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Food justice racial projects: fighting racial neoliberalism from the Bay to the Big Apple



Food justice scholarship utilizing racial formation theory has largely analyzed race and racism within the conventional food system and the food movement, leaving under-examined the political projects of food justice organizations to realize racial equity. This article recovers the dialectical spirit of racial formation theory, that of oppression and resistance, and interjects a distinct focus on activism in the context of racial neoliberalism to investigate two food justice organizations, 'Planting Justice' and 'East New York Farms!' These organizations reveal through their work some of the heterogeneity of food and urban agriculture related race-making practices, namely antiracist racial projects that challenge racial and economic inequities. We show how these projects intervene in the system of mass incarceration, reclaim land for cultural reproduction, and build racial and class solidarity. We argue that the food justice movement, which is comprised of many racial projects, contributes to setting in motion emancipatory racial formation processes. In closing, the article reflects on the possible range of food justice racial projects, how these antiracist projects might work to transform race relations, and some of the limitations that food justice activists might encounter resisting racial neoliberalism.
Food justice racial projects: fighting racial neoliberalism from the Bay to the Big Apple
Joshua Sbicca
*and Justin Sean Myers
Department of Sociology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, USA;
Department of Sociology and Social Work, Marist College,
Poughkeepsie, USA
(Received 28 December 2015; accepted 18 August 2016)
Food justice scholarship utilizing racial formation theory has largely analyzed race and racism within the conventional food
system and the food movement, leaving under-examined the political projects of food justice organizations to realize racial
equity. This article recovers the dialectical spirit of racial formation theory, that of oppression and resistance, and interjects a
distinct focus on activism in the context of racial neoliberalism to investigate two food justice organizations, Planting
Justiceand East New York Farms!These organizations reveal through their work some of the heterogeneity of food and
urban agriculture related race-making practices, namely antiracist racial projects that challenge racial and economic
inequities. We show how these projects intervene in the system of mass incarceration, reclaim land for cultural reproduction,
and build racial and class solidarity. We argue that the food justice movement, which is comprised of many racial projects,
contributes to setting in motion emancipatory racial formation processes. In closing, the article reflects on the possible range
of food justice racial projects, how these antiracist projects might work to transform race relations, and some of the
limitations that food justice activists might encounter resisting racial neoliberalism.
Keywords: food justice; food movement; neoliberalism; race; racial formation
Throughout the United States the food movement is navi-
gating the complex terrain of racial and ethnic relations
and hierarchies that privilege affluent whites over low-
income communities and communities of color (Alkon
and Agyeman 2011; Guthman 2008b; Reynolds 2015;
Slocum 2007).
Responding to this state of affairs many
food justice organizers have mobilized to directly address
ethnoracial inequities in the conventional food system as
well as the larger food movement (Bradley and Herrera
2015; Cadieux and Slocum 2015). In turn, some scholars
have employed the classic work by Michael Omi and
Howard Winant (2014) on racial formation theory to ana-
lyze these uneven power relations (Garcia 2012; Minkoff-
Zern et al. 2011; Norgaard, Reed, and Van Horn 2011) and
primarily emphasize the intersections between food and
racialization processes, white supremacy and white privi-
lege (Alkon and McCullen 2011; Kwate 2008; Slocum
2007). Yet, missing from much of the scholarship is the-
orization of the on-the-ground racial performances by food
justice organizations and their production of raced dis-
courses, practices, structures and people. As a result,
there is little clarity about how food justice organizations
engage in racial formation through antiracist racial
and how this connects to strategies aimed at
altering symbolic representations of, and material power
structures related to, race.
This article enriches our understanding of the food
justice movement by connecting the concepts of racial
formation and racial projects to the work of the food
justice organizations Planting Justice in Oakland,
California and East New York Farms! (ENYF!) in
Brooklyn, New York. The organizations reflect some of
the breadth of how the food justice movement struggles
against neoliberal racial projects through antiracist projects
that challenge institutional racism and engage in equitable
forms of race-making. We use these examples to empha-
size that the concepts of racial formation and racial pro-
jects apply to more than just spaces, forces or
organizations producing food inequities. Recovering the
dialectical spirit of racial formation theory, we show how
these concepts can help clarify how food justice organiza-
tions resist these inequities, with food justice understood
as a racial project striving for an emancipatory racial
formation process.
First, we claim that much of the scholarship on the
food movement in the United States overemphasizes the
economic dimensions of neoliberalization, which turns
neoliberalism into a monolithic entity as opposed to a
contingent, uneven and contested social process. Such
scholarship tends to efface the reality that neoliberalization
includes race-based political projects that facilitate the
success of many economic policies through the post
civil rights racialized ideologies of neoconservative and
new right politics (Camp 2016; Hohle 2015; Soss,
Fording, and Schram 2011). We therefore contend that
racial formation theory is imperative to understanding
what critical race scholars refer to as racial neoliberalism
(Goldberg 2009; see also Roberts and Mahtani 2010)as
*Corresponding author. Email:
Equal authorship.
Environmental Sociology, 2016
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
well as how food justice activists navigate this historical
context and inject antiracist politics into the food move-
ment. Building on these claims, we then offer the case
studies of Planting Justice and ENYF! to show how food
justice racial projects oppose neoliberal racial projects that
have stigmatized and criminalized communities of color.
They do so through confronting the political and economic
ideologies and institutions undergirding racial neoliberal-
ism while engaging in practices that embrace and
empower marginalized ethnic and racial identities.
Examples include frames that link food inequities to insti-
tutional racism and political and economic marginaliza-
tion, food jobs that support low-income people of color,
programs that challenge internalized oppression and cele-
brate ethnoracial heritage, and struggles for land justice.
We conclude by arguing that it is important to investigate
the heterogeneity of food justice projects and how these
get shaped by, and at the same time resist, racial neoliber-
alism. Such analysis can illuminate not merely the
strengths of the movement but the barriers activists face
in working to contest racial oppression. Doing so can more
fully account for how activists set in motion racial forma-
tion processes that advance racial and economic justice as
well as the process of working toward this goal.
The dialectics of racial neoliberalism and food justice
One of the defining features that makes the food justice
movement historically significant is that it emphasizes the
role of race in its critique of, and solutions to, problems in
the food system (Allen 2010; Alkon and Agyeman 2011;
Holt-Giménez and Wang 2011). The movement focuses on
where food justice emerges, who articulates food justice
and why groups demand justice (Cadieux and Slocum
2015; Gottlieb and Joshi 2010). In particular, organizing
prioritizes equitable distribution of resources and burdens,
the rights of indigenous, low-income communities and
communities of color to a stake in decision-making and
control of their food systems, and the dignity and eco-
nomic rights of food chain workers (Bradley and Herrera
2015; Holt Giménez and Shattuck 2011). Racial equity,
then, requires empowerment-based social change that
directly confronts cultural, political and economic
Following in the footsteps of the environmental justice
movement that linked racism and civil rights with the
environment and brought this to the forefront of the envir-
onmental pollution discourse (Bullard 2000; Taylor 2000),
food justice brings race and racism to the center of food
politics (Alkon 2012; Alkon and Agyeman 2011). Framing
inequities in the food system as a form of institutional
racism taps into a long history of environmental, economic
and social justice organizing and provides a broad-based
coalition that can be mobilized to achieve racial justice
(Ganz 2009; Heynen 2009; Pulido 1996). For our pur-
poses here, the similarities between these different post-
civil rights antiracist projects are significant as far as they
reflect the open and processual nature of struggles against
food and environmental inequalities (Allen 2010; Pellow
2000), and represent fronts for resisting racial neoliberal-
ism. Therefore, instead of seeing neoliberalization as
strictly an economic process that furthers capital accumu-
lation, we agree that it is also a malleable racial project
underwritten by the hegemony of colorblindness(Omi
and Winant 2014, 211), the privatization of racism, and at
key historical moments, the explicit racism of new right
politics. We plot below the importance of these racial and
economic connections for understanding the development
and practice of food justice projects.
Racial formation and the rise of neoliberal racial
In their definitive book, Racial Formation in the United
States, Omi and Winant (2014) argue for a dialectical
process of race-making that is open, ongoing and contains
a variety of racial projects that vary in time and space.
