By Caroline Baerten MS, RDN, CDN
What does Food Justice mean to health professionals and mindful eating teachers?
A just food system is one in which the production, distribution, and consumption of food is unaffected by systemic inequalities based on race, class, ability, or gender.Through the lens of mindfulness and compassion, we are able to see clearly the injustice taking place on the level of agricultural pollution and harmful food production methods. When we look even deeper, we also become aware of the structural causes for food injustice.
For health professionals and mindful eating teachers, it is critical to recognize that food injustice affects those at the bottom of the “power pyramid” the most. For centuries, the Western world has been dominated by White men who prioritized themselves above all else.Women, children, and people of color (Black and NBPOC), in both Europe and the US, have had the least privilege and the least access to a rich variety and supply of food. Reasons could range from limitations on property ownership, where they might have cultivated their own produce, to socially-engineered financial dependence on a male relative.
In his “Food for Thought” article, Chef Alex Askew draws attention to the conditions in which groups of people used to live, and are living now, which may explain in part why certain individuals in our society are less physically and mentally healthy than others. The nature of our relationships at home or in the community can be either supportive or trauma-invoking, and all of these relationships shape our daily food choices, overall health, and psychological well-being.
Food justice is social justice, as food is our most intimate connection with ourselves, our communities, and the food traditions that have been passed down through the generations. Unfortunately, many of the bonding and nurturing qualities related to cooking and eating were disrupted over the centuries. In many ways, the (cooking) fire was extinguished and replaced by a troubled relationship with foods, while the rich diversity of female bodies became ruled solely by measures of thinness and fatness.
Mindful eating helps us look deeply into the belly of the food system and explore how it creates a world where human beings, and especially women, feel disconnected from their food and alienated from the needs of their bodies. The most feared word today is “obesity,” and to be fat is considered a morally repugnant failure. Unfortunately, in a perverse interference with appetite, restraint is offered as the only righteous path to redemption, by both the food and diet industry as well as subsidized health professionals.
Eating awareness starts by questioning the origins of food:
Where is this food coming from and was it produced in a sustainable way? Most kinds of foods, depending on one’s individual body and blueprint, are absolutely fine if they are made with nutritious ingredients (real butter, cream, or cheese, whole-grain flour, free-range meat), instead of foods chemically-modified for a long shelf-life.
Did the people working in the field, the food production plants, and distribution companies receive equal living wages compared with their male and/or White colleagues higher up the ladder? Food justice addresses racial and socio-economic issues because there cannot be equal access to healthy food without equal access to jobs, income, and transportation.
What kind of foods and recipes are rooted in your own cultural tradition? Unlike the one-size-fits-all dietary rules certain nutritionists and health professionals are telling us, our behaviors around food and eating not merely individual choices, but expressions of a particular social and economic context. Sharing meals and eating heartwarming comfort foods (often those high in calories!) have been part of our food history for centuries. These recipes and moments of social gathering around the table are especially important for families who migrated, as food is often the only remaining bond they have to their home country.
Food justice is woven into the fabric of mindful eating. The spiritual practice of mindfulness meditation creates the link between eco-friendly, sustainable food choices and individual wellbeing. It is not just about changing the way we eat, it is about changing the way we live and how we treat each other.
Originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of Food for Thought.
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