"Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agricultural systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations."
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Labor & Social Justice
Labor and Food Sovereignty
Food production is one of the world’s oldest trades, but colonialism and the resultant globalization of food systems has resulted in highly inequitable production and distribution practices. Producers are largely underpaid for their work and food resources flow toward the wealthy, often at the expense of those who produce it. The U.S. food system has always been reliant upon the exploitation of workers, from plantation agriculture that profited on the labor of enslaved people to today’s corporations that maximize profit at the expense of low-wage workers. The food systems that have arisen from corporate production are not only perpetrators of great human injustices, but also major contributors to climate change and global biodiversity loss (UN Climate Issues - Food).
Disparities in the food system could not have been more clear during the pandemic as essential food service workers and laborers in large food production plants were some of the most exposed and impacted by the health and economic impacts caused by COVID-19. As happens during crisis, the most vulnerable communities are the most greatly impacted, and it was often people of color and immigrant laborers that faced the brunt of pandemic distress.
Immigrant farmworkers make up an estimated 73% of the agricultural workers in the U.S., powering a $1.053 trillion industry while reaping very little of the reward (fwd.us - Immigrant Farmworkers & American Food Production). Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and other immigrant labor organizers have fought to improve labor standards for immigrant farmworkers over the years, but the fact remains that the U.S. remains dependent upon underpaid laborers that do not have adequate legal protections and rights. Here in Maine, a state with a food network largely comprised of small farms, it is estimated that 18% of hired workers are migrant farmworkers, defined as someone who works seasonally and is not able to return home at the end of the day (maine.gov - migrant worker labor law). The fight for food sovereignty must also be a fight for fair labor standards.
Social Justice and Food Sovereignty
Food sovereignty is rooted in social justice. Barring access to nutritious food and to the ownership of the production of food has been a primary tool employed by colonial states to repress minority populations on national and global scales. Only through ownership of food production can communities achieve self determination, particularly as climate change continues to amplify social vulnerability. From the Black Panther’s fight to establish nutritious breakfast programs in Oakland public schools to revolts against the United Fruit Company in Guatemala during America’s political interventions in South America, the fight for food sovereignty has been central to social justice movements across the globe.
The original conception of food sovereignty as defined and popularized by La Via Campesina was based in the understanding that food sovereignty is an essential tool of anticolonialism and must be an element of any fight for justice. Here in Maine, that fight continues across a landscape of organic producers, migrant workers, and communities challenged by food insecurity. Maine has the highest rate of food insecurity in New England, with 1 in 5 children deemed food insecure (Maine Legislature Roadmap to Ending Hunger by 2030). Ninety percent of the calories consumed in Maine are imported, meaning that Mainers are largely dependent upon a globalized food system that has recently experienced compounding interruptions and fluctuations (Maine Monitor, 2021). Combating poverty, racism, and wealth inequality all directly relate to the fight for food sovereignty here in Maine.
There are many organizations here in Maine working actively to advance food sovereignty efforts on the ground. Here are a few that we know and trust:
There are also many resources on the intersections of labor, social justice, and food sovereignty. These are a few that we’ve found to be particularly helpful:
Legislation & Political Representation
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