They challenge the dichotomy of racial common sense in
the United States where race is either illusory or essentia-
lized. Framed as illusory it is an ideological construct that
has no material foundation (e.g. I do not see black or
white, I just see people). Framed as essential it becomes a
fixed, concrete, objective category with universal exis-
tence (e.g. All blacks are naturally better at sports). In
contrast, Omi and Winant advance the dialectically rich
concept of racial formation, where race is an unstable and
decenteredcomplex of social meanings constantly being
transformed by political struggle(110). Race has materi-
ality as a part of the social structure, but is historically
fluid and contested in the ongoing process of producing
racial categories. Therefore, all actors are raced and every-
one performs race. What changes historically are the cod-
ing practices and material benefits attached to particular
racializations. Racial projects, then, organize, make con-
crete and politically activate these racial formations. This
entails the construction of racialized discourses that shape
the common sense of individuals and institutions in order
to produce particular micro-level interactions as well as
larger institutional practices. The symbolic scaffolding is
foundational to racial projects because it legitimates the
distribution of power, income, wealth and life chances
between racialized groups.
Omi and Winant (2014) contend that while one racial
project may be hegemonic at a given moment, there is
never just one racial project; different racial projects com-
pete to ensure that their narratives and visions of society
become common sense. For instance, since the 1960s a civil
rights racial project has competed with new right, neocon-
servative and neoliberal projects. Responding to slavery,
Jim Crow and racial segregation, the civil rights racial
project claimed that institutional racism operated histori-
cally through policies enacted or sanctioned by the state
based on the category of race. Civil rights movements
pushed for an activist-state to challenge the economic pri-
vilege of whites over people of color, with proposals includ-
ing reparations, affirmative action and the inclusion of
2J. Sbicca and J. S. Myers
people of color into the New Deal structures of fair housing,
employment and education.
Despite this contestation, the neoliberal project predo-
minates due to the reactionary work of earlier new right
and neoconservative projects in the 1960s and 1970s (Omi
and Winant 2014). These racial projects whipped up racial
resentment by using code words and the idea of reverse
racism to tap into the class-based anxieties of working
class and middle class whites and pit them against people
of color. Yet, to avoid some of the most visible racism
associated with earlier racist racial projects, the current
neoliberal project builds on neoconservative talking points
by espousing a colorblind society where people are
abstract individuals, not members of racialized social
groups. In this way, racial neoliberalism mirrors the
uneven and contested economic processes of neoliberali-
zation (Brenner, Peck, and Theodore 2010; Goldberg
2009; Omi and Winant 2014). The discourse of racial
neoliberalism suggests that since the state is supposed to
treat everyone equally, it cannot act on the category of race
because this would favor people of color. Moreover, the
state should eschew regulation and let the freedom of the
market, individual choice and meritocratic competition
shape peoplessocial locations. The practice of racial
neoliberalism, then, uses the discourse of equal opportu-
nity and personal responsibility to build a white working
class and middle class voting bloc that supports a political
project to defund the welfare state, enforce austerity on
low-income communities, and pursue mass incarceration
in order to criminalize the poor (Bonilla-Silva 2013;
Feagin 2006; Omi and Winant 2014). Despite the push
toward colorblindness, racial neoliberalism has utilized
explicitly racist discourse during moments of social and
economic crisis in order to reassert the power of the
capitalist class over labor, the working class and commu-
nities of color (e.g. Rudolph Giuliani in New York City
during the 1990s and the 2016 Republican presidential
candidate Donald Trump).
Race making, political struggle and the food justice
Racial formation theory is beneficial here because it helps
to shift the analysis of food politics away from an over-
emphasis on neoliberalization as a strictly economic pro-
cess. For much of the past decade the dominant academic
discourse frames neoliberalism, corporations and class-
based power as the central obstacle or problem (Alkon
and Mares 2012; Giménez and Shattuck 2011; Guthman
2008a). Thinking dialectically, this would then require a
counter-hegemonic force capable of wresting economic
control of, or creating alternatives to, the food system.
The implicit bias of much literature on neoliberalization
is that ones class or occupational position and consumer
status is the locus of action from which to fight most
effectively for change. However, economic conditions
alone cannot explain urban food inequities, which relate
directly to white supremacy, the white backlash against the
Civil Rights and Black Power movements, and the rise of
new right and neoconservative policies targeting people of
color (Billings and Cabbil 2011; Omi and Winant 2014;
Sbicca 2016).
Similarly, economics alone cannot explain
the reliance on immigrant farm workers, a process inti-
mately bound to the racialization of groups born outside
the United States (Harrison 2014; Holmes 2013). In brief,
racial formation theory offers tools to unpack neoliberali-
zation as a variegated economic and racial project in order
to explain the heterogeneity of conditions that produce
food justice struggles.
In the first effort to use racial formation theory in
relation to food justice, Alkon and Agyeman (2011) edited
a volume that underscores how the food system is a racial
project that produces racialized subjectivities and hierar-
chies, consolidates white privilege and oppresses commu-
nities of color (e.g. Minkoff-Zern et al. 2011; Norgaard,
Reed, and Van Horn 2011). The volume also reveals,
albeit not through racial formation theory, the dialectical
tensions between racist and anti-racist projects in the food
system with some examples of how food justice organiza-
tions contest institutional racism (McCutcheon 2011;
Morales 2011). So, while there are contributions that dis-
cuss the ways in which neoliberalization is racialized, say
in the unfolding of grocery development patterns
(McClintock 2011; see also Anguelovski 2015), scholars
need to draw out and explain more of these connections
and their explicit forms of race-based contestation.
One of our theoretical interventions is that by referring
to food justice projects, we elevate the role of political
struggle in the analysis of a racialized food system. Many
food justice organizations are combating and/or are
enmeshed in neoliberal projects. Scholars therefore need
to pay attention to how food justice projects navigate racist
projects that rely on the triplicate ideologies of colorblind-
ness, implicit/explicit racism and market-based funda-
mentalism. As we have argued elsewhere, many food
justice activists engage in secessionist food politics that
preference creating alternatives to the conventional food
system (Myers and Sbicca 2015), a kind of politics that
often reinforces neoliberal subjectivities (Alkon and Mares
2012; Guthman 2008a; Mares and Alkon 2011; Pudup
2008). At the same time, the colorblindness inherent to
neoliberal projects permeates parts of the food movement,
in turn depoliticizing activist interventions (Guthman
2008b). Our call to focus on food justice projects helps
to investigate how race becomes a site for confrontational
politics that challenge how the state demeans and dehu-
manizes people of color (e.g. mass incarceration, mass
unemployment, defunded educational systems and
gentrification-based redevelopment projects). Therefore,
opening up the analysis of food justice to include the
intersecting power relations of race and class breaks
down false binaries and frees up space to theorize the
political contestation of neoliberalization dialectically.
Concentrating on these intersections reinforces that
the food justice movement is not monolithic but, in fact,
consists of a range of racial projects. Some are more
Environmental Sociology 3
exclusive, in that they are run by and meant for the
political goals and cultural foodways of communities
of color. For instance, food justice projects rooted in
black nationalism emphasize black self-determination
and self-respect through a racial politics of segregation
that shuns interracial cooperation (McCutcheon, 2011).
Others, such as the former South Central Farm in Los
Angeles, enable Latino/as and indigenous diasporic
communities from Mexico and Central America to
raise culturally relevant plant species, supplement the
family food budget and foster community (Mares and
Peña 2010). Instead of being maligned as racialized
subjects that do not succeedunder neoliberal logics
of economic competition, these examples show how
ethnoracial identities are the site around which to make
race in a way that resists racial hierarchies and therefore
pressures to conform to market ideals of homo
Food justice projects may also work across racial,
ethnic and national boundaries, while elevating the signif-
icance of racial justice. In a set of 24 commentaries on
race and ethnicity in the Journal of Agriculture, Food
Systems and Community Development (2015), many
authors, both academics and activists, reveal the range of
these projects. Some examples that push against the color-
blindness of neoliberal projects include campaigns to
increase civic participation and strengthen community
assets in order to overcome racist histories related to farm-
ing and land access (Sweeney et al. 2015). Others focus on
transforming everyday practices by using anti-oppression
methods that break down racial hierarchies and attend to
the intersecting class dimensions of power (Garzo
Montalvo 2015). Still others center on moving beyond
inclusion to work on anti-colonial and indigenous rights
campaigns that focus on recovering land and fostering
culturally rooted knowledge systems (Kepkiewicz et al.
