Academic journal article Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum

Food Policy Councils: Integrating Food Justice and Environmental Justice

Academic journal article Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum

Food Policy Councils: Integrating Food Justice and Environmental Justice

Article excerpt


Beginning in 1982, food policy councils (FPCs) proliferated across North America as forums for democratic discourse and advocacy to develop sustainable food systems at the local, state, and regional levels. (1) Challenging the industrialization of food production and distribution by corporate agribusiness, FPCs reflect the desire in many communities to reconnect people to fresh, healthy food, the people who produce it, and the land that grows it. (2)

FPCs often advocate the ecological and human health benefits of local food markets and the growth and consumption of fresh, chemical-free food. (3) Though addressing these issues is critical to advancing food sustainability, FPCs may miss critical opportunities for structural change to food systems by advancing agendas in which equity and justice are not central objectives. By adopting principles of environmental justice and food justice, FPCs can advance their goals without reproducing the same inequities perpetuated by the current food regime.

Environmental justice refers to equity in the distribution of environmental benefits and in the prevention and reduction of environmental burdens across all communities. (4) Food justice is equitable access not only to healthy, culturally appropriate food, but also to the benefits of food production and distribution for all communities. (5) By working at the intersection of environmental justice and food justice, FPCs can create a profound opportunity for the integration of two parallel social movements that are distinguishable from their mainstream iterations--traditional environmentalism and the sustainable food movement--and demand the inclusion and empowerment of minority and low-income communities in the process and outcomes of improving food and the environment.

This article makes two main arguments. First, environmental justice and food justice, social movements defined by ideals of equity and justice in environmental and food production practices intersect at three critical points--public health and safety, ecological health, and social justice. These movements would benefit both in increased capacity and influence by greater integration. Second, FPCs are ideal institutions to integrate the environmental justice and food justice movements, not only because they share concerns for the ecological and health consequences of the industrial food system, but also because they are localized forums with a great capacity for democratic participation and equitable social change. In the aggregate, FPC successes at local, state, and regional levels have the potential to make system-wide impacts to the food industry from the ground up, fostering a national food democracy.

The remainder of this article will proceed in four parts. Part II will provide definitions and brief histories of the environmental justice and food justice movements. Part III will discuss the possibilities for movement integration at the three intersections mentioned above. Part IV will discuss how food policy councils can provide an institutional framework for the integration of the food justice and environmental justice movements. Part V will offer some concluding implications for food democracy of an integrated environmental and food justice movement within food policy councils.


A. Environmental Justice

In 1979, Texas attorney Linda McKeever Bullard filed a class action lawsuit against the City of Houston and Browning-Ferris Industries to enjoin the siting of a municipal landfill in a predominantly black, middle class neighborhood. (6) To support the case, she asked her husband, sociologist Robert Bullard, to conduct a study on the spatial location of all municipal landfills in Houston. (7) The results of the study revealed the disproportionate siting of waste facilities in majority black communities. (8)

Building on this study, Bullard conducted a series of environmental case studies in predominantly minority communities across the U. …

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