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Food sovereignty in US food movements: radical visions and neoliberal constraints

Abstract

Although the concept of food sovereignty is rooted in International Peasant Movements across the global south, activists have recently called for the adoption of this framework among low-income communities of color in the urban United States. This paper investigates on-the-ground processes through which food sovereignty articulates with the work of food justice and community food security activists in Oakland, California, and Seattle, Washington. In Oakland, we analyze a farmers market that seeks to connect black farmers to low-income consumers. In Seattle, we attend to the experiences of displaced immigrant farmers from Latin America and their efforts to address their food needs following migration. In both cases, we find that US based projects were constrained by broader forces of neoliberalism that remained unrecognized by local activists. In Oakland, despite a desire to create a local food system led by marginalized African Americans, emphasis on providing green jobs in agriculture led activists to take a market-based approach that kept local food out of the economic grasp of food-insecure neighborhood residents. In Seattle, the marginalization of the immense agroecological knowledge of Latino/an immigrant farmers rendered local food projects less inclusive and capable of transformative change. Taken together, these very different cases suggest that a shift towards food sovereignty necessitates a broad acknowledgement of and resistance to neoliberalism.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The above-described Community Food Security Coalition has recently instituted a food sovereignty prize, demonstrating both an evolving blurriness between food movements and a desire by the more reformist strains to embrace at least the discourse of the more radical ones. We maintain, however, that the food security movement works mainly to re-entrench the dominant food regime, food justice highlights racial inequalities within the global north, and food sovereignty holds the broadest and most transformative vision.

  2. 2.

    West Oakland market farmers sell produce they label as chemical-free because they cannot afford expensive USDA organic certification.

  3. 3.

    Other options included location, good quality food, good prices, fun atmosphere, and other.

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Correspondence to Alison Hope Alkon.

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Alkon, A.H., Mares, T.M. Food sovereignty in US food movements: radical visions and neoliberal constraints. Agric Hum Values 29, 347–359 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-012-9356-z

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Keywords

  • Food sovereignty
  • Food justice
  • Community food security
  • Social movements
  • Neoliberalism