2015; Vernon 2015). Each of these initiatives represents
part of the polyculture of antiracist projects in the food
justice movement. They challenge whitened cultural his-
tories with strategies that move beyond celebrating ethno-
racial diversity by highlighting and contesting the pursuit
of capital accumulation through racial and ethnic
Our data comes from two different but related projects
investigating the racial and class relations of food justice
organizations. While Oakland and New York City are on
different sides of the country with different histories, they
share the attributes of having large working class popula-
tions, high levels of racial and ethnic diversity, racialized
histories of institutional neglect and mass incarceration,
strong left social movements, and very active, creative and
successful food justice movements. They are also places
with vibrant traditions of racial justice organizing, which
inform how Planting Justice and ENYF! engage in their
respective food justice projects.
The first authors data on Planting Justice comes from
ethnography, in-depth semi-structured interviews and
archival sources. In addition to informal observation of
the organization as a member of the board for 3 years from
20102013, he conducted fieldwork for two and a half
months, 2040 hours a week, as a participant in daily
activities such as edible landscape installations, gardening,
canvassing and administrative duties. He carried out 35
interviews in total, 25 while doing fieldwork in 2012 and
10 more in 2015. These interviews included staff, board
members, community partners and formerly incarcerated
people, some of whom completed reentry programs co-
sponsored by Planting Justice.
Last, he collected and
analyzed archival sources, including internal documents
related to organizational operations, journalistic accounts
and social media, as well as government and think tank
reports to triangulate these other sources.
The second authors data on ENYF! emerged from
ethnography, in-depth semi-structured interviews and
archival materials. From May to November in 2011 and
2012, he spent 2440 hours a week as a volunteer at
ENYF! and a community gardener at Hands and Heart
Garden in East New York, which is affiliated with ENYF!
He assisted ENYF! staff, youth and community gardeners
in food production, participated in monthly meetings for
the organization as well as the garden, served as a facil-
itator for garden meetings, and attended monthly skill-
based workshops and town hall meetings. Alongside of
field notes, he conducted 10 interviews, lasting between
one to four hours, with staff and community gardeners,
and conducted follow-up visits to both ENYF! and Hands
and Heart Garden several times a year in 2013, 2014 and
2016. He also collected archival materials including inter-
nal documents, reports from civil society organizations,
and newspapers.
These cases help us to examine our two main analy-
tical concepts: food justice racial projects and racial neo-
liberalism. Having two cases enriches our theoretical
intervention and helps illustrate the variability of anti-
racist food justice projects. It also provides a more well-
rounded understanding of the dialectical struggle between
racial neoliberalism and food justice, and how two orga-
nizations in distinct social conditions at similar points in
time create unique responses to race-based inequities. We
now turn to a discussion and analysis of food justice
interventions into the racial neoliberalism of mass incar-
ceration (Planting Justice) and urban land access (ENYF!).
Overcoming incarceration: Planting Justices prisoner
reentry work and the reimagination of food justice in
Oakland is majority people of color, and blacks and
Latino/as fare worse than their white counterparts in nearly
every category of social and economic well-being (Schell
2013). Of most significance for this case study is how
neoliberal projects have relied on ideological and material
constructions of race that produce disproportionately high
4J. Sbicca and J. S. Myers
arrest and imprisonment rates for blacks and Latino/as
(e.g. framing black male youth as prone to violence and
readymade criminals) (Alexander 2012; BondGraham and
Winston 2015). These negative framings are central to a
neoliberal project that has disinvested in Oaklands black
and Latino/a communities while simultaneously expand-
ing the system of mass incarceration under the banner of a
colorblind quest for law and order, which on the streets
means local law enforcement harass, intimidate and crim-
inalize residents (Rhomberg 2004; Rios 2011).
to this complicated terrain, longtime Oakland resident,
professor and political activist, Angela Davis (2012)
[T]he process of criminalization imputes responsibility to
the individuals who are its casualties, thus reproducing the
very conditions that produce racist patterns in incarcera-
tion and its seemingly infinite capacity to expand. The
misreading of these racist patterns replicates and reinforces
the privatization that is at the core of neoliberalism,
whereby social activity is individualized and the enormous
profits generated by the punishment industry are legiti-
mized (171).
One of the key objectives, then, of Planting Justices
antiracist project is to challenge the colorblind language
that obfuscates the carceral state and engage in a kind of
race-making that historicizes racist outcomes and rehuma-
nizes racialized subjects. Like much of Oaklands food
justice movement, Planting Justice draws on the antiracist
projects of the Black Power and environmental justice
movements to resist the trifecta of neoconservative, new
right and neoliberal projects (Alkon 2012; Sbicca 2012).
Central to this work is utilizing what one of their organi-
zers refers to as counter-narratives of history [to] inter-
vene upon the systemic and structural violence dominating
human relationsin order to produce spaces for resis-
tance(Zandi 2009). For example, two organizers with
Planting Justice wrote an article linking violence in the
food system due to slavery and colonialism with the dis-
placement from ancestral lands and foodways, resulting in
hunger and malnutrition on one hand, and disease and
overconsumption on the other(Garzo Montalvo and
Zandi 2011). As we develop more below, this kind of
analysis dovetails with the belief that mass incarceration
is a contemporary instantiation of violence waged by the
state to regulate communities of color, only this time as
part of a neoliberal project that relies on criminalization
and racialization to solvethe problem of poverty (Sbicca
2016; Wacquant 2009). Public statements by the organiza-
tion and its staff show that they operationalize intervening
in mass incarceration by work[ing] to address the struc-
tural inequalities inherent within the production, distribu-
tion, and consumption of industrial foodsby grow[ing]
food, grow[ing] jobs, [and] grow[ing] community
(Planting Justice, n.d). This also entails reclaiming the
spaces of the garden, the farm, the kitchen, and ultimately,
the body and the land(Garzo Montalvo and Zandi 2011).
In brief, these practices resist colorblind politics by
framing racism as structural, yet acknowledging how
racism is embedded and contested in everyday cultural
Before starting Planting Justice, the two cofounders
participated in social justice movements, such as the anti-
war movement, which sensitized them to the connections
between violence, capitalism and the racialization of the
otherthat normalized the war on terror. Yet, they wanted
to take some of the broader lessons from these move-
ments, such as how to mobilize people to demand change,
and apply them to their local context to meet immediate
community needs. A fortuitous connection in 2009 with
the Insight Garden Program at San Quentin State Prison
funneled the cofoundersnonviolent and antiracist com-
mitments into supporting formerly incarcerated people,
mainly black men, reenter their communities. Seeing the
violence of racial and class inequalities in Oakland, as well
as the power of food to mobilize for change, they devised
an antiracist food justice project that leverages the tools of
urban agriculture. The Insight Garden Program helps men
inside prison address some of the historical trauma of
incarceration through healing circles and horticultural ther-
apy. Once they leave, Planting Justice furthers this process
with employment in urban agriculture, youth education
and community organizing. Yet, unlike research that sug-
gests food justice inspired urban agriculture mainly embo-
dies the economic unevenness and contradictions of
neoliberalization (McClintock 2014), we show how race-
making practices are deeply entangled in this process.
