Food Movements

Food is a basic human need; something everyone should have equal access to. However, the current industrial system of food production is intertwined with politics, money, and corporate profiteering. If you choose to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, did you know you might be part of a food movement? Do you live in a city but grow food in your backyard? Then you're challenging the status quo of the food industry. But what does all this mean? Why are new food movements cropping up even though the corporate food industry provides us adequate food for consumption every day? Keep reading to learn more about alternative food movements, the politicization, and more.

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Table of contents

    Food Movement Definition

    Food production and distribution are no longer the small-scale activities they once were. They are part of a globalized operation largely controlled by "agri-food giants"1 such as Cargill, Nestle, and Archer Daniels Midland. Production and consumption occur thousands of miles apart, making food systems vulnerable to supply chain issues and adverse weather, as well as contributing to environmental damage.

    Food is the organising principle behind the main challengers of existing power structures.2

    Food corporations own or exert control over most steps from production to distribution. Their power causes many to suffer from unequal access to food. In the US alone, 34 million people suffer from food insecurity.3

    When people do not have access to nutritious and affordable food, they may be food insecure. Some, particularly children, may be undernourished and even malnourished as a result.

    Advocates of other forms of food production and distribution claim corporations prioritize profits over concerns about human and environmental health and animal welfare. As a result, attitudes toward food production have begun to change, and new food movements have emerged that prioritize people and the planet rather than corporate profits. Food movements focus on knowing more about food, where food comes from, and improving people's access to it.

    Alternative Food Movements

    Alternative food movements involve moving away from the traditional food industry. They try to produce better connections between producers and consumers, a more sustainable food industry, and food sovereignty and food justice for producers and consumers.

    Thinking about the word "sovereignty," which means having power over something, how might this relate to producers and consumers of food?

    Food Movements, Food Sign, StudySmarterFig. 1 - sign asks whether instead of growing crops to make money for corporate giants, shouldn't food be produced to benefit producers and consumers?

    Food Movements Examples

    Food movements are attempting to loosen the grip corporate giants have on food systems and are thus helping to improve farmers' and consumers' lives. Let's take a look at some examples of food movements.

    Local Food Movements

    Local food movements encourage people to buy foods produced in their local area, reducing the need for transport from elsewhere. Exporting and importing foods produce a high proportion of food miles, harming our environment.

    Food miles: the distance food travels from production to consumption. The longer food travels, particularly by airplane, the higher the carbon footprint (the amount of carbon emissions produced by an activity).

    Food Movements, Local Farmers Market, StudySmarterFig. 2 - a farmer's market

    Locally-produced food reduces need for environmentally-damaging pesticides. Local food movements also boost local community spirit and the economy. Local food movements are particularly useful in food deserts, allowing access to healthy and nutritious foods.

    Value Added Agriculture

    Value-added agriculture is the process of making an agricultural product cost more by special processing or branding. Anything involving turning raw materials into something else, through packaging or drying, for example, adds value.

    An example is value-added specialty crops, in which fruits and vegetables are made into products like jams or salsas that are more expensive than the original. Adding value to products can help farms to make more money and become better known: a farm selling milk would be less valuable than a farm selling milk and the products made from this milk, like cheese or ice cream.

    Community Supported Agriculture

    Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is a way food producers and local consumers can work together. In the 1980s, CSA found its way to the US, to combat the drop in local food production. Within CSA, consumers can have an impact on local food production through investing in farms or even working on them. As a result, local communities can consume healthy and locally-produced foods that they have been a part of.

    Urban Farming

    Traditional agriculture takes place in rural areas. However, with increased urbanization and suburbanization, agricultural land loss is an issue. Urban farming offers a solution.

    Urban farming is the use of urban green spaces for food production or animal rearing.

    Urban farms are found in backyards and rooftops. Vertical farming is an example of urban farming. Crops are often grown indoors, vertically, without the use of soil, such as in hydroponics or aeroponics systems. Urban farming is also a great way to locally produce food, allowing people who live in urban areas to access fresh foods without having to travel far or buy them from abroad.

