Food matters for personal, public, and planetary well-being
“Environmental Justice” connects environmental concerns with other social justice movements. Like other social justice movements that focus on structural oppression (racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, etc.), environmental justice recognizes a problem of power in society. Much like power in society has been misused to oppress various social groups (People of Color, women, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, etc.) power has also been misused to create vast areas of environmental devastation throughout the world and to thwart attempts at environmental reform and preservation. Today there is growing realization that negative environmental impacts disproportionately burden socially marginalized groups like People of Color in the United States and people in developing countries abroad. In the midst of the environmental movement, advocates for environmental justice speak for human rights and with special concern for people who have often been abused.
Proponents of environmentalism work to shift the dominant worldview that commodifies land and objectifies living things. Proponents of environmental justice, like most environmentalists, encourage a shift from viewing the environment as a resource to exploit to seeing it as a web of interconnected living things, and the source of life itself. But environmental justice proponents go one step further, by prioritizing the needs of low income people, People of Color communities, and other oppressed groups, who disproportionately lack access to nutritious food, clean air and water, parks, recreation, health care, education, transportation, safe jobs, etc.
Self-determination, participation in decision-making and gaining control over land and resources are also key components of environmental justice for many People of Color. Justice making activities not accountable to oppressed communities tend to perpetuate the very oppression they try to fight, becoming paternalistic at best and oppressive at worst. A good example is the current “green” movement in the U.S. to move toward biodiesel to replace petroleum as an energy source; while this idea has its merits, the demand for corn as a biofuel causes food shortages abroad and rising food prices in the US, which disproportionately harm both poor people and people of color.
Questions for Individual/Group Reflection
1. What is the difference between environmentalism and environmental justice? What happens when social justice issues and environmental issues are kept apart?
2. In order to participate in environmental justice work, what do we need to understand about social oppressions like poverty, neo-colonialism, racism, classism, and sexism?
3. Reflect on the following quote from Van Jones in a interview with "Grist."
"The other thing to keep in mind is that people who have a lot of opportunity, the affluent, love to hear about this big crisis. Oh my god, global warming, we're all going to die. For people who have a lot of crisis already, they don't want to hear about another big crisis. They've got sick parents, no health care, all that kind of stuff -- they don't want to hear about it. The rhetoric has to change. For people with a bunch of opportunity, you tell them about the crisis. For people with a bunch of crisis, you tell about the opportunities. ”
Do the people of your community need to hear about the crises or the opportunities? Why?
4. As we discuss food issues, how can we bring our passion for environmental issues together with our social justice concerns?
Van Jones’s Ware Lecture
Van Jones is an American civil rights and environmental advocate and attorney. His first book, The Green Collar Economy (2008), reached #12 on the New York Times Best Seller list. This video captures his 2008 Ware Lecture, which received a standing ovation for several minutes from over a thousand Unitarian Universalists at their national convention. It is possible, he stressed, to fight pollution, poverty, and crime at the same time by “greening the ghetto first” and overcoming “eco-apartheid,” which leaves millions of already vulnerable people to shoulder the worst effects of the environmental crisis. Jones described how “a green wave can lift all boats,” and told UUs that they need “insist on a green economy” and prepare to govern. He pointed out that in West Oakland, a city of 35,000 people, there are no grocery stores, but 43 liquor stores. He called for urban farms, rooftop gardens, and other “ways to lift people up.” He reminded delegates that Martin Luther King's speech was not “I Have a Complaint,” “I Have a Critique,” or “I Have a Long List of Issues.” The country isn't looking for critique but needs our beautiful dream to be made real. With humor and conviction, humility and courage, Van Jones charges Unitarian Universalists to live with Environmental Justice. An excellent introduction to Environmental Justice in general, in this discussion, it will be most effective when paired with resources that focus on the relationship between environmental justice and food ethics, or combined with resources available on the website of an organization that Van Jones co-founded, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
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