Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 165–177 | Cite as

Food justice or food sovereignty? Understanding the rise of urban food movements in the USA

  • Jessica ClendenningEmail author
  • Wolfram H. Dressler
  • Carol Richards


As world food and fuel prices threaten expanding urban populations, there is greater need for the urban poor to have access and claims over how and where food is produced and distributed. This is especially the case in marginalized urban settings where high proportions of the population are food insecure. The global movement for food sovereignty has been one attempt to reclaim rights and participation in the food system and challenge corporate food regimes. However, given its origins from the peasant farmers' movement, La Via Campesina, food sovereignty is often considered a rural issue when increasingly its demands for fair food systems are urban in nature. Through interviews with scholars, urban food activists, non-governmental and grassroots organizations in Oakland and New Orleans in the United States of America, we examine the extent to which food sovereignty has become embedded as a concept, strategy and practice. We consider food sovereignty alongside other dominant US social movements such as food justice, and find that while many organizations do not use the language of food sovereignty explicitly, the motives behind urban food activism are similar across movements as local actors draw on elements of each in practice. Overall, however, because of the different histories, geographic contexts, and relations to state and capital, food justice and food sovereignty differ as strategies and approaches. We conclude that the US urban food sovereignty movement is limited by neoliberal structural contexts that dampen its approach and radical framework. Similarly, we see restrictions on urban food justice movements that are also operating within a broader framework of market neoliberalism. However, we find that food justice was reported as an approach more aligned with the socio-historical context in both cities, due to its origins in broader class and race struggles.


Urban agriculture Food sovereignty Food justice Social movements Food security Food regimes 



Community supported agriculture


Food and Agricultural Organization


Non-governmental organization


New Orleans, Louisiana


New Orleans Food and Farm Network


United States Department of Agriculture


United States Food Sovereignty Alliance


World Health Organization



This study would not have been possible without the time and effort of numerous urban farmers, activists and academics who shared their thoughts on food justice and food sovereignty meanings and practices. Dr Richards also acknowledges support from the Australian Research Council Discovery Grant DP110102299, The New Farm Owners: Finance Companies and the Restructuring of Australian and Global Agriculture. Additional thanks go to two anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessica Clendenning
    • 1
    Email author
  • Wolfram H. Dressler
    • 2
  • Carol Richards
    • 3
  1. 1.Bogor, West JavaIndonesia
  2. 2.School of GeographyUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.School of Management, Business SchoolQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia

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