Team Pick: Toi Scott’s Piece Teaches Us How to Queer Food Justice

Malaika’s Team Pick:

One of the things I’ve learned and that people have told me about New York is that there are fewer healthy eating options in areas where people of colour are the primary demographic. Neighbourhoods with lower median incomes are high on the Burger Kings but not so much on the Whole Foods. That’s why when I read Toi Scott’s “Queering Food Justice” in Decolonizing Yoga, I found myself nodding yes, yes, yes to everything, and I’m so excited for all of you to now read this great piece and tell me what you think. Or maybe you don’t want to tell me because you’re one of Autostraddle’s many readers who don’t comment? That’s fine too! The important thing is that you talk…with your mom, with your friends, and with your OKCupid date about issues of food accessibility, security, and justice. Instead of judging people on whether or not they eat meat and have organic kale with every meal, we should be asking ourselves who has access to healthy food and why.

via http://www.decolonizingyoga.com/queering-food-justice/

via http://www.decolonizingyoga.com/queering-food-justice/

Scott begins the piece like this:

If you’re a person of color with a low income it’s important for you to know that conversations about your ability to access foods, yes, conversations about your very well-being are happening behind your back.

It also goes on to explain how intersectionality and food, well, intersect:

Where we sit at the intersections of race, gender, class and sexuality makes us highly vulnerable and subject to the policing of our food and economic system. Our lack of resources, especially TIME, allows for outsiders (and sometimes even well-meaning allies) to come in and make decisions FOR us – maybe even AS us – based on their assumptions and their own personal beliefs about what will make our community better.

There are also ideas for what you can do to radicalize your food consumption. However, as Scott points out, it’s important to remember that there is no uniform definition of what constitutes radical. Instead, it depends on an infinite number of things, like your economic situation, your race, your home environment, etc. So if being radical for you is as simple as buying more bananas because they’re the cheapest fruit you can afford, go you! Don’t let anybody make you feel like you’re not doing enough. And if being radical means throwing a queer potluck, have fun and maybe ask out the girl next to the homemade veggie chilli, because she’s probably me.

Once you’re finished reading about queering food justice, you should check out the rest of the site! Decolonizing Yoga (Where Spirituality Meets Social Justice) is a great online resource that highlights the voices of “queer people, people of color, disability activists and more in relationship to yoga and countering oppression in general.” It was started by transgender writer and activist, Be Scofield, and there’s even a Facebook page you could check out after you’re finished reading Toi Scott’s piece and crushing on the website in general.

Malaika likes books, drinking tea, long conversations, dinner parties, making funny faces, bike rides, and dogs. Originally from Edmonton, she now lives in Montreal where she edits, runs, and writes about the Alberta Tar Sands for The Media Co-op. You can follow her on twitter @Malaika_Aleba.

Malaika has written 84 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. I sometimes struggle a lot to understand American perspectives which criticise food movements because circumstances in Europe seem so different? For example, not having enough money to buy certified non-GMO foods isn’t a problem in Europe because GMO foods are not legal, so everything is, technically, a certified non-GMO food – you don’t have to buy fancy organic kale, you can buy regular kale (which isn’t as expensive because its producers didn’t have to pass 4657567 tests proving their GMO-free status). On the other hand, in Europe the levels of animal products consumption follow the patterns of GDP per capita with poorer countries / communities / regions having lower rates of consumption of animal products – as well as lower rates of obesity, although life expectancy and overall health / well-being are worse than in richer regions due to under-funded medical system, higher prevalence of smoking etc. In a lot of the poorer regions, a significant proportion of the population rely on quasi-subsistence agriculture for food (which thus ends up being pretty “organic”) and there is also a much stronger (and very gendered) expectation to eat homecooked food all the time – which means that although women in, say, rural Romania don’t have more time to cook than women in the US, they cook more anyway because they feel a lot more societal pressure to cook. I dunno, clearly the “healthier” and more “traditional” way people in poorer regions of Europe eat relies on the oppression of a lot of disadvantaged people – but, at the same time, it’s also clear that the American system isn’t that great and probably produces and supports the same kinds of patterns of oppression? maybe there can be some kind of constructive dialogue comparing the two and figuring out a way to make something else work?

    • Unfortunately, in Spain, GMO foods ARE legal, just as they are in the States, which really sucks.
      I feel like healthy food is so much more accessible here in Europe than in the States, although Spain is in a severe economic crisis with massive unemployment rates. It’s also cheaper – I can buy bags of fruit and vegetables for a lot cheaper than in the States, there’s not as many processed foods in the smaller supermarkets, etc.

      • Ah! you’re right, only some countries have complete bans, in others legislation is more lenient. However, to my knowledge, so far the only GMO crops that have been approved in Europe are animal feed crops so the only GMO foods you can find in shops are a few American imports, usually oil (although American companies don’t like importing GMOs to Europe because labeling is mandatory here).

