By Grace Davis ’22
“Hunger is not an issue of charity; it is an issue of justice.” These wise words were spoken by Jacques Diouf, a Senegalese diplomat and former Director-General of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. Diouf’s summary of food justice is especially true today, when millions of Americans and global citizens are hungry and in need of food.
Food insecurity is not a new issue in the United States. The organization Feeding America estimates that 54 million people are food insecure in 2020. 18 million of them are children. The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the injustice and inequities relating to food, costing millions of people their jobs. The pandemic has further worsened the circumstances for people residing in food deserts, areas with limited access to healthy, fresh, and affordable food. In the United States, September has been designated ‘Hunger Action Month’, a time when “people all over America stand against hunger.”
As Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) said, “The pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity across New York and across this nation, and it's the most vulnerable among us that bear the brunt.” He announced on September 2nd that the New York State Division of Veterans’ Service is partnering with HelloFresh, the world’s premier meal kit delivery service, to combat food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic. HelloFresh plans to supply over 200,000 fresh meals to veterans, military families, and other New York City residents who are experiencing food insecurity resulting from the COVID-19 emergency.
Blue Angel, a non-profit that works with local farmers, gardeners, and bakers to feed families in need, was founded by award winning author and editor and Maine resident Deborah Joy Corey, who envisions a Maine where there is no hunger and everyone has access to healthy food. Blue Angel is “committed to ending hunger in Maine, one community at a time.” Corey has been interested in food justice from a young age, upon noticing that her classmates at school often had no lunch. Coming from a background of Canadian culture of food, she states that, “seeds and supplies were just the beginning [of her father’s patronage of local farms.]” Corey’s wish for Blue Angel is that her “parents’ respect for farmers, and their love of cooking and traditions can be shared with others. Everyone deserves wonderful food memories.”
Another advocate of food justice has been taking the center stage of American politics. Senator and Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee Kamala Harris (D-CA) has been credited with bringing food justice to the Democratic ticket. Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, a nonpartisan anti-hunger advocacy group, described Harris as a “great champion” of the movement to end hunger in the United States.
Harris has supported legislation to improve working conditions for farmworkers as well as increase food and water access. Before suspending her 2020 presidential campaign in December, Harris won the sought-after endorsement of the United Farm Workers (UFW) for her food advocacy.
The issues of food insecurity and farmers’ rights are closely linked. As Berg posited, “Anyone who cares about hunger realizes that among the hungriest people in America are those who grow and pick our food… No one in America should go hungry, but the fact that the people who are feeding us are is shameful.”
Harris understands that the phrase ‘farm to table’ is not as idyllic as it sounds— agricultural workers often toil for over 12 hours a day and many do not receive fair wages. In her words, “It is absolutely unconscionable that farmworkers… do not receive overtime pay for the hard work they do to put food on the tables of American families.”
Biden’s VP pick has also fought for food justice when it comes to a necessity for everyone— water. Her Water Justice Act of 2019 foregrounded the right that every individual has to clean water. Harris’ recent water legislation emphasized racial and economic justice as it relates to access to clean, affordable drinking water that would be federally funded.
Biden has a similar history of support for farmers and food justice advocacy. He proposes strengthening our agriculture sector by “pursuing a trade policy that works for farmers...fostering the development of regional food systems…” and has been endorsed by Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the labor union United Farmworkers of America.
Biden declares that food insecurity “isn’t about scarcity—it’s about a massive failure in leadership.” He is in support of the FEMA Empowering FEED Act, which was co-introduced by Harris. FEED allows the federal government to fund the distribution of meals for senior citizens and disadvantaged children by local nonprofits and restaurants during the pandemic.
It seems that Biden and Harris are very much on the same page when it comes to food justice—the question is, how do their views and policies compare to those of the current administration?
President Trump is often attributed to having a good rapport with farmworkers; however, Samantha Borek, the daughter of a farmer, details a very different opinion in her Truthout editorial “I am a Farmer’s Daughter, and I Don’t Buy Trump’s Promises to Family Farms.”
At a live streamed event during the Republican National Convention this August in Charlotte, North Carolina, Trump and his team referenced the Farmers to Families Food Box Program under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which aims to channel $19 billion in order to redistribute products to food banks. Borek criticized the Farmers to Families Program for primarily bailing out large agribusiness firms. She takes the position that Pres. Trump’s façade of caring about small farmers and those in need is really just “an all-American photo-op that had nothing to do with agriculture or feeding the hungry.” Then, on August 25th, Pres. Trump and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced up to an additional $1 billion for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program.
Borek went on to critique the missing faces in the livestream: the tireless farm workers themselves. The majority of those who physically farm and do everything it takes to get the food from the farm to the tables of American families are non-white immigrants. In contrast to the absence of farmworkers themselves in Trump’s livestream, Harris co-sponsored a bill in March of 2017 that proposed to help undocumented agricultural workers on a path to citizenship.
Trump recently began the process of denying federal funding to New York City, a move described by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) as “an illegal stunt.” Regardless of differing political views on the legality of Trump’s action, it is closely related to poverty and access to food—federal funds can help feed those in need.
Every topic being discussed in the election can be linked to food. Affordable healthcare, immigration, institutional racism, economic injustice, and more tie into the fact that everyone needs to eat.
The people of the United States—individuals, families, unions, and voters—are hungry. Hungry for food to feed themselves and their families, and for a president who will do justice to his constituents—by enacting food justice.