    Food Movements, Aeroponic Kale, StudySmarterFig. 3 - kale grown aeroponically

    Fair Trade

    Many farmers and other food producers are exploited, particularly in the developing world. The Fair Trade movement aims to minimize exploitation. Workers are paid living wages and are provided with improved working conditions.

    Many foods in supermarkets carry the Fair Trade logo, so products are easily recognizable to consumers. In this way, Fair Trade allows consumers to feel connected with those that have produced their food.

    Food Movements, Fairtrade Logo, StudySmarterFig. 4 - the Fair Trade logo

    Organic Farming

    In recent years, there has been a dramatic shift toward organic farming.

    Organic farming is the production of crops and the rearing of animals without the use of harmful pesticides, fertilizers, or genetic modification.

    Some of the characteristics of organically-produced food include:

    • Only natural pesticides or fertilizers are used.
    • No genetic modification.
    • Waste is recycled.
    • Crops are rotated to help soil fertility.
    • Animals are treated fairly, with plenty of space to roam.
    • Sustainability (environment and resource use).

    Genetically-modified foods have genetic alterations. DNA is inserted into an organism, which may help this organism to grow more efficiently, or fight off disease, for example.

    With more people developing negative attitudes toward the purported effects of genetically-modified foods, organic foods have become more popular.

    Criticisms of Organic Foods

    There are criticisms of organic farming, however. Organic foods are generally more expensive, and therefore those on low incomes may not be able to afford these products. Furthermore, the production of organic foods can damage the environment. Natural pesticides still cause damage, land use is high, deforestation occurs, and emissions are still a problem. Many large corporations within the food industry actually sell these organic foods, rather than local producers.

    Dietary Shifts

    Food causes environmental damage. Agriculture contributes large proportions of greenhouse gas emissions and water usage, and as populations expand, this worsens. Moving to more sustainable diets will help reduce emissions, carbon footprints, land loss, and the effects of climate change, and thus improve the health of people worldwide.4

    More people are beginning to think about the food that they are eating, with current dietary shifts showing a trend away from animal and animal product consumption. Meat, dairy, and fish consumption contribute to high amounts of carbon emissions and water usage, and such a diet is therefore unsustainable. This is a food movement and dietary shift that clearly focuses on animal welfare, environmental protection, and sustainability.

    More people are beginning to shift to vegetarian, or even vegan diets, under the assumption they are more sustainable than meat and dairy. However, this is not entirely the case. Foods may still be transported by air (producing carbon emissions), and large amounts of water and land are needed. The soybean, for example, contributes to high levels of deforestation, emissions, and loss of biodiversity in places like South Ameica. Although vegetarian and vegan diets do still cause environmental damage, it is still a more sustainable method than meat consumption, particularly beef consumption.

    If people are starting to choose to source foods differently, how might this affect the trends of food production and food consumption?

    The Politicization of Food Movements

    The politicization of food movements is intertwined with food justice and food sovereignty. The current food industry produces inequalities and injustices for producers as well as consumers, creating food injustices. Food justice and food sovereignty attempt to tackle this.

    Food sovereignty allows people to have access to food produced sustainably and fairly and a say in how food production systems operate. Food sovereignty puts producers and consumers first, protects their rights, and values local food production and sourcing.

    Food justice focuses on people's right to food, and how this can be ensured for all.

    Many movements for food sovereignty are taking place all over the world. For example, the La Via Campesina movement works with all types of food producers, actively fighting against the corporate food system, and achieving food sovereignty.

    small farmers, including ... fisher-folk, pastoralists and indigenous people, who make up almost half the world’s people, are capable of producing food for their communities and feeding the world in a sustainable and healthy way.5

    Food Movements in the US

    Food movements in the US are booming. Organic foods are more popular than ever. Let's take a look at a small community farm and an urban farming initiative.

    Soul Fire Farm - Petersburg, New York

    Soul Fire Farm is a community-centered farm aiming to end racism and improve food sovereignty. The project provides training for farmers, workshops for food justice, and even helps to utilize green space for those living in food apartheid in urban areas.6

    Food apartheid is a term that has developed from studies of food deserts. Food deserts occur when people do not have sufficient access to healthy food, because it may be too expensive, or supermarkets are too far away, due to poor public transportation, for example. However, communities of color (Black and Latino) tend to be the most affected by food deserts; many activists and scholars refer to this instead as food apartheid7. (Apartheid was a system of racial segregation in South Africa during the 20th century.) Using the term food apartheid helps focus attention on the true causes of food deserts.

