several years ago, I heard a quote from Lilla Watson, an Australian indigenous activist and artist, and it’s stuck with me– “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Her words guide me in my work at FamilyWorks every day, work that is grounded in the fundamental belief that food justice is a human right.


Alkon, A, and J. Agyeman. (2011). Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class and Sustainability. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Ahmadi, B. (excerpted interviews) (2017). Land, ownership, and West Oakland’s struggle for Food Justice, in Land Justice: Re-imagining land, food, and the commons of the United States.  

Holt-Giménez, E and Y. Wang. (2011). “Reform or Transformation? The Pivotal Role of Food Justice in the U.S. Food Movement.”

New York Law School, ACLU. (2018). “Unshared Bounty: How Structural Racism contributes to the Creation and Persistence of Food Deserts.”