The Right to Food: A set of unifying principles the U.S. food movement needs

P1070056By Katie Kritzalis

Someone please tell Mark Bittman that every time a boy or girl says they don’t believe in the existence of a food movement in the United States a farmer loses her land, a new G.M.O vegetable is born in a lab, and an antibiotic-pumped cow is slaughtered and turned into burger meat destined for McDonalds.

On May 6th of this year, Bittman, a food writer-cum-activist and regular op-ed contributor for the New York Times, lamented the inaction of the Obama administration towards the adoption of a national food policy that he, Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador, and Olivier De Schutter proposed in a November 2014 opinion piece in The Washington Post. Lashing out against the inefficiencies of our country’s policymakers in response to food issues, Bittman took his May 6th column as an opportunity to question the very existence of a food movement in the United States. Although brash and a tad dramatic, Bittman’s desire to “make food issues real” underscores our need for a more unified approach to organizing our country’s food movement.

I believe in America’s food movement. I work for Daily Table, a nonprofit organization that recently opened a grocery store to offer the community of Dorchester, MA a place to shop for affordable, nutritious prepared foods and grocery items in a dignified retail environment. I am also a graduate student working towards my Master of Liberal Arts in the Metropolitan College of Boston University’s Gastronomy Program…a mouthful title for a course of study that many people automatically associate with gastroenterology and usually requires me to explain that no, I am not a scientist nor do I study the digestive system. When describing the nature of my graduate studies, more often than not I include some version of the following sentence: “Food touches so many aspects of our lives and the Gastronomy Program takes an interdisciplinary approach to food studies so we can try to examine all those aspects from many different angles.” While this is easier for people to understand, it is still hard to wrap ones arms around everything that the nebulous term “food studies” entails.

A similar struggle is faced by those who attempt to define the American “food movement.” In that November 7, 2014, Washington Post op-ed by Bittman et al., the quadfecta of food systems activists echoed my statement above: “food touches everything from our health to the environment, climate change, economic inequality and the federal budget.” Food is indisputably a universal topic. Everyone must eat, and in some way, shape, or form, each of us is affected by the way food is produced, distributed, and marketed in the United States. However, because food touches so many aspects of our lives, it is considerably difficult to present a united front on the myriad food-related issues probed, examined, and analyzed by students of food and well-known food activists alike.

But to question the existence of a U.S. food movement is to discount the challenging, often under-funded and under-appreciated food systems work done by hundreds of thousands of people across the country. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but if you live in Boston chances are you have heard of at least one of these local food-focused organizations and businesses: Boston Area Gleaners, The Carrot Project, Community Servings, Fair Foods, Farm Aid, Food for Free, The Food Project, Freight Farms, Fresh Truck, Green City Growers, Haley House, Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, Lovin’ Spoonfuls, New England Center for Arts and Technology, and New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. If not, perhaps you are aware that the City of Boston has operated an Office of Food Initiatives since 2010.

The way I see it, we – Daily Table and the groups listed above, along with Bittman and his co-authors – are all working towards the same ultimate goal: the Right to Food. Although the human rights approach to food security typically calls for top-down, policy-driven actions by international governments, the Right to Food principles are broad enough to encompass all manner of food systems work, but specific enough that at least one of the three tenets – ensuring that food is physically and economically accessible; that food is adequate (safe and nutritious) and culturally appropriate; and that food is available to purchase or that people have the means to produce it themselves – will apply to any food activist’s work.

Setting aside the fact that the United States has yet to recognize food as a basic human right (a 2011 study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found the right to food to be protected under the constitutions of 106 countries), the Right to Food framework provides the cohesive structure that the United States food movement needs; a framework within which activists and advocates of our food movement can join together despite the different approaches they pursue in order to ensure the accessibility, adequacy, appropriateness, and availability of food for all.

Changing government policies on any issue is not easy. It will take a long time before a national food policy, as outlined by Bittman and co., will be adopted by a presidential administration. However, I believe that to be successful the food movement needs to keep pushing from both sides. Top-down and ground-up, the next step for the United States food movement is to become united by a belief in the Right to Food.

Clap your hands, Mark Bittman. Say that you believe in the food movement and watch its light burn brighter.

Katie Kritzalis began her career as the Events and Social Media Manager for New York City’s Bryant Park. After five years she traded midtown for mud and spent the next three years living and working on a small, diversified farm in Southern Connecticut. She is currently a Masters student in the Gastronomy Program of Boston University’s Metropolitan College, an employee of Daily Table in Dorchester, MA, and recently received a certificate in Leadership for Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Vermont.

Posted in: Economic, Environmental, Health, Social.

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