Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 385–396 | Cite as

Whose right to (farm) the city? Race and food justice activism in post-Katrina New Orleans

  • Catarina PassidomoEmail author


Among critical responses to the perceived perils of the industrial food system, the food sovereignty movement offers a vision of radical transformation by demanding the democratic right of peoples “to define their own agriculture and food policies.” At least conceptually, the movement offers a visionary and holistic response to challenges related to human and environmental health and to social and economic well-being. What is still unclear, however, is the extent to which food sovereignty discourses and activism interact with and affect the material and social realities of the frequently low-income communities of color in which they are situated, and whether they help or hinder pre-existing efforts to alleviate hunger, overcome racism, and promote social justice. This research and corresponding paper addresses those questions by examining food justice and food sovereignty activism in the city of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina as understood by both activists and community members. I argue, using post-Katrina New Orleans as a case study, that food projects initiated and maintained by white exogenous groups on behalf of communities of color risk exacerbating the very systems of privilege and inequality they seek to ameliorate. This paper argues for a re-positioning of food justice activism, which focuses on systemic change through power analyses and the strategic nurturing of interracial alliances directed by people residing in the communities in which projects are situated.


Food justice Food sovereignty Urban geography Right to the city New Orleans Racism Activism 



Hollygrove Market and Farm


Latino Farmers’ Cooperative of Louisiana


Lower Ninth Ward Food Access Coalition


Right to the city



This research was funded by Grants from the National Science Foundation and the Graduate School at the University of Georgia.


