tomato justice


These definitions are selected and arranged for the purpose of assisting people doing food work to move toward a shared understanding of the role of race in the food system. There is a larger anti-oppression movement that interprets these words as they are defined here. This does not mean these are the “right” or only way to understand these terms. Understanding these words as they are defined here does provide a common lens, an “analysis,” of what is happening in the food system and how race impacts it. It is important to know what we are talking about when we discuss these words in the context of building a food justice movement.

Race: A social and political construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification, and the social, economic, and political needs of a society at a given period of time. Racial categories subsume ethnic groups.

Racism: 1. Race prejudice and power 2. Racial and cultural prejudice and discrimination, supported intentionally or unintentionally by institutional power and authority, used to the advantage of one race and the disadvantage of other races. The critical element that differentiates racism from prejudice and discrimination is the use of institutional power and authority to support prejudices and enforce discriminatory behaviors in systemic ways with far reaching outcomes and effects.

Oppression: 1. Prejudice and power. 2. The systemic expression of social inequality woven throughout institutions as well as embedded within individual consciousness. Oppression fuses institutional and systemic discrimination, personal bias, bigotry, and social prejudice in a complex web of relationships and structures that saturate most aspects of life in our society.

  • Oppression denotes structural and material constraints that significantly shape a person’s life chances and sense of possibility.
  • Oppression also signifies a hierarchial relationship in which dominant or privilege groups benefit, often in unconscious ways, from the disempowerment of subordinated or targeted groups.
  • Oppression resides not only in external social institutions and norms but also within the human psyche as well.
  • Eradicating oppression ultimately requires struggle against all its forms, and that building coalitions among diverse people offers the most promising strategies for challenging oppression systematically.

Power: The ability to exercise control. Having access to systems and resources as legitimated by individuals and societal institutions.

Empowerment: When target group members refuse to accept the dominant ideology and their subordinate status and take actions to redistribute social and political power more equitably.

Prejudice: A pre-judgment or unjustifiable, and usually negative, attitude of one type of individual or groups toward another group and its members. Such negative attitudes are typically based on unsupported generalizations (or stereotypes) that deny the right of individual members of certain groups to be recognized and treated as individuals with individual characteristics.

Discrimination: Unequal treatment of people based on their membership in a group. In contrast to prejudice, discrimination is behavior. To discriminate is to treat a person, not on the basis of their intrinsic individual qualities, but on the basis of a prejudgment about a group. Discrimination can be either de jure (legal as in segregation laws) or de facto (discrimination in fact without legal sanction.

Privilege: An unearned advantage that works to systematically over empower certain groups in our society. A right that only some people have access or availability to because of their social group memberships. Because hierarchies of privilege exist, even within the same group, people who are part of the group in power (white/Caucasian people with respect to people of color, men with respect to women, heterosexual with respect to homosexuals, adults with respect to children, and rich people with respect to poor people) often deny they have privilege even when evidence of differential benefit is obvious.

Racialization: The process by which dominant groups frame peoples’ identities in terms of color in ways that reinforce the privilege of whites and create the multiple disadvantages that people of color face. People are racialized in different ways depending on whether they are Native American, Asian, Latino or African-American. The experience of each varies again by class, gender and other ISMS. The oppression that different communities of color and individuals within them face is not the same. There is no homogenous community of color.

Right: A resource or position that everyone has equal access or availability to regardless of their social group memberships.

ISMS: A way of describing any attitude, action or institutional structure that subordinates (oppresses) a person or group because of their target group, color (racism), gender (sexism), economic status (classism), older age (ageism), religion (e.g. Anti-Semitism), sexual orientation (heterosexism), language/immigrant status (xenophobism), etc.

Diversity: The wide range of national, ethnic, racial and other backgrounds of U.S. citizens and immigrants as social groupings, co-existing in American culture. The term is often used to include aspects of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class and much more.

Anti-Racism: More than an intellectual opposition to the principles of racial supremacy, it is the recognition of racism as part of institutional structures and the struggle to stop power and gain based on racism and/or race bigotry.

