Read These Books to Learn About Food JusticePhoto by Kimberly Farmer/Unsplash Food Lists Food Justice
It’s no secret that the United States has a broken food system. Corporate greed, ineffectual food policy and rollbacks of entitlements have stripped many Americans of access to healthy, enjoyable food and food justice. And our broken food system doesn’t just negatively affect consumers—it’s also responsible for the low wages and dangerous (and sometimes even illegal) working conditions the people who produce food in this country, from farmers to restaurant workers, must face.
The first step to solving the challenges of our food system is understanding the problems at play and learning about how the food policy we have today has been shaped by decisions made in the past. The following books about food justice will help you gain deeper insight into just that.
1. Farming While Black by Leah Penniman
Leah Penniman’s Farming While Black is both deeply practical and political, providing a how-to guide for Black and Brown farmers in the U.S. while taking a hard look at the politics of farming. She delves into present-day inequalities present in the agricultural sector and traces their origins back to the historical oppression of marginalized racial groups in this country. This inspiring book is a must-read for anyone interested in food policy and rectifying racial inequality, not just for farmers.
2. Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism by Julie Guthman
In her book Weightin In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism, Julie Guthman questions overarching, conventional ideas about the “obesity epidemic” in the U.S. Obesity has long been attributed to laziness and a lack of education and willpower with very little critical thought about the systemic issues that can cause higher rates of obesity. Guthman asks us to consider how factors like race and class have contributed to the prevalence of obesogenic environments while calling out the alternative food movement for pushing simplistic, paternalistic solutions that fail to address systemic inequalities.
3. Black Food Geographies by Ashante M. Reese
Ashante M. Reese conducts an ethnographic study of Black residents of the Deanwood neighborhood in Washington, D.C., to show how racism and systemic inequality has shaped food access in the area. Though the book follows individuals that Reese spent time with during her research, it also paints a larger picture of the failures of this country’s food system, rendering the stories relevant on a national scale. She prizes use of the term “food apartheid” over “food desert” to indicate that lack of access is a problem of policymaking, not of inherent deficiency, and illustrates how Black residents of Deanwood exercise agency in their food choices.
4. Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic by Margaret Gray
Though many of us want to imagine that smaller-scale, supposedly “sustainable” farms are the answer to our food system ills, Margaret Gray questions that narrative in her book Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic. She speaks with farm owners and farmworkers in New York’s Hudson Valley and writes about how the labor system in the region’s alternative farms largely mirrors the labor practices of larger-scale corporate farms. Gray asks her readers to consider workers’ rights, not just environmental issues, when thinking about food policy and sustainability.
5. Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers by Ruth Conniff
In Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers, Ruth Conniff underscores how migrant workers in the Midwest and farm owners, many of them white and conservative, discovered they were being victimized by the same economic realities of the dairy industry in the wake of a rash of farm bankruptcies and an immigration crisis.
6. A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism by Eric Holt Giménez
Are you the person in the friend group who’s always blaming everything on capitalism? Same! You’re likely to enjoy A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism by Eric Holt Giménez. This book provides a broad view of the ways in which our economic system has caused hunger, food insecurity, health crises and vast labor malpractice.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.