From the initial founding of Planting Justice, organi-
zers have committed to practices that support working
cooperatively across social boundaries in order to carry
out their programs in a way that challenges mass incar-
ceration at the point of reentry and fosters economic and
racial equity. With a racially and economically diverse
staff of 37 people, programs that consist of and work
with many formerly incarcerated black men,
and aware-
ness of the internal differences in privilege and opportu-
nity among staff doing this work, Planting Justice engages
in anti-oppression practices, such as their quarterly all-staff
Workplace Justice Series. In 2015, the series focused on
racism, police violence and the abolition of the prison
industrial complex, which organizers used to deepen a
collective commitment to antiracist practices that disas-
sociate stereotypical connections between black phenotype
and formerly incarcerated performativity (Planting Justice
2015a;2015b). For example, empowerment strategies with
formerly incarcerated black men who build edible land-
scapes and make kale smoothies in majority people of
color high-schools challenge racial expectations with posi-
tive portrayals that aim to disrupt the violence committed
upon black bodies in the criminal justice system and the
food system. Planting Justice, therefore, resists racial neo-
liberalism by embedding food justice within race-making
processes that contest existing ideological framings with
concrete material practices. There is, as Gabriel, a Latino
former staff and board member asserts, radical imagina-
tion workthat goes into this food justice project that
Environmental Sociology 5
creates an opportunity to practice on a daily basis differ-
ent ways of being, different ways of knowing, and
Beyond transforming the symbolic framing of for-
merly incarcerated black men, Planting Justice also sees
job creation as a key race-making practice to defy the
discursive foundations that justify their economic mar-
ginalization. Given the historical position of blacks as a
reserve army of labor, Planting Justice creates living
wage food jobs that start at $17.50 an hour with com-
prehensive health, vision and dental insurance. As the
staff is quick to articulate, insteadofcreatingeconomic
opportunity for former convicts,felonsor inmates,
they employ the term formerly incarcerated peopleor
prisonersto historicize and politicize how the state
exerts power over people. The term denotes a system
of mass incarceration(e.g. policing practices, courts,
prisons) that targets disproportionately low-income com-
munities of color and thereby locates crime in contingent
power relations rather than human nature. As an empow-
ering response, depending on the skills and desires of
staff, formerly incarcerated people build edible land-
scapes for homeowners and grassroots organizations,
farm a five-acre orchard and two-acre nursery, canvass
the public for financial support and policy reform, and
educate people on culinary arts and food justice.
food jobs, then, become an important empowerment tool
to develop ones voice as an advocate for criminalized
people of color. Bilal Coleman, a resilient black man
who spent 20 years in prison, shared his reentry process
in an autobiographical YouTube series called The
Freedom Chronicles.On his 200th day of freedom, he
expressed gratitude for his position as a full-time staff
member of the Education Team working with crimina-
lized youth of color in Oakland: I had no clue, or no
idea that I would be working with youth. Or would even
have the voice that I do have to make to where the youth
would actually listen and take to my story and compare
that within the things that they are going through in their
lives(Planting Justice 2016). Such expressions speak to
the ripple effects that good food jobs have as a race-
making practice that rehumanizes formerly incarcerated
people and creates the opportunity to model antiracist
resistance to mass incarceration.
Living wage food jobs are also central to combating
the extremely high 65% recidivism rate in California,
which exists because of the multitude of socioeconomic
barriers facing formerly incarcerated people (Petersilia
2008). A significant barrier is the inability to find gainful
employment that pays enough to cover rent, food and
utilities in an already racially stratified economy, which
often pushes people to engage in practices that lead to their
incarceration in the first place. For Planting Justice, living
wage food jobs are a pillar of their food justice project:
In an economy that systematically devalues, under-
employs and underpays formerly incarcerated people, our
$17.50/hour starting wage is a political statement that the
labor of former prisoners is valuable and that their success
and well-being is a worthy investment (Dean 2016).
A testament to the organizations effectiveness is that none
of the 21 formerly incarcerated staff has recidivated.
Speaking to the value of these food jobs, a middle-aged
black reentry hire named David shared in an interview,
When you get somebody employmentit gives a person
that one little kick-start that they really, really, really
needWhen I got out, I had a lot of problems, but a job
was able to get rid of a lot of em, so for that I will always
be grateful.
Planting Justice is not just modeling living wage reen-
try strategies though; they are fighting for their
One of their strategies for this is the canvas-
sing program, which since 2012 has reached over 51,000
people. This intervenes in neoliberal racial formation pro-
cesses by fostering public attention to the problem of mass
incarceration that then compels the state to take notice and
change how they deal with the reentry process. In 2015,
the cover of the yearly East Bay Express Sustainable
Living issue featured two formerly incarcerated men and
a former Mandela High School student working at
Planting Justices farm in El Sobrante. This visibility coin-
cided with public funding by the state of California for a
two-year collaborative reentry project led by Planting
Justice that links together food and restorative justice
(Sbicca 2016). Also by publically advocating alongside a
host of economic, racial and restorative justice organiza-
tions, Planting Justice has been part of successful grass-
roots campaigns to shift county resources more toward
prisoner reentry and less to incarceration.
In all, Planting Justice as a food justice project navi-
gates and contests the racial neoliberalism of mass incar-
ceration. They do so with discursive and interpersonal
interventions into the violence and oppression driving the
criminalization and economic marginalization of people of
color. At the same time, the organizations programs
empower individuals and build public support for racial
justice in the criminal justice system and economic justice
for formerly incarcerated people.
Countering disinvestment through urban agriculture:
East New York Farms!pursuit of food justice,
culinary justice and land justice
East New York is located in the easternmost section of
North-Central Brooklyn. Home to almost 183,000 peo-
ple in 2010, the community is 51% black, 39% Latino/a
and 2% white with a large number of Caribbean resi-
dents and a smaller number of South Americans, West
Africans, Indians and Bangladeshi (NYCDCP 2012). It
is also a low-income community struggling with poverty,
unemployment and crime due to a history of redlining,
urban renewal, planned shrinkage and mass incarceration
imposed by neoliberal, neoconservative and new right
projects (Thabit 2005). One of these moments was in the
1970s and 1980s when City Hall actively sought to
6J. Sbicca and J. S. Myers
displace East New Yorkers by withdrawing municipal
services from the community and bulldozing entire
blocks of homes into rubble (Thabit 2005). Residents
did not stand pat though; they organized together and
turned these vacant lots into community gardens. The
guerilla gardening was so extensive that East New York
had the most community gardens of any community in
New York City, over 65 gardens in all. These gardens
became hubs of food production and an important
resource for access to fresh produce in a community
flush with fast food restaurants and bodegas and only a
few grocery stores full of expired, moldy and spoiled
foods (Thabit 2005).
Yet, for all this sweat equity to revitalize their com-
munity, a neoliberal City Hall headed by Mayor
Rudolph Giuliani continued to try and displace East
New Yorkers in the 1990s, this time through mass
incarceration and attempts to sell off city-owned lots to
the highest bidder (Thabit 2005). Once again, residents
fought back and their organizing gave birth to the food
justice organization ENYF!, which emerged in 1998
after a three year participatory planning project.
community driven mission was to link assets (gardeners,
gardens and youth) with needs (fresh produce, land
tenure and food jobs) in order to build a community
gardening and farming network in East New York that
could combat a legacy of disinvestment. Today, ENYF!
operates a farmers market and farm stand, a youth pro-
gram, several urban farms, and works with over 30 food-
producing community gardens.
They root their food
politics in a community organizing strategy to build
interracial class-based alliances that challenge the desta-
bilizing effects of racial segregation through various
practices, including embeddedness within an interracial
community center, celebration of ethnoracial identities at
their farmersmarket, and cultural resistance through
struggles for land access.
What grounds ENYF! as an antiracist food justice
project is that it is run out of United Community Centers
(UCC), a community center with a long history of social
justice organizing.
UCC emerged in East New York
during the 1950s to provide programs, activities and ser-
vices to white and Jewish youth living in newly created
public housing. By the 1960s, UCC had been kicked out
of public housing for its politics and set up shop in a
stand-alone community center, where it still resides.
During this time, UCC continued to focus on youth pro-
grams, specifically its interracial summer camp, but also
organized block associations, fought for integrated public
education, and waged campaigns against the Vietnam War
and planned shrinkage. This interracial politics rejects the
divide and conquer strategies of new right and neoconser-
vative projects, framing integration as the recognition of
the richness of difference; of the right of different people,
with different histories and experience, to influence and
change one another during the common struggle to end
oppression and war, racism and exploitation (Eisenberg
1999, 258).
ENYF! has maintained UCCs interracial class con-
scious politics. In the eyes of David Vigil, ENYF!
Project Director:
We see gardens as a great forum for bringing people
together from a lot of different backgrounds. The gardens
and the markets have been a great tool for working across
difference in a way you dont see very often in New York
City. Were seeingpeople working together, sharing
food traditions, exchanging knowledge and seeds and
labor (Pantuso 2014).
