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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Group calls for week of action for food justice

Cassandra West

By Susan Richardson

Under the theme of “ending poverty by rebuilding local food economies,” the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, a new coalition of farmers, farm workers, supporters of community gardens, organizers in communities of color and others, is attempting to build a unified national political voice for food justice.

In its inaugural campaign, the organization is calling on food activists across the nation to host events Oct. 10-17 that highlight efforts to replace the global corporate food system with one that is just, local and based on the right to food.

Several groups have worked on various grassroots food justice issues in the U.S. for years.  But, until now, the efforts were mostly separate, said Christina Schiavoni, director of the Global Movements Program for WhyHunger.

“[The Alliance] is unique in that it is an alliance around food sovereignty, a term and a movement that has been taken up by groups around the world, but not in the US,” she said. “This is the first time that groups are coming together from across the different sectors.”

The Alliance grew from the US Social Forum in Detroit last June, a grassroots gathering to come up with solutions for economic and ecological issues. However, the roots of the Alliance date back to spring 2008 and the founding of the US Working Group on the Food Crisis. Supporters say corporate control of the food system is the primary cause of damage to people, communities and the environment and blame the system for the more than 1 billion hungry people worldwide.  They hope to take advantage of a series of anti-trust hearings being held by the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Agriculture in the next year to promote the need for the reform of the food system.

Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community to Community Development, a women-led nonprofit in Bellingham, Wash., that works for a just society and healthy communities, said the Alliance is helping build a comprehensive approach to food justice.  

“Food security, food justice, empowerment of workers, feeding the hungry …. [the Alliance] is actually combining all these movement efforts that have been going on,”  Guillen said.

Movements in the Global South can be models for food organizing in the US, she said, noting that farm workers and other workers are defining land and food production policies in Latin America and around the world.

Schiavoni said the Alliance will build solidarity with farmers and food activists worldwide through support for US trade and agricultural policies that enhance human life. She said treating food as a commodity has resulted in global poverty and hungry, she said.  

“Food is not a commodity, just as human life and workers are not commodities. That is one thing we are saying in these trade agreements,” she said, adding that unregulated speculation has resulted in unstable food prices, making it difficult for people to afford to buy food.

The government enables this “broken commodity system,” she said, through subsidies for agribusinesses that allow them to overproduce a handful of commodity crops and sell food for much less than it costs to produce it.  Schiavoni said the problem is not with farmers, but the “grain traders and agribusinesses” that benefit.

The impact of such policies is global as well as local. “Part of food being a human right means we should be able to eat the food that we want to eat, not what is being provided to us by corporate producers,” said Guillen, referring to the fare at most grocery stores.  

That is part of the Alliance’s support for “culturally appropriate” food.  “To me, food sovereignty means we as Mexican Americans are able to eat food that is healthy to us and traditional to us, like corn,” said Guillen, adding that the food can be produced outside of the corporate food process.

Schiavoni said the media do a disservice by presenting the healthy food movement outside of the context of social justice.

“They are overlooking the 50 million hungry people in this country,” she said.  “The whole point of food justice and sovereignty is about social justice and creating some sort of more equitable food system, and you can’t just do that by buying organic kale at Whole Foods.”

Get involved in the week of action:  Contact Tristan Quinn-Thibodeau, WhyHunger, at, (646) 380-1162; or Stephen Bartlett, Agricultural Missions, at, (502) 896-9171.

Event: Community Food Security Coalition Conference, New Orleans, Oct. 15-19

Learn more about the US Food Sovereignty Alliance.