Erin Middleton, Community Outreach Specialist
CFJC spent the week before Thanksgiving in Los Angeles, along with the Healthy Farms Healthy Peoples Coalition Coordinator, and had a number of conversations with coalition partners about the food justice movement, particularly in the LA region. A few overarching themes surfaced regarding some of the critical “whats” and “hows” of attaining food system change that is fair, healthy and sustainable at every point of the food chain – from growing and harvesting to distribution and waste management.
There are many essential issues that need to be addressed in order to transform our food system. A few discussed in LA on this trip were the decriminalization of poverty (criminalization of poverty involves declaring certain acts that are more likely to be committed by poor or homeless people, such as begging and being in public places, a crime.), immigration reform, and carving out healthy space for young eaters.
While in conversation with the Los Angeles Community Action Network and Hunger Action Los Angeles we discussed the widespread false US notion that we should “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps”. But what would you do if you had little or no opportunities? As congress considers deep cuts to SNAP (formerly food stamps) in the 2012 Farm Bill, increasingly more people do not know where their next meal will come from. In California alone an estimated 3.8 million adults — particularly those in households with children as well as low-income Latinos — can’t afford to put adequate food on the table. When many of our communities try to then “pull ourselves up by our straps” we are again held back or torn down. This is demonstrated in LA by the attacks on groups and individuals who help to feed the homeless, or who try to grow their own food.
For example, Santa Monica has city ordinances that prohibit leaving food or clothing in city parks as a means of donation and also requires any group who intends to “feed the needy” to first obtain a permit.  The city also cracks down on people who try to grow food in parkways or unused city-owned property. Although some people have successfully planted and maintained gardens on public lands without the City of Los Angeles’s permission, others have been told to get rid of “their” garden or file for a permit of about $400.  Under city law, parkways cannot be used for agricultural purposes unless residents obtain a permit.
CFJC partners such as the Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC) are addressing how to make growing food in the city easier. Among other initiatives, LAFPC is advocating for urban agriculture policies that would limit bureaucratic hurdles and extend some base-level incentives to urban agriculturalists-from overhauling the city’s free compost and mulch giveaway programs to extending the reduced water-usage to smaller edible landscaping and gardening projects.
Other organizations are working directly on the ground and in the soil “paving” the way for future land agriculture projects. The South Central Farmers brought urban agriculture and land reform into the spotlight in the last 15 years and continues its operations in the Central Valley. They prioritize selling in low-income neighborhoods such as the Watt’s Healthy Farmer’s Market. While we were in L.A. the Watt’s Healthy Farmers Market did a turkey give-away where 88 different families received turkeys along with coupons for fresh fruits and vegetables for Thanksgiving. Also, in Koreatown we attended the launch of a children’s community garden, “Little Green Fingers”. Projects like this are sprouting up all over the city.
Immigration is another key issue and without progressive immigration reform our corporatized food system will continue to thrive. Thirty-nine percent of undocumented laborers work in food- or farming-related industries. These workers make up a large part of the workforce: 29 percent of agricultural laborers, 27 percent of butchers and other meat, fish and poultry processing workers, and 17 percent of food preparation workers. As the Food Chain Workers Alliance states, “the legal framework in the U.S. and in most industrialized countries gives unprecedented power to an oligarchy of corporations which control our food system and perpetuates a system in which large and small employers alike exploit workers by paying poverty wages, ignoring health and safety regulations, and threatening undocumented workers with arrest and deportation.” Comprehensive immigration reform must have a humanistic approach that addresses not only immigrants today but also the future flow of immigrants.
Another approach to addressing food system change is demonstrated by the CA Food Policy Advocates who, among other legislative priorities, are working on laws that would benefit children. They recognize that healthy eating starts early and having the youngest eaters demanding produce could help shift the entire food system to support more production of fruits and vegetables. This year they sponsored different laws that would improve childcare nutrition, improve charter school nutrition, and curb mobile food vending to children.
It’s no surprise that there are a variety of approaches to tackling the above issues. Like CFJC, groups are using storytelling, building unlikely alliances and working on local, state and national policy to make progress. It takes all of these strategies to achieve the kind of change we all want to see and also allows for many opportunities to engage in the food justice movement.
In the upcoming year, CFJC will continue meeting with individuals and organizations around the country and help to connect what is happening across regions in an effort to support the food justice movement.
As always, CFJC invites you to share your stories from your community and plug into the movement. Interested in holding a KTT, learning more about the Farm Bill, partaking in the legislative process? Email or call us to get the ball rolling. There is tremendous opportunity to make change.