In particular, UCCs memory of how neoliberals, neocon-
servatives and the new right used divide and conquer
strategies from the 1950s through today to pit the working
class along racial lines has been passed on to ENYF! and
shaped how they utilize food. Sarita Daftary-Steel, former
ENYF! Project Director, emphasizes how these links are
made visible in their youth internship program:
We believe its important for youth to understand that urban
agriculture in East New York rose out of a painful history of
racial discrimination, disinvestment, and urban decline.
With this historical background they can better understand
the significance of gardens as a source of pride, and the
systemic forces that created segregated, impoverished
neighborhoods like East New York (Daftary-Steel 2015).
David Vigil expands on Saritas points:
The goal is that they learn more about themselves, their
community, and the world at large through a lens of food
and food justice. We look at East New York and ask, why
are there so many vacant lots? Why are there all these diet-
related diseases? Why are these waves of immigration
coming from the global south? We can use food as a
great medium to discuss those things (Pantuso 2014).
One of the places to do such work is through tours of their
youth farm, where visitors learn how ENYF! emerged out
of a history of institutional racism and is working toward
racial equity in the food system. Consequently, at ENYF!,
food is the bridge to bring together different people around
the shared goal of building community and a just food
system, which means linking institutional racism to class
inequities and building class-based power as a pathway to
exercising ethnoracial identities and meanings.
This racial project is seen at the ENYF! farmers mar-
ket, where local food is merged with interracial empower-
ment and culinary justice through celebrating black and
Caribbean foodways. ENYF! both specializes in these
groupsstaples bitter melon, hot peppers, collard greens,
bush beans, long beans, malabar spinach, okra and call-
aloo and emphasizes their cultural importance to the
community through festivals where people learn about
the histories of these plants, how to grow and prepare
them, and sample and buy them. Most importantly, these
festivals locate black and Caribbean culinary traditions
within their African, Asian and Latin intercultural roots,
showcasing the common bonds that can be forged across
difference and through food. ENYF! reaffirms this belief
Environmental Sociology 7
through potlucks and anti-oppression workshops. In the
former activity, people bring a cultural dish that is person-
ally meaningful and share this food and its story with
others. In the latter, people engage in interactive skits to
address internalized and interpersonal oppression, discri-
mination and ageism, amongst other inequities. The pur-
pose of both is to tell stories, share knowledge and build
relations by working together across and through differ-
ence in order to confront racial neoliberalism at the cul-
tural level through new race-making practices.
A directly related aspect of ENYF!food justice pro-
ject is their struggle for the communitys right to land. East
New York has a large immigrant population, many of
whom grew up on farms, come from farming families
that are only a generation or two removed from the land,
or have identities rooted in food cultivation. Many want to
grow their own food, but they have faced significant
obstacles in obtaining access to and control over land
because City Hall devalues their cultural claims to the
land in favor of growth oriented economic redevelopment.
Access to even a small plot of land is valuable as it enables
residents to rebuild the feeling of home, the belonging to a
community, and the ties that bind, all of which are pre-
requisites to an engaged civic life and the formation of
political power. For Janelle Nicol, former ENYF! Market
Manager, who is Jamaican and Dominican, working with
ENYF! was invaluable:
[It] keeps me close to my own roots, because of the food
that we grow and the conversations that come out based
on the foodI was in Florida for a while and came back
to Brooklyn completely Americanized. No salt and no
peppa. I came back to East New York and started redis-
covering things, reconnectingIts also important for the
people in the community that lived in Jamaica and felt the
same way, bland, since they didnt have anywhere to
connect, and then they come here and it feels like theyre
ENYF! was born, in part, to help residents legitimate their
claims to land, as well as remove vacant lots from the
market and place them into land trusts. By working with
the Greenthumb program of the NYC Parks Department it
has been extremely successful in realizing these aspira-
tions (Daftary-Steel and Gervais 2014). More importantly
though, at its roots, ENYF!land acquisition efforts enable
residents to resist a forced assimilation into whiteness, the
American diet and the corporate commodity foods of the
conventional food system, which residents refer to as
second hand foodsthat look nice but dont taste good
and are designed to get you sick and have you buy pills.
This struggle is important since the neoliberal project of
the middle- and upper-class in New York City has long
sought to deny immigrants access to land and criminalize
their food production practices under the claim that they
are impediments to development, threats to the propertied
class and need to be integrated into Anglophone culture
(McNuer 2014; Rosenzweig and Blackmar 1998). ENYF!
land justice struggles resist these practices by securing for
residents a space where they can reaffirm ties to the land,
grow their own food and reproduce cultural difference.
Additionally, in contesting the displacement politics of
racial neoliberalism, community gardening in East
New York has become a thorn in the side of a growth-
oriented City Hall. Not only has such mobilization
asserted that communities of color have a right to the
city, but it has also raised larger questions about
community-led development, affordable housing and gen-
trification in East New York. This is important
since Mayor Bill Deblasio has made the community
ground zero in his affordable housinginitiative through
the rezoning of the Broadway Junction transit hub where
the Long Island Railroad and A, C, J, Z and L subway
lines intersect. ENYF! has been part of community efforts
contesting this rezoning process as undemocratic and
potentially harmful to the communitys low-income resi-
dents, a political power that emerged, in part, through
food-based community organizing. Central for ENYF! to
this organizing is an attempt to shift the dominant dis-
course of City Hall away from telling low-income com-
munities they have to choose between affordable housing
and community gardens toward forcing City Hall to con-
struct a development model that works for these commu-
nities by bringing together affordable housing and urban
agriculture, a solution that would address race-based and
class-based inequities.
In all, ENYF! is more than just a local food organiza-
tion and sees food as more than a single-issue campaign,
leveraging it into an antiracist project. The history of racial
neoliberalism and contentious social justice organizing
links together the youth program, the farmers market and
the community gardens into a distinct food justice project.
This sociohistorical location has infused ENYF! with the
pursuit of food justice, culinary justice and land justice in
order to oppose segregation, assimilation to whiteness and
racial hierarchies, as well as the denial of voice in and
control over the development of their community.
Conclusion: the power and potential of food justice
racial projects
Throughout this article, we have highlighted the dialectical
process of racial formation. Neoliberal projects and food
justice projects are both race-making forces in the food
system. This intervention is important given that the scho-
larly focus has tended to look at how food activism repro-
duces neoliberalism and colorblind racial projects without
an appreciation of antiracist projects that resist both color-
blindness as well as overt systemic racism. Consequently,
we presented the cases of Planting Justice and ENYF! to
demonstrate how organizations advance food justice racial
projects that resist racial neoliberalism. These organiza-
tions link urban agriculture to strategies that address the
traumas of incarceration and migration, reclaim food pro-
duction and fight for land access in order to create com-
munity across racial boundaries, and build class-conscious
racial solidarity through anti-oppression trainings and
8J. Sbicca and J. S. Myers
celebrations of distinct cultural foodways. Through these
projects food justice activists reshape racial identities,
meanings and structures that both subvert and challenge
racist practices that legitimate and reproduce economic
In the spirit of theorizing the particular dialectical
relations between competing racial projects, our cases,
although illustrative of the initial successes of the urban
food justice movement, also raise questions about tem-
poral, spatial and scalar limits. Planting Justice unites
racial and economic justice with living wage food jobs
for formerly incarcerated people and provides an alterna-
tive model for organizing economic production compared
to low-wage neoliberalism. Yet, these practices alone can-
not transform the larger structures producing racialized job
and housing markets for formerly incarcerated people.
Recognizing this barrier is why Planting Justice has built
alliances with other organizations in order to push the state
to end racial profiling practices, fund rehabilitation instead
of incarceration and eliminate the policies that stigmatize
formerly incarcerated people and undermine their eco-
nomic chances. The same scalar limits have pushed
ENYF! toward alliance building with other food justice,
urban agriculture and economic justice organizations in
order to secure the right to land as well as contest and
transform redevelopment projects and priorities in low-
income communities. It is only through such mobilization
that ENYF! has a voice in what happens to city-owned
vacant lots, can halt or slow down local gentrification, and
has successfully saved existing community gardens from
destruction. Therefore, while food justice projects may
operate successfully at an organizational level, it appears
that larger mobilizations are necessary to expand these
wins in the long-term and shift municipal, state and federal
policies around pressing economic and racial justice
Moreover, given the food movementstendency
toward local activism and secessionist politics, as well
as its reliance on philanthropic funding, there appear to
be internal as well as external limits to a vibrant con-
frontational politics. These limits become more salient as
nonprofit funding from public and private channels has
become harder to obtain since the Great Recession.
light of conditions in the political environment indicat-
ing the resilience of forces committed to racial and
economic stratification, this offers a moment for critical
reflection. Racially reactionary forces such as the Tea
Party and Donald Trumps presidential campaign under-
score the continuing power of new right politics.