    Square Roots - Brooklyn, New York

    Square Roots is an urban farm helping to produce local foods, like fresh herbs and salads, that aren't transported long distances. Square Roots has now expanded into Grand Rapids (MI), Kenosha (WI), and Springfield (OH). Square Roots produces its goods in recycled shipping containers, reduces land and water usage, uses no pesticides or genetic modification, and also provides a sustainable agriculture training program.8

    Food Movements - Key takeaways

    • The current food industry is dominated by corporate giants that prioritizing profit, resulting in injustice and inequality.
    • Food movements are a way to combat the status quo, allowing producers and consumers to have a say in food production, improve sustainability, and ensure food justice for all.
    • Some examples of food movements are local food movements, value-added agriculture, community-supported agriculture, urban farming, fair trade, and organic farming.
    • Food movements are inherently political, opening the doors to food justice and food sovereignty movements.
    • Some examples of food movements in the US include the Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, New York, and Square Roots urban farming, in many locations across the US.

    References

    1. Food ingredients first, corporate concentration: Agri-food giants dominate global food chain more than ever, report warns, 2022, https://www.foodingredientsfirst.com/news/corporate-concentration-agri-food-giants-dominate-global-food-chain-more-than-ever-report-warns.html
    2. Independent Science News for Food and Agriculture, Why the Food Movement is Unstoppable, 2016, https://www.independentsciencenews.org/health/why-the-food-movement-is-unstoppable/
    3. Feeding America, Hunger in America, 2022, https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america
    4. Jessica E Laine et al (2021), Co-benefits from sustainable dietary shifts for population and environmental health: an assessment from a large European cohort study, Lancet Planet Health 5(11), https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(21)00250-3/fulltext
    5. Via Campesina, Land Portal, https://landportal.org/nl/organization/campesina
    6. Soul Fire Farm, 2022, https://www.soulfirefarm.org/theland/farmingpractices/
    7. Guernica, Karen Washington: It’s Not a Food Desert, It’s Food Apartheid, 2018, https://www.guernicamag.com/karen-washington-its-not-a-food-desert-its-food-apartheid/
    8. Square Roots, 2022, https://www.squarerootsgrow.com/about
    9. Fig 1, food for people sign (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Food_for_people_-_not_crops_for_profit_(51355098333).jpg), by Ilias Bartolini (https://www.flickr.com/people/45538835@N05), Licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)
    10. Fig 2, a local farmers market (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Freshly_dug_local_vegetables_in_Wolverhampton_Market_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1522743.jpg), by Roger Kidd (https://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/12192), Licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)
    11. Fig 3, aeroponically grown kale (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aeroponically-grown_kale_at_The_Land.jpg), by Benjamin D. Esham (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Bdesham), Licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/)
    12. Fig 4, fair trade logo (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FM_RGB.jpg), by Fairtrade International e.V., Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Food Movements

    What is the food movement?

    The food movement is the transition away from the traditional corporate food industry, by improving producer and consumer relationships, giving more control to producers and consumers, being more sustainable, and ensuring food justice and sovereignty.

    What are some examples of food movements?

    Some examples of food movements include local food movements, value added agriculture, community supported agriculture, urban farming, fair trade, organic farming, and dietary shifts.

    What are alternative food movements?

    Alternative food movements involve the movement away from the corporate food industry, to improve the lives of producers and consumers. 

    What is the sustainable food movement?

    Sustainable food movements are the movements away from the current food system which causes the environment so much damage.

    What is the food sovereignty movement?

    The food sovereignty movement is the way that people are able to have sufficient access to sustainably and fairly produced food. They can have an input in production, and producer and consumer rights are protected.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following are examples of an urban farm?

    Which the following are major benefits to indoor farming techniques like hydroponics?

    What are food production and distribution systems controlled by today?

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