VII. Potential Solutions
As previously discussed, food justice can be understood as a quest to transform the ways in which food is grown, accessed, transported, and eaten. These components of food justice are often compartmentalized, which makes it difficult to piece together the full scope of the problem. A “political-economic critique” of the food system is helpful in addressing the sense of fragmentation, as it maps the extreme changes in our food system that have occurred over the past sixty years, including:
• The marginalization of small-scale primary producers and processors;
• Loss of rural ways of life;
• Horizontal and vertical integration, consolidation, and monopolization in the food industry and agriculture;
• Manipulation of food and its packaging to increase profit; and
• Alienation of food consumers from food producers and from the food that they eat, including the “de-skilling,” or the loss of people's abilities to grow and prepare food.
Food justice advocates are actively at work in each of these areas. One approach to transforming our food system consists of efforts to work through governmental components, such as the Food and Drug Administration and the court system. As discussed previously, this approach has often been less than successful for advocates of food justice and food autonomy. However, cities should be encouraged to be proactive about addressing food access, by implementing increased transportation to food retail and launching intra-department collaborations. For example, the New York City's mayor's office and departments of economic development, health, housing and planning collaborated to create several programs aimed at increasing food access. When instituting any program or initiative, however, it is critical to involve community members of affected areas at every step of the process and clearly understand who is likely to benefit or be harmed from any policy changes.
Corporate intervention has the potential to also play a role in increasing access to food. Food justice advocates are generally opposed to this approach because ultimately it strips resources from urban areas. Instead, advocates tend to favor public incentives that would provide healthy, affordable food and keep the food dollars local through community-based urban farming, farmers' markets, co-ops, community supported agriculture, and community processing businesses and retail. Community-based, democratic food options would build “economic resilience” in urban areas while “addressing the deeper, structural causes of hunger.”
Some proponents of urban agriculture enlist assistance of land trusts to acquire garden land and hold it in perpetuity, thus ensuring its protection from development. Community land trusts offer an appealing haven for community gardens and hope for the future. Community land trusts are non-profit organizations that safeguard land and ensure it is used in a way that benefits the greater community. There are currently over two hundred community land trusts operating throughout the United States, and many hold land that is used for community gardens. Some gardens slated for demolition or sale are preserved through land trusts, such as the Bronx Land Trust, which is home to eighteen community gardens saved from sale in 1999.
Additionally, zoning laws dictate the ways in which land may be used. As discussed previously, zoning is tied to a legacy of intentional segregation and devaluation of the country's urban areas. Presently, many cities are grappling with creative ways to use modern-day zoning to correct urban decay and discrimination. Cities enjoy a great deal of discretion in structuring their zoning policies. Zoning plans related to food access are necessarily unique to each city's particular assets and needs. Most U.S. cities employ “use-based” zoning laws, which divide land into separate districts, such as commercial, residential, multi- or mixed use, and industrial. Use or development of land is based on its specific designation, and if an area is not specifically zoned for urban agriculture, such as a community garden, it is unprotected from being forced to shut down. Starting with the goal of maintaining existing urban agriculture and establishing new sites, cities have the power to structure zoning policies to promote urban agriculture on appropriate public and private land. These regulations should include community gardens, urban farms, and farmer's markets. In addition, some food justice proponents are calling for cities to zone out fast food. South Los Angeles has taken the lead in this radical policy, by declaring a moratorium on new fast food locations in 2008.
Advocates of food justice can also urge local governments to provide incentives to retailers to sell locally grown food. The New York Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) Program, which was created to promote grocery stores in underserved areas by using financial and zoning incentives, provides a useful example. This model could be improved by efforts to reduce prices for healthy food and take cultural food preferences into account.
In order to support healthy urban development, corporate land grabs in food deserts must be prevented. Federal loans offered to local businesses to sell healthy food help would achieve this goal and keep resources in the community. The HOPE collaborative in Oakland, California is an example of an effort to increase local ownership of food retail. Reverend Jeffrey, a racial justice and food activist in Seattle, Washington, makes a key point about urban farmer's markets. He states:
Inner-city people are not going to the farmers markets. It's not because they're not interested. Some of it is because of prices, but mostly it's because they are not community-owned. The issue of community ownership, the idea that this is ours and that the money spent will circulate to help us, is a real issue. So what we do. . .is have food stands that are run by neighborhood people. They're in front of churches, and people know that they're run by members of the community. In this way, we're bringing food directly to the people in a way that gives them ownership, so they purchase the food. I think that's the missing link. Inner-city people are tired of others creating things for them and expecting them to participate with no direct benefit.