Additionally, there is the blunt fact that urban neoliber-
alization is premised on gentrification and mass incar-
ceration. Yet, in keeping with a dialectical analysis of
oppression and resistance, burgeoning social justice
movements are contesting these central strategies of
racial neoliberalism. The Black Lives Matter movement
confronts mass incarceration and police abuse and bru-
tality, the Right to the City movement works to stop
gentrification and segregation, and the Fight for $15
movement challenges poverty level wages. Recognizing
this resistance and theorizing its potential, as well as
limits, is likely generative of meaningful insights
because the food justice movement increasingly finds
itself at the dialectical intersection of these competing
racial projects.
While this article is an initial foray into documenting
and theorizing food justice projects, there is a need to
expand the analysis and investigate the capacity of other
food justice projects to build counter hegemonic forms of
power that transform race relations and institutional prio-
rities. Answering this question requires that scholars con-
tinue to theorize and identify how the food system, along
with intersecting social systems, are racial projects
because this helps to isolate the drivers of racial stratifica-
tion. As we have argued, neoliberalization targets race, but
there are clear class implications in how white economic
elites have utilized neoconservatism and new right politics
to further their political projects. For instance, politicians
racialize the rhetoric of personal responsibility to legiti-
mate the dismantling of social supports for and subsequent
criminalization of low-income communities of color.
Politicians have also justified the displacement and gentri-
fication of low-income communities of color in the name
of redevelopment and economic growth. Equally as impor-
tant is the need to determine how and to what degree food
justice projects work to bend the arc of racial formation
processes toward racial equity and liberation. In the con-
temporary moment, to do so requires greater attention to
how food justice projects challenge or reproduce the kind
of racial neoliberal processes we have endeavored to
articulate. Tracing these and other contexts within which
the dialectic of oppression and resistance plays itself out
offers an analytically robust, yet malleable foundation to
evaluate the emancipatory capacity of food justice racial
We would like to thank all the people who spoke with us for our
research. Your views and practices ground the theorization we
undertook in this article. We would also like to extend our
gratitude to the anonymous reviewers and Stewart Lockie for
their many helpful comments and suggestions. Obviously, our
work rests ultimately on our shoulders, but we could not have
produced this article without the insights of others.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
1. Our ethnoracial terminologies are limited to the US context
and align with how scholars use them in food justice and
critical race literatures.
2. When referring to specific racial projects after their first use
(e.g. antiracist racial project), we drop the racialfrom
subsequent uses in order to simplify reading.
Environmental Sociology 9
3. Examples include redlining, urban renewal, benign neglect,
planned shrinkage, white flight, segregation and mass
4. All names have been changed unless quote comes from a
public source.
5. The dialectical process of political struggle in Oakland
between racist and antiracist projects from World War II
to the present follows the broader pattern identified in our
discussion of racial formation theory (Self 2003).
6. As of August 2016, 21 of the staff were formerly incarcer-
ated, most of whom are black. For more details on the staff
see, and http://
farm-planet-justice-adds-east-oakland-site. Roughly 30% of
the staff is white and roughly 30% has a college degree. The
rest of the staff is black and Latino/a, and most of the staff
have only a high-school diploma or some college.
7. For details on programming, see Programs(Transform
Your Yard, Food Justice Education, Grassroots Canvass, 5
Acre Farm) at
8. For some public reporting on this see Bolsinger (2014) and
Burke (2015).
9. Redlining was a discriminatory practice used between the
1930s and late 1960s by white lenders who refused to give
loans or insurance to people of color by deeming where
they lived poor and therefore a financial risk.
10. For ENYF!history see Daftary-Steel and Gervais (2014).
11. ENYF! privileges hiring from the community, promotes
from within and has been made up of staff who live in
Eastern Brooklyn and identity as white, Indian, Latina/o,
African American, Caribbean and black. Based on its birth
from a community-based planning project and organiza-
tional practices that privilege community voice and
decision-making power in the organization, it continues to
respond to what the community wants ENYF! to be.
12. For UCCs history, see Eisenberg (1999).
13. Although the Great Recession is generally understood to have
lasted in the United States between 2008 and mid-2009, the
effects lingered until 2015, with many places, particularly low-
income people and people of color in those places, experien-
cing the recession years longer than the officialend
announced by economists and the United States government.
14. A similar point was made by Pellow (2016) who recog-
nized in his suggestions for a critical environmental justice
studies the significance of intersections between environ-
mental justice movements and the Black Lives Matter
movement. There are clear parallels with how we have
discussed food justice projects in this article.
Notes on contributors
Joshua Sbicca is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Colorado
State University. His work focuses on food politics, social move-
ments, and inequalities. He is currently writing a book on the
politics and practices of the food justice movement and how this
converges with a range of social struggles.
Justin Sean Myers is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Marist
College. His research utilizes historical and qualitative methods
to understand how marginalized communities are organizing
against food inequities. He is currently writing a book on food
justice movements in New York City.
Joshua Sbicca
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12 J. Sbicca and J. S. Myers
... Social equity, the largest category of studies, described persistent challenges to equity in the food system and the existence of structural inequality and discrimination. Terminologies such as structural inequality, exploitation, oppression, and social exclusion affecting marginalized, and low-income communities were most prominent with racism, class, gender, cultural politics, white privilege, historical trauma, and colonization themes (10,30,(41)(42)(43)(44)(45)(46)(47)(48)(49)(50) . Health inequalities and disparities are also prominent (43) with a focus on the intersecting issues of policy, health, social justice, economic development, and the natural environment (51,52) . ...
... These studies described dysfunctional food systems and called for structural and redistributive changes in the food system. Terminology included transformation, food systems democratization, power, food bank reform, food policy councils, food governance, and policy reform, tackling problems at a local and national level, policy solutions, building coalitions, politicians, and the state, justice (historical, holistic, participative, distributive, representational) and reframing (10,44,45,49,55,61,65,(74)(75)(76)(77)(78)(79)(80)(81)(82)(83)(84) . The hope for food systems transformation focused on increasing food access and dismantling structural inequalities. ...
... Community participation and agency was the second least represented category and described community rights to participate and engage in food policy decision-making and governance, community resistance to and disruption of the existing corporate food regime, and community-led, driven, and/or owned food solutions. Terminologies such as participation, advocacy, self-reliance, self-determination, activism, movements, and direct action were used to empower the voice of the community (45,46,65,79,(87)(88)(89)(90) . Terminology such as alternative food networks, urban planning, and non-commodification of the food system represented opportunities for the community to engage in food policy decision making and governance (44,56,76,80,83,(91)(92)(93)(94) . ...
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Objective The emerging concept of ‘food justice’ has been described as a movement and a set of principles that align with the goals of social justice, which demands recognition of human rights, equal opportunity, fair treatment, and is participatory and community specific. Considering its widespread use and variable definitions, this study establishes the scope of research by exploring diverse conceptualizations of food justice. Design A scoping review of peer-reviewed literature was conducted using the term “food justice”. This study used a five-step scoping review protocol. The databases included Scopus, Web of Science and Medline (OVID). Data were extracted on country of origin, research discipline, study type and conceptualizations of food justice. Reflexive thematic analysis was used to identify the themes. Results The search identified 546 abstracts of which 90 were peer-reviewed studies. Thematic analysis revealed five themes of food justice across 90 studies: 1) social equity, 2) food security 3) food systems transformation, 4) community participation and agency, and 5) environmental sustainability. Conclusions Current conceptualizations of food justice are evolving. Together these themes embrace a more holistic and structural view of the food system. They emphasize healthy, sustainable, and equitable food as a human right and acknowledge the need to address structural barriers to that right. Despite its 20-year history the parameters of food justice are still not well defined, making it difficult for communities to mobilize for transformative change. Community participation and agency in food justice decision-making are critical to create a healthy, sustainable, and more just food system.
