“Toward the Life and Health
of All Creation”
A review of
Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi.
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi.
Hardback: MIT Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
In recent years, there has been growing popular interest in reflecting on where our food comes from, how it is produced and how it progresses from the farm to our kitchens. Many writers have explored various facets of this system, but few have provided the broad sort of overview of food-related issues that we find in the new book Food Justice by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi. Near the beginning of the book, the authors provide the following definition of food justice:
Food justice, like environmental justice, is a powerful idea. It resonates with many groups and can be invoked to expand the support base for bringing about community change and a different kind of food system. It has the potential to link different kinds of advocates, including those concerned with health, the environment, food quality, globalization, workers’ rights and working conditions, access to fresh and affordable food, and more sustainable land use (5).
The authors have structured the book into two parts: the first part overviews the injustices of the current food system, focusing on the areas of growing/production, access, consumption, politics and globalization; the second part of the book parallels the injustices of the first part and envisions how we might begin to right these injustices, and tells the stories of some who already are diligently at work in these areas. Indeed the book is sprinkled throughout with stories that remind us that change is indeed possible, starting from the outset with the story of the Rethinkers, a group of middle school students in New Orleans who challenged the public school system there as it was rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina to reconsider the food that was sourced for and served in its lunchrooms. The Rethinkers built a solid case that advocated for “local, fresh and healthy foods,” and demonstrated that students would indeed eat these foods. The most significant victory for the Rethinkers, the authors observe, was “the commitment to place locally harvested shrimp on the school food menu” (4).
Offering a broad view of contemporary food issues, Food Justice is a superb introduction to thinking holistically about the food we eat. Although it spares no punches in illuminating the problems in the American food system and how these problems have developed over the last century (or more), it is ultimately hopeful in its belief that we can develop a more just and sustainable food system. Even as one who has been involved in worked for food justice in a number of arenas for many years now, I found Food Justice to be an excellent resource, helpful in the ways that it frames the relevant issues of food justice and offering many stories that were unfamiliar to me. This book would be an excellent resource for churches to read together, and to initiate (or deepen) an exploration of the most pressing food issues in our own particular places. As placed communities tasked with proclaiming the justice of God’s coming Kingdom, churches are ideally suited for initiating this kind this conversation and there are few, if any, areas that are more pressing in their demand for our working toward reconciliation and justice. As people whose life together is centered around the Eucharist meal, food – a basic element of life – is essential to who we are. In an age, when many churches are in danger of losing sight of the mission of God in the world, Food Justice is an excellent resource that will immerse us anew in the most essential elements not only of our calling as churches, but also of the life and health of all creation.