J. M. Dieterle (ed.): Just food: philosophy, justice and food
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- Machado, M.R. Agric Hum Values (2016) 33: 1013. doi:10.1007/s10460-016-9726-z
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Current tallies place the number of malnourished or undernourished people in the world at over 800 million (approximately 1 in every 10 people). This is a staggering reality, especially in a post-Green Revolution world granted with all the power and promise of modern science and technology. That such tools have not solved global food disparities–some scholars would say that they have, in fact, exacerbated them—is a point that cannot be ignored: technology alone cannot and will not solve world hunger. Instead, the solutions must come from a change in the structure of our food systems, a change in understanding of how they work, and ultimately, a change in values. This is not a question of science, it is importantly and unavoidably a question of justice.
In Just Food: Philosophy, Justice and Food, a collection of authors contribute to a rich dialogue about the philosophical and ethical dimensions of various aspects of the food justice movement. Too often, it seems, scholars from a variety of disciplines analyze food systems at a number of levels without meaningful engagement with the central idea of justice. Such an omission leaves the academic conversation somewhat lacking and indeed, open to criticisms by those intent on portraying food issues as technical problems best addressed through technocratic means, rather than a justice-oriented approach. Sitting at the nexus of science, society and philosophy, food scholarship is in a unique position to critique food systems through what are fundamentally ethical claims. A more robust discourse as to the nature and basis for such claims seems abundantly necessary, not only for the sake of the discipline, but as a counter-balance to more technocratic-minded approaches. It is for exactly these reasons that Just Food is such a valuable addition to any library.
The book is separated into four sections, each of which deals with a specific contour of the larger food justice debate—food access, food systems, food and gender, and local food. The first section, food access, frames the debate about food justice with particular attention to conceptions and practices of property. By tracing the treatment of hunger- and food-related issues through various philosophical traditions—from Aquinas to Levinas, Locke to Rawls—the authors make a compelling case that, regardless of the preferred school of thought, unequal access to food is an inherent injustice. Food deserts are emphasized in several of the pieces to exemplify this. The contribution from the book’s editor, J. M. Dieterle, in particular is quite compelling, as he makes the argument that even a rather orthodox libertarian perspective would agree with such an argument.
Section II continues the discussion by scaling-up questions of justice and placing them within the context of food systems writ large. Emphasis is placed on food sovereignty and both its potential for challenging hegemonic food production and distribution norms as well as the tensions that exist within the concept itself. A justice-based critique of food systems and the policies that surround them—through food sovereignty, but certainly not limited to it—is seen as a meaningful way to engage with issues of inadequate food security, migration patterns and gender disparities. The latter represents the point of departure for Section III which specifically addresses food and gender. Watson begins this section by making a powerful case for food being prioritized at the top of feminist issues. As was foreshadowed in the previous section, the gendered dimensions of food production and access are as much a question of justice as any other. And while feminist critiques of food and food systems have a long tradition, it is particularly important that these perspectives form a focal point within the philosophical conversation of justice as well. If food justice is to succeed, it must embrace gender justice as well.
The final and shortest section of the book problematizes the ideas of the local and of virtuous food consumption with the aim of highlighting the assumptions inherent in both and the inequalities that they do not actually address, but simply reflect. Not all of us, and certainly not those most ill-served by the current food system, have the option to practice more conscientious food consumption. These consumptive differences have health effects for marginalized populations, as was discussed in Section I, but they also underscore the limitations of ‘local’ or ‘virtuous’ consumption patterns to actually changing food realities. Questions of who can or cannot participate in local or virtuous consumption are questions of justice just the same.
No doubt, the discussion of justice and food could extend well beyond the confines of these chapters. Its contribution to this discussion, however, is more than significant. Any scholar—from geographers and anthropologists to ethicists and feminists—and indeed any person, would benefit greatly from taking time to earnestly explore this book. Just Food: Philosophy, Justice and Food not only informs and critiques, but it also helps us to consider our positions in and understandings of food justice, in particular, and also justice, more generally. We are all surrounded by food and embedded somewhere within food systems far larger than ourselves and even our communities. The changing realities of these food systems and their treatment of justice will have major implications for addressing social and climatic issues today and in the future. They represent some of the greatest challenges of our time and, as Just Food encourages, they are something we could all stand to contemplate further.