... In the urban context, scholars have documented the ways that social movements have fostered the creation of community gardens at different scales (107)(108)(109)(110)(111)(112). 7 In North American cities, such as New York (116,117), Boston (118), Detroit (119), Oakland (120), and New Orleans (120), community gardens are associated with a relatively long tradition of environmental justice mobilization against racism and its discriminatory patterns of urban abandonment, pollution, and gentrification. Here, social movements have been key to resisting the efforts of local governments to pit the affordable housing movement against community gardening, defending neighbors' rights to land and mobilizing support around community development programs (116)(117)(118)(119). Similar examples exist in Europe. ...
... 7 In North American cities, such as New York (116,117), Boston (118), Detroit (119), Oakland (120), and New Orleans (120), community gardens are associated with a relatively long tradition of environmental justice mobilization against racism and its discriminatory patterns of urban abandonment, pollution, and gentrification. Here, social movements have been key to resisting the efforts of local governments to pit the affordable housing movement against community gardening, defending neighbors' rights to land and mobilizing support around community development programs (116)(117)(118)(119). Similar examples exist in Europe. ...
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Over the past few years, studies in political ecology and environmental justice have been increasingly connecting the commons and social movements empirically, giving shape to a new, distinctive body of research on commons movements. In our review, we first organize and synthesize empirical lessons from this body of literature. We then highlight recent theoretical efforts made by scholars to both bridge and transcend the gap between the theory of the commons and social movement theory. As we illustrate, movements can help create and strengthen commons institutions and discourses, as well as rescale them horizontally and vertically. This is particularly evident in the context of rural community-rights movements in the global South, as well as in new water and food commons movements and community-energy movements in both the global South and North. Commons institutions, in turn, can serve as the basis of social mobilization and become a key frame for social movements, as shown in the context of local environmental justice and livelihoods conflicts and anti-privatization struggles. Tensions and contradictions of commons-movement dynamics also exist and reflect trade-offs between diversity versus uniformization and organizational closure versus expansion of discourses and practices. Theoretically, there is an opportunity to cross boundaries from the theory of the commons to social movement theory and vice versa, e.g., by highlighting the role of political opportunities and framing, and biophysical factors and polycentricity, respectively. More importantly, a new commons movements theory is emerging focusing on cross-scalar organizations, the virtuous cycles between commons projects and mobilization, and the processes of commons-making. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Volume 46 is October 2021. Please see for revised estimates.
... This was the start of a turn towards consideration of food as something that connects the urban and rural 14 and as nested in a wider system 15 . This development sparked interest in urban food across various disciplinary communities, leading to a proliferation of research with diverse focal points in urban food, such as planning 16,17 , policy making 18,19 , diverse farming practices 20 and social justice 21 . While this research was first aimed at better understanding and documenting the rise of these food practices 20,22 , more recently studies explore how alternative UFPs can be used to leverage cities towards sustainability in multiple ways 12,23 . ...
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Urban food is a key lever for transformative change towards sustainability. While research reporting on the urban food practices (UFPs) in support of sustainability is increasing, the link towards transformative potential is lacking. This is because research on urban food is often place-based and contextual. This limits the applicability of insights to large-scale sustainability transformations. This paper describes UFPs that aim to contribute to transformative change. We present signposts for potential change based on the types of intended transformative changes as described in the reviewed literature based on the processes and outcomes of the urban food policies and programmes. Secondly, we classify diverse UFPs to elevate them beyond their local, place-based contexts. We find that UFPs carry a lot of potential to facilitate sustainability transformations. Based on that analysis, we provide insights on how urban food research can further contribute to harnessing the transformative potential of UFPs for actionable purposes.
... At its core, it aims to bring attention to how the food system has been shaped by institutional racism-from unequal distribution of land, to lack of labor protections, to supermarket redlining. After critiques that food justice focused too much on urban landscapes, leaving out farm labor (Minkoff-Zern, 2014), recent scholarship has incorporated grocery retail and restaurant workers into the movement (Myers & Sbicca, 2015;Sbicca, 2015Sbicca, , 2017Sbicca & Myers, 2017). Food justice is thus concerned with worker justice as well as equitable access to nutritious and culturally appropriate foods among communities of color, including Native American food deserts as well as inner city food apartheid . ...
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While the food justice movement was initially asso¬ciated with increasing availability of fresh produce in low-income communities of color through insti¬tutions such as farmers markets, scholars have cri¬tiqued this as imposing a right way of eating. Food justice scholarship has moved away from a focus on healthy eating toward a focus on community economic development, as food enterprises can stimulate job creation. This paper investigates the dual goals of the food justice movement through a case study in San Diego. While food justice has moved beyond promoting a love of produce and is increasingly oriented toward good jobs, for the urban gardeners in this study, the movement is still a lot about vegetables. They see food as medicine, and note the health benefits of moving toward a plant-based diet. Yet, they are reluctant to push this way of eating on others, as they do not want to come across as elitist. Instead, they spread aware¬ness that plant-based diets are an African tradition that should not just be associated with rich white folks. Rather than leading with nutrition, they lead with tradition, taste, and buying Black. To encour¬age consumption of vegetables, they aim to in¬crease the supply of prepared food options in the community, and to market dishes as delicious rather than healthy, all the while supporting Black food entrepreneurs. When selling produce direct to the consumer through farmers markets does not achieve their vision of promoting health or sup¬porting livelihoods, they re-imagine a strategy of promoting food justice through a neighborhood food supply chain.
... Alkon et al. 2019;Alkon and Agyeman 2011;Alkon and Guthman 2017;Glennie and Alkon 2018;White 2011;Sbicca and Myers 2016;Sbicca 2018;Bradley and Galt 2014;Aptekar 2015), an act both subversive and forward-looking. At the same time, urban agriculture, and related food justice initiatives, are often constrained by hidden neoliberal logics and subjectivities (Alkon and Mares 2012) as well as political-economic barriers to food and land sovereignty in American society(Kerssen and Brent 2017). ...
Gardening has long found its way into the American prison, but, in recent years, prison garden programs have achieved an unusual measure of popularity. In the perpetual reform of the penitentiary, this represents a programmatic turn in carceral administration back toward the “rehabilitation” of incarcerated people, the garden expected to “transform” them to reduce recidivism rates. This turn coincides with the rise of prison greening and sustainability initiatives, which are symbolically and politically linked to urban greening and sustainability. These moves present many contradictory implications which place the prison garden squarely within a dialectical process of exploitation and resistance. On the one hand, the (un)sustainable prison garden is permeated and limited by the logics of green racial capitalism: racialized accumulation by sustainability capital; a socioecological fix, which provides institutional legitimation through symbolic capital and justification for racist recidivism narratives; the depoliticization of carceral violence by the prison/urban greening alliance; and nefarious forms of carceral discipline and control. At the same time, prison gardens present radical possibilities through moments of resistance by: facilitating the survival and humanization of incarcerated people; incorporating tenets of a critical pedagogy; and developing carceral food justice practice. Given that this is a severely underexplored topic, I attempted to explore a breadth of possibilities and limitations in depth, opening up theoretical and empirical insights to inform future research endeavors. To this end, I draw insights from scholarship on urban political ecology, racial capitalism, carceral geography, food justice, and critical education studies.
... This volume lends support to this emerging focus on food intersections by drawing connections between food and the processes of racialized under-development that first devalued urban neighborhoods and later incentivized the return of (often white) capital to these places (Ramírez 2015;Reese 2019). We demonstrate that food influences the urbanization of neoliberalism, the process through which cities become increasingly central to elite accumulation of capital (Pinson and Morel Journel 2016), and the racialization of everyday life for new and longterm urban residents (Alkon and Cadji 2018;Egerer and Fairbain 2018;McClintock 2018;Sbicca and Myers 2017). Several of the chapters in this volume (4,5,8,13,14) highlight that underdevelopment has created opportunities for communities to reclaim space through urban agriculture, who then struggle to maintain these spaces as land values escalate. ...
