Garrett M. Broad: More than just food, food justice and community change
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When food justice gets mainstream media coverage in the news, the stories are usually simplified snapshots about increasing access to gardens, nutrition education and developing alternative food networks. In More Than Just Food, Food Justice and Community Change, Garrett M. Broad dives deep into the experiences of Community Services Unlimited (CSU), a South Los Angeles community based nonprofit organization that promotes community food justice as a means to achieve social justice. Broad analyzes how CSU pursues a complex food justice agenda that attempts to address the root of food injustice embedded in systems of racial, economic and environmental discrimination. Based on Broad’s nearly 5 years of engaged scholarship with CSU in More Than Just Food he makes a case for the potential of community-based food justice activism to drive sustainable social change in the age of neoliberalism.
Founded as the nonprofit arm of the Southern California chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1977, CSU serves the historically marginalized South Los Angeles community that today is nearly two-thirds Latin@1 and approximately one-third African American. Broad posits that CSU has developed programs which “help meet the everyday needs of community members, provide an opportunity for residents to think critically about their social world, and build vital skills related to growing, cooking, and consuming food” (p. 66). Broad emphasizes that constant storytelling among community participants in CSU programs and the CSU staff serves to build a civic epistemology (i.e. public knowledge practice), about food justice that encourages community members “to embrace their cultural histories, stand up for their rights, transform local institutions and advance community health” (p. 201).
In Chapter 1, Broad outlines his theoretical approach of focusing on organizing at the community level. Relying on investigations of networks and narratives, Broad employs what he refers to as a communication ecology perspective to evaluate community-based food justice efforts. His research methodology includes in-depth interviews, ethnographic participant observation, reviews of organizational websites and analysis of primary source documents.
In the second chapter, Broad offers a brief history of agriculture leading to the development of the present day multi-trillion dollar global food system. He describes the range of alternative food movement initiatives and key actors that have emerged in the US in recent decades. Here he pivots to focus on community-based food justice movements responding to both the industrial food system and to existing alternative food movements which often overlook issues of racial and economic injustice.
In Chapter 3, Broad provides a series of insightful CSU program case studies to create an in depth profile of their grassroots organizing, and to demonstrate that food is a powerful connection point for CSU to engage the local community. Broad describes CSU’s main programs, starting with the Growing Healthy partnerships with preschools, elementary and middle schools that expose kids to gardens and engage them in food curriculum. CSU’s From the Ground Up program targets high school aged youth with seasonal 2- to 3-month internships, aiming to develop their critical thinking skills as well as build practical skills through working in the garden, food preparation and cooking, retail and office work, community-based organizing and participatory research activities.
In addition to local school gardens, CSU operates two mini urban gardens. In CSU’s efforts to sustain the gardens Broad sees its core values of community, cultural awareness, critical thinking, relationship building and hard work in action. Broad suggests that while the CSU Garden Gateway workshops offer instruction on gardening, cooking and eating, their true aim is to build critical consciousness to further a community-led agenda for health and sustainability.
In the Earth Day and Village Market Place case studies, Broad identifies some of the weaknesses that can prevent community-based nonprofit organizations from reaching their goals. For example, CSU’s lack of a strong relationship with media producers beyond local news media limits their ability to share success stories of empowerment with a broader audience. Broad asserts that so far CSU’s Village Market Place social enterprise both serves the community and builds up its revenue generating capacity. He also challenges CSU to carefully consider and navigate the potential perils of working with market-oriented models.
In Chapter 4, Broad examines the youth food justice movement through CSU’s involvement with Rooted in Community (RIC), a national network of organizations promoting food justice and youth development that fosters youth activism and leadership networking. In the fifth chapter, Broad retraces CSU’s journey, from the foundation of radical organizing for racial justice and social transformation of the Black Panther Party to its current efforts to negotiate complicated relationships with funders like the USDA. He asserts “this ever-present tension was actually central to CSU’s organizational identity, and it proved to be a driving force for its organizational evolution, linking it to other food justice groups in similar predicaments and continuing to push forward its strategic action in the years to come” (p. 164).
Chapter 6 contextualizes CSU’s pioneering food justice work relative to newer nonprofit organizations that are now working on food justice in South LA. Broad suggests that CSU needs to reevaluate how it tells its own story of food justice as a long-term project for social transformation amid the current race for digital media attention in a brand-obsessed culture. In the conclusion, Broad offers a set of recommendations to food justice funders, practitioners and allies, as well as his own thoughts on the importance of the food justice movement developing and leveraging a strong storytelling presence in order to expand the scale and scope of community-based food justice activism.
More Than Just Food provides a valuable analysis of the prospects for food justice and urban community change. This book will be of interest to a range of readers, including students and researchers of community-based organizations working on social and food justice and ethnic studies, as well as food-focused government and foundation funders and policy specialists.
Regarding Latin@ as used by Broad, some activists and academics use the web inspired title “Latin@,” which includes both the masculine “o” and the feminine “a,” to describe people of Latin American heritage.