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


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.

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  1. Despite the ubiquity of statistics like these, and the power of the Census and other counting measures for demonstrating numerically the disproportionate effect of the storm on people of color, they must be approached with some hesitation, as the effect of state counting mechanisms, ultimately, for people of color (for “racialized others”) remains unclear and ambivalent. Invoking Goldberg’s racial state theory requires attention to the problematic potential of racial categories, such as those called forth in census data discussed herein. As Goldberg (2002) and others have argued, state measurement apparatuses that rely on racial categorization can exacerbate racial inequality by reifying socially constructed racial categories. Rather than throw the proverbial “baby out with the bathwater,” I refer to this data for what it reveals about disproportionate exposure to risk and death, but acknowledge the potentially negative implications of doing so.

  2. Geographers’ interest in the connections between race and the food system has increased considerably, as evidenced by a series of sessions and panels on that topic, organized by Alison Hope Alkon and Julian Agyeman, at the 2013 meeting of the Association of American Geographers.



Hollygrove Market and Farm


Latino Farmers’ Cooperative of Louisiana


Lower Ninth Ward Food Access Coalition


Right to the city


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

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Correspondence to Catarina Passidomo.

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Passidomo, C. Whose right to (farm) the city? Race and food justice activism in post-Katrina New Orleans. Agric Hum Values 31, 385–396 (2014).

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