People (Person) of Color: The term people of color was adopted to refer in a positive way to all people who are not considered “white” by “white people.” In American “racial” terms, it refers to any one who claims other than European ancestry on either side of their family.

Internalized Racial Superiority: A multi-generational process of receiving, acting on, internalizing, invisibilizing, and legitimizing a system of privilege.

Internalized Racist Oppression: The internalization by people of color (POC) of the images, stereotypes, prejudices and myths promoted by the racist system about POC in this country. Our thoughts and feelings about ourselves, people of our own racial group or other POC are based on these racist messages we receive from the broader system. It is a multi-generational process.

White Supremacy: A system, historically constructed by white peoples, European nations and the United States, to exploit and oppress nations and peoples of color. The point of the system is to maintain and perpetuate wealth, power and privilege for nations and peoples of European descent. White privilege is also a system, institutionally based, that (1) rewards and privileges white people solely because of their skin color and European origins; and (2) exempts whites and European-descended peoples from oppression. White supremacy anchors white privilege and racial oppression in our society, meaning that it is not simply about individual prejudice. Individual and organizational acts of racial prejudice are rooted in, and replicate, an entire social construct of white supremacy.

White Guilt: A frequent response of white persons to learning about white privilege. White guilt makes white individuals feel shameful about the history of oppression of people of color and the role white persons have played in perpetuating that system, as well as their individual complicity with that system. White people must “get over it” to be productive participants in dismantling racism.

Racial Disparities: Gaps in services, rights, health care, access to healthy food, ownership of land, businesses and other economic models, based on race.

Social Equity: A social model where justice is achieved for all people no matter what their race, class, or gender. Calls for an ideal where all aspects of a sustainable food system afford individuals and groups equality and their fair share.

Food Security: Two commonly used definitions of food security come from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

  • Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. (FAO)
  • Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes at a minimum (1) the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and (2) an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies). (USDA)

The USDA Report, Household Food Security in the United States, 2007 indicates Black and Hispanic households experience food insecurity at twice the national average.

Food System: Includes all processes involved in keeping us fed: growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consuming and disposing of food and food packages. It also includes the inputs needed and outputs generated at each step. The food system operates within and is influenced by social, political, economic and natural environments.

Food Justice: Asserts that food is a right and no one should live without enough food because of economic constraints or social inequalities. Food justice reframes the lack of healthy food sources in poor communities as a human rights issue. Food justice is inspired by historical grassroots movements and organizing traditions such as those developed by the civil rights movement and the environmental justice movement. The food justice movement advances self-reliance and social justice by acknowledging that community leadership is the way to authentic solutions. The food justice movement is evolving and welcomes your participation. Find out more at Growing Food and Justice for All (GFJI).

Food Sovereignty: A term originally coined by members of Via Campesina in 1996 to refer to a policy framework advocated by a number of farmers, peasants, pastoralists, fisherfolk, Indigenous Peoples, women, rural youth and environmental organizations, namely the claimed “right of peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems,” in contrast to having food largely subject to international market forces. Principles of food sovereignty include:

  • Food is a basic human right. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity.
  • A genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives farming people ownership and control of the land they work. The right to land must be free of discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, race, social class or ideology. The land belongs to those who work it.
  • Food Sovereignty entails the sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, and seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to practice sustainable management of natural resources and to conserve biodiversity free of restrictive intellectual property rights. This can only be done from a sound economic basis with security of tenure, healthy soils and reduced use of petrochemicals.
  • Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. Our approach prioritizes production for local consumption and food self-sufficiency in our communities. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices.
  • Food Sovereignty is undermined by multilateral institutions and by speculative capital. The growing control of multinational corporations over agricultural policies has been facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and the IMF.
  • Everyone has the right to be free from violence. Food must not be used as a weapon. Increasing levels of poverty and marginalization in rural communities, along with the growing oppression of minorities and indigenous populations, aggravate situations of injustice and hopelessness. The ongoing displacement, forced urbanization, repression and increasing incidence of racism of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated.
  • Smallholder farmers must have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. Everyone has the right to honest, accurate information and open and democratic decision-making. These rights form the basis of good governance, accountability and equal participation in economic, political and social life, free from all forms of discrimination.