From upscale restaurants to community gardens, food often reflects shifts in taste that are emblematic of gentrification. The prestige that food retail and urban agriculture can lend to a neighborhood helps to increase property values, fostering the displacement of long-term residents while shifting local culture to create new inclusions and exclusions. And yet, many activists who oppose this dynamic have found food both a powerful symbol and an important tool through which to fight against it at scales ranging from individual consumption to state and national policy. The book argues that food and gentrification are deeply entangled, and that examining food retail and food practices is critical to understanding urban development. A series of case studies, from super-gentrifying cities like New York, to oft-neglected places like Oklahoma City, show that while gentrification always has its own local flavor, there are many commonalities. In the context of displacement, food reflects power struggles between differently situated class and ethnoracial groups. Through the lens of food, we can see that who has a right to the gentrifying city is not just about housing, but also includes the everyday practices of living, working and eating in the places we call home.
en The transgenic expansion has situated land and territorial disputes at the centre of the transformations of the global agrifood system. Feminist critical scholarship has examined how states and multilateral organisations exercise top-down power to promote extractivist agrarian models of development, showing how they have accelerated and intensified material and immaterial dispossession for already poor farmers across the world. In this article, I contribute to this growing body of inquiry by examining how racialisation is entangled with communities’ discourses and tactics to generate seed and agrarian counter-territorialisation processes. I concentrate on the formation of Territories Free of Transgenics in Colombia among peasant and Indigenous communities. I show the possibilities for socio-epistemic and territorial reconfiguration that they offer, as well as their limitations. I demonstrate the critical role that racial formations play in seed struggles and the reformation of agrifood systems from below and point out further spaces of inquiry. Resúmen sk La expansión transgénica ha situado las disputas por la tierra y el territorio en el centro de las transformaciones del sistema agroalimentario global. La literatura crítica feminista ha examinado cómo los estados y las organizaciones multilaterales ejercen el poder de arriba hacia abajo para promover modelos agrarios extractivistas de desarrollo, mostrando cómo han acelerado e intensificado el despojo material e inmaterial de agricultores previamente empobrecides. En este artículo, contribuyo a esta creciente corriente de investigación examinando cómo la racialización se entrelaza con los discursos y tácticas de las comunidades para generar procesos de contra-territorialización agraria y de semillas. Me concentro en la formación de Territorios Libres de Transgénicos en Colombia entre comunidades campesinas e indígenas. El artículo muestra las posibilidades de reconfiguración socioepistémica y territorial que ofrecen, así como sus limitaciones. También demuestro el papel crítico que juegan las formaciones raciales en las luchas por las semillas y la reforma de los sistemas agroalimentarios desde abajo. Concluyo señalando nuevos horizontes investigativos basados en las ausencias analíticas de este trabajo investigativo.
Fossil fuel companies hold enormous political, economic, and knowledge production power. Recently, industry operators have pivoted from pushing climate denialism to campaigns aimed at individualizing responsibility for climate crisis. In this paper, we focus on one related outcome of such efforts – people’s experiences of complicity – here in the context of unconventional oil and gas (UOG) production. We ask: How do mobilized activists experience fossil fuel scapegoating, and what does it mean for their goals as they organize against UOG production? We show that even activists fighting UOG production feel complicit in fossil fuel production, and these feelings of complicity diminish their demands for UOG accountability. We argue that these outcomes have been especially pernicious in cultural contexts like that of the United States, where neoliberal ideologies are normalized, centering personal responsibility, individualization, and identification as consumers rather than citizens. We marshal an extensive qualitative dataset and advance a theory of complicity as a way to understand: a) how social movements intersect with neoliberalized patterns of life; b) how experiences of complicity affect activism; and c) how this may contribute to fossil fuel firms’ goals of undercutting organizing. We end by examining how a sub-set of activists works to dismantle this complicity narrative.
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Highlighting how the environment and society are intrinsically linked, this book argues that environmental concerns need to be treated as a core concept in the study of sociology. Given its focus on inequality and the constituent elements of the social world, sociology has often been accused of negligence regarding the urgency of the world’s environmental crisis. Sociology Saves the Planet corrects this mis-perception by integrating the theme of environment and society to highlight the intrinsic value a sociological perspective brings to our understanding of the current ecological crisis. The author first draws out the origins of sociology in the social and ecological transformations of the industrial revolution. In accounting for the social upheavals of the 19th century, Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, and Max Weber all provided key insights into the changing nature of human organization and exploitation of the natural world. Second, readers will explore sociological perspectives developed since that time, grounded in evidence-based research, which highlight the inextricable connection between environment and society. Special attention is devoted to the dual role of people as producers and consumers in the modern context. Lastly, this book examines the significance of major categories of social difference regarding the current environmental crisis. In that regard the question of environmental justice is paramount, illuminating both the disproportionate benefit of natural resource exploitation to those countries and individuals with higher socioeconomic status, and the greater exposure to environmental hazard among those with less. Averting global calamity requires we recognize the unequal social impacts of the environmental crisis while valorizing inclusivity and the diversity of human experience in our search for solutions. Designed for introductory courses, this book is essential reading for sociology students and will be of interest to students and academics studying environment and sustainability more broadly.
The United States currently has the largest prison population on the planet. Over the last four decades, structural unemployment, concentrated urban poverty, and mass homelessness have also become permanent features of the political economy. These developments are without historical precedent, but not without historical explanation. This book traces the rise of the neoliberal carceral state through a series of turning points in US history including the Watts insurrection in 1965, the Detroit rebellion in 1967, the Attica uprising in 1971, the Los Angeles revolt in 1992, and events in post-Katrina New Orleans in 2005. The book argues that these dramatic events coincided with the emergence of neoliberal capitalism and the state's attempts to crush radical social movements. Through an examination of the poetic visions of social movements—including those by James Baldwin, Marvin Gaye, June Jordan, José Ramírez, and Sunni Patterson—it also suggests that alternative outcomes have been and continue to be possible.
Twenty years since the publication of the Second Edition and more than thirty years since the publication of the original book, Racial Formation in the United States now arrives with each chapter radically revised and rewritten by authors Michael Omi and Howard Winant, but the overall purpose and vision of this classic remains the same: Omi and Winant provide an account of how concepts of race are created and transformed, how they become the focus of political conflict, and how they come to shape and permeate both identities and institutions. The steady journey of the U.S. toward a majority nonwhite population, the ongoing evisceration of the political legacy of the early post-World War II civil rights movement, the initiation of the 'war on terror' with its attendant Islamophobia, the rise of a mass immigrants rights movement, the formulation of race/class/gender 'intersectionality' theories, and the election and reelection of a black President of the United States are some of the many new racial conditions Racial Formation now covers.
The United States currently has the largest prison population on the planet. Over the last four decades, structural unemployment, concentrated urban poverty, and mass homelessness have also become permanent features of the political economy. These developments are without historical precedent, but not without historical explanation. In this searing critique, Jordan T. Camp traces the rise of the neoliberal carceral state through a series of turning points in U.S. history including the Watts insurrection in 1965, the Detroit rebellion in 1967, the Attica uprising in 1971, the Los Angeles revolt in 1992, and events in post-Katrina New Orleans in 2005. Incarcerating the Crisis argues that these dramatic events coincided with the emergence of neoliberal capitalism and the state's attempts to crush radical social movements. Through an examination of the poetic visions of social movements-including those by James Baldwin, Marvin Gaye, June Jordan, José Ramírez, and Sunni Patterson-it also suggests that alternative outcomes have been and continue to be possible.
Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies provides an intimate examination of the everyday lives and suffering of Mexican migrants in our contemporary food system. An anthropologist and MD in the mold of Paul Farmer and Didier Fassin, Holmes shows how market forces, anti-immigrant sentiment, and racism undermine health and health care. Holmes's material is visceral and powerful. He trekked with his companions illegally through the desert into Arizona and was jailed with them before they were deported. He lived with indigenous families in the mountains of Oaxaca and in farm labor camps in the U.S., planted and harvested corn, picked strawberries, and accompanied sick workers to clinics and hospitals. This "embodied anthropology" deepens our theoretical understanding of the ways in which social inequalities and suffering come to be perceived as normal and natural in society and in health care.