  1. Alkon, A.H. 2008. From value to values: Sustainable consumption at farmers markets. Agriculture and Human Values 25: 487–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alkon, A.H., and C.G. McCullen. 2010. Whiteness and farmers markets: Performances, perpetuations…contestations? Antipode 43(4): 937–959.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bakker, K. 2005. Katrina: The public transcript of “disaster”. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 23: 795–802.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ballard-Rosa, G. 2010. Review of What is a city: Rethinking the urban after Hurricane Katrina. Critical Planning 17: 174–180.Google Scholar
  5. Bierra, A., M. Liebenthal, and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. 2006. To render ourselves visible. In What lies beneath: Katrina, race, and the state of the nation, ed. South End Press Collective, 31–47. Boston, MA: South End Press Collective.Google Scholar
  6. Block, D.R., N. Chavez, E. Allen, and D. Ramirez. 2012. Food sovereignty, urban food access, and food activism: Contemplating the connections through examples from Chicago. Agriculture and Human Values 29(2): 203–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Braun, B., and J. McCarthy. 2005. Hurricane Katrina and abandoned being. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 23: 802–809.Google Scholar
  8. Bullard, R.D., and B. Wright (eds.). 2009. Race, place, and environmental justice after Hurricane Katrina. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  9. Butler, C. 2012. Henri Lefebvre: Spatial politics, everyday life, and the right to the city. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. DuBois, W.E.B. 1999 [1903]. Souls of black folk. New York: WW Norton and Co.Google Scholar
  11. Dyson, M.E. 2006. Come hell or high water: Hurricane Katrina and the color of disaster. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  12. Food Research and Action Center. 2010. Hunger and food insecurity in the United States. Accessed October 4, 2011.
  13. Fussell, E., N. Sastry, M. VanLandingham. 2009. Race, socioeconomic status, and return migration to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Population Studies Center, University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Accessed March 20, 2013.
  14. Gabe, T., G. Falk, M. McCarty, and V.W. Mason. 2005. Hurricane Katrina: Social-demographic characteristics of impacted areas. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress. Accessed March 21, 2013.
  15. Giroux, H.A. 2007. Violence, Katrina, and the biopolitics of disposability. Theory, Culture, and Society 24: 305–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. GNOCDC (Greater New Orleans Community Data Center). 2012. Facts for features: Hurricane Katrina impact. Accessed February 10, 2013.
  17. Goldberg, D.T. 2002. The racial state. Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  18. Guthman, J. 2008a. Bringing good food to others: Investigating the subjects of alternative food practice. Cultural Geographies 15: 431–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Guthman, J. 2008b. Color blindness and universalism in California alternative food institutions. The Professional Geographer 60(3): 387–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Harden, K.D. 2012. Event brings food to Ninth Ward. The Advocate. 23 October. Accessed October 24, 2012.
  21. Holloway, S. 2000. Identity, contingency, and the urban geography of ‘race’. Social and Cultural Geography 1(2): 197–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Klein, N. 2007. The shock doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism. New York, NY: Picador.Google Scholar
  23. Kurtz, H. 2013. Linking food deserts and racial segregation: Challenges and limitations. In Geographies of race and food: Fields, bodies, markets, ed. R. Slocum, 247–264. Aldershot: Ashgate Press.Google Scholar
  24. Lawson, L. 2005. City bountiful: A century of community gardening in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  25. Lefebvre, H. 1996. Writings on cities (trans and ed. E. Kofman and E. Lebas). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  26. Lefebvre, H. 1991. The production of space. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  27. Lewis, P.F. 2003. New Orleans: The making of an urban landscape. Santa Fe, NM: Center for American Places.Google Scholar
  28. Louisiana Recovery Authority. 2007. Moving beyond Katrina and Rita: recovery data indicators for Louisiana. Accessed January 12, 2012.
  29. Luft, R.E. 2008. Looking for common ground: Relief work in Post-Katrina New Orleans as an American parable of race and gender violence. Feminist Formations 20(3): 5–31.Google Scholar
  30. Massey, D., and N. Denton. 1993. American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  31. McClure, M. 2005. Solidarity not charity: Racism in Katrina relief work. Unpublished personal reflection.Google Scholar
  32. Mildenberg, D. 2011. Census finds Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans richer, whiter, emptier. Bloomberg Online 4 February. Accessed March 12, 2012.
  33. Pastor, M., R.D. Bullard, J.K. Boyce, A. Fothergill, R. Morello-Frosch, and B. Wright. 2006. In the wake of the storm: Environment, disaster, and race after Hurricane Katrina. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  34. Patel, R. 2009. What does food sovereignty look like? Journal of Peasant Studies 36(3): 663–706.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. People’s Food Sovereignty Network. 2002. Statement on people’s food sovereignty. Accessed March 1, 2012.
  36. Plyer, A. 2011. What Census 2010 reveals about population and housing in New Orleans and the metro area. Greater New Orleans Community Data Center 17 March.Google Scholar
  37. Plyer, A., and E. Ortiz. 2010. Benchmarks for blight: how many blighted properties does New Orleans really have and how can we eliminate 10,000 more? Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. 27 October. Accessed January 12, 2013.
  38. Purcell, M. 2002. Excavating Lefebvre: The right to the city and its urban politics of the inhabitant. GeoJournal 58: 99–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rosset, P. 2009. Fixing our global food system: Food sovereignty and redistributive land reform. Monthly Review 61(3): 114–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Robinson, E. 2010. Disintegration: The splintering of black America. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  41. Sanyika, M. 2009. Katrina and the condition of black New Orleans. In Race, place, and environmental justice after Hurricane Katrina, ed. R.D. Bullard, and B. Wright, 87–111. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  42. Schanbacher, W.D. 2010. The politics of food: The global conflict between food security and food sovereignty. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.Google Scholar
  43. Slocum, R. 2010. Race in the study of food. Progress in Human Geography 35(3): 303–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Slocum, R. 2007. Whiteness, space, and alternative food practice. Geoforum 38: 520–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Slocum, R. 2006. Anti-racist practice and the work of community food organizations. Antipode 38(2): 327–349.Google Scholar
  46. Smith, N. 2006. There’s no such thing as a natural disaster. Understanding Katrina: Perspectives from the Social Sciences. 11 June. Accessed July 13, 2012.
  47. Steinberg, P., and R. Shields (eds.). 2008. What is a city? Rethinking the urban after Hurricane Katrina. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.Google Scholar
  48. United States Food Sovereignty Alliance. 2010. Draft founding document for the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. Accessed March 21, 2013.
  49. Windfuhr, M., and J. Jonsen. 2005. Food sovereignty: Towards democracy in localized food systems. Warwickshire, UK: ITDG Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Wittman, H., A.A. Desmarais, and N. Wiebe. 2010. Food sovereignty: Reconnecting food, nature, and community. Oakland: Food First.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

Personalised recommendations