Food justice experts talk power, policy

The food movement isn’t just about healthy eating and sustainability. It’s about justice for those who work within food systems. That was the focus of a recent campus forum, “Cultivating Justice in Food Systems: People, Power and Policy,” sponsored by the UC Berkeley Food Institute with co-sponsorship by the College of Natural Resources, the Student Environmental Resource Center, the School of Public Health and the UC Global Food Initiative.

More than 250 people attended the event on March 31 — the birthday of legendary United Farm Workers co-founder Cesar Chavez — to hear nationally renowned experts discuss inequalities within food systems and what needs to change, including workers’ rights in the food sector, corporate food companies’ practices and access to healthy, affordable food.

Panelists included Mark Bittman, a visiting fellow at the Berkeley Food Institute and a New York Times columnist and food writer; Saru Jayaraman, director of UC Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center, a lecturer at the Goldman School of Public Policy and the founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Center; and Ricardo Salvador, director of the Food and Environment Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Speakers said government policies have helped create a food system with power concentrated in big corporations. “All of us are beneficiaries of a deeply unjust system,” said Salvador. He referenced a Washington Post article he co-authored with Bittman, Salvador, UC Berkeley journalism professor Michael Pollan and Olivier De Schutter, a former visiting scholar with the Berkeley Food Institute, calling for a national policy that guarantees the right of every American to food that is healthy, green, fair and affordable.

Jayaraman said the fundamental issue is about who makes the decisions about how food systems work. “Is it ‘we the people’ or is it national trade lobbies?” she asked. “Who gets to determine how a woman is treated in the workplace? Who gets to determine whether a worker gets a wage? Are we truly a democracy is the fundamental question that this is about.”

Read more about the forum on the UC website.

Read more about the Berkeley Food Institute’s work with changing food systems: Food luminaries to light up spring semester and Berkeley Food Institute aims to help transform the world’s food system.