    • Okay, so, I understand that in any number of places and circles it is just accepted that GMOs are evil and you should never eat this “Frankenfood” etc.

      The only problem I have with that is that there is no scientific evidence to back that up… at all. Like, none, whatsoever. They aren’t less nutritious. They won’t change your genetic code. No scientific study has yet to prove they harm you in any way. And many of the world’s leading experts on agriculture, including the late Norman Borlaug, who saved a billion people from starvation, agree that the only way to feed the world’s population without mass deforestation is by using GMOs to achieve higher crop yields.

      Now, are there GMO practices to oppose? Yeah, sure, Monsanto is a bunch of comically evil corporate types and their seeds that die after one season suck. But the idea of GMOs in general? Well, that’s how we feed a planet of 7 billion people. And sure, that may be too many people, but short of mass genocide, I don’t see how you reduce that in the next 30 years.

      Sorry to go off on you a bit, but I get a bit tired of the “everyone knows” way that people go on about GMOs. It’s the angry biologist in me.

      • I think different issues get conflated in debates about GM crops. I’m not opposed to GM foods per se. What does concern me is the implications they have for farming and the environment. Crops like Monsanto’s Roundup Ready are genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides – which means farmers can spray their entire crop with Roundup – surely not good for the environment, and particularly alarming when we stop and think about the scale of these kind of farming practices!

        You’re right about GM crops feeding more people. And that’s partly how these big companies sell the idea of GM crops. But ultimately what they want to do is make vast financial profits. Not to feed people in developing nations. Trade-marking their crops, and tying farmers into buying those seeds plus all the herbicides every year means the big companies make vast amounts of money, and small farmers are marginalised even further and pushed out of the way by massive corporation-style farms. I’m not sure that’s sustainable, or how I want the world to be.

      • I agree with you that while Monsnato/Syngenta/etc. have appalling business practices that can ruin farmers and are not conducive to collaborative science, there are brilliant, beneficial, safe crops that are the result of genetic engineering (Bt corn and Golden Rice spring to mind). I think that the benefits from ethical businesses providing safe, higher-yield, more nutritious seed to farmers far outweigh the overblown risks put out by many anti-GMO activists. I think more work needs to be done to establish better relationships between farmers and seed companies, and to develop wide-spread agricultural practices that reduce growers’ dependence on detrimental herbicides/pesticides/insecticides. Not that I ever liked weeding the cucumber field in July or picking caterpillars off pepper plants, but it’s a sight better than loosing days of work while also risking employee health and safety with mass sprayings. Not to even imagine the overspray from aerial crop dusting.

        There is some headway being made on ethical research, at least, by Mars (as in the candy company): their agricultural division finished sequencing the cacao genome last year, and then released it into the public domain. They are also working on a project to sequence and make publicly available the genome for a variety of African orphan crops (widely grown but not considered commercially viable by the big seed companies), such as sweet potato and cassava. Considering the proprietary attitude towards the varieties produced by the small traditional-breeding company I used to work for, this is huge. The Guardian had a very interesting article about it yesterday – http://m.guardiannews.com/science/2013/jun/02/genetic-mapping-plan-to-boost-africa-crops. The genome can then be used to identify markers for specific (un)desirable traits and assist with breeding better varieties, with or without later genetic modifications, or however else individuals and organizations choose to use the information. It’s definitely still a first step, but a major corporation relinquishing rights to such information is definitely in the right direction.

      • i’m replying to you as a horticulturist:
        in theory, gmo crops can feed the world. in practise, they are much more sensible to conditions as “normal” crops. that doesn’t weigh much if you are a farmer in a country without much extreme weatherconditions most time and/or with good money to buy fertiliser and pest control. but if you are a farmer without these conditions you are helpless in case of a extreme happening and you loose much more of your harvest than of a robust crop.
        there are voices that say that we need gmo for feeding the world as only option. there are also voices that say another way of feeding the world properly is agroecology and agroforestry. and a better politics coming to food. even today there is enough production of food that hunger could be gone. the probem is that so much food is wasted or somewhere stored due to economic benefits.

        another thing about gmo: biodiversity is minimizing as hell. and democracy, too. because the development of gmo needs big money and it has a way getting monopolised (or to some few companies). so it is not so much the nutrition fact about gmo that is worth of critique, it is the social and ecological aspects. and they are damn important.

  2. Awesome article, I’m fascinated with the topic of food justice and food security. It’s going to be become an even bigger issue over the next 20 and more years as we start to get royally fucked by climate change… I love the challenge to think about it less from a ‘personal change’ perspective and more from a systemic perspective.

    A friend was involved in setting up a healthy food fast food caravan in their suburb (which is on the outer suburbs of our city and has all the things you talked about – lots of fast food, not so much health food). The caravan(s?) Would cook up meals at the price of regular takeaway, that was using fresh ingredients but not hippy stuff like kale chips with tahini (that I think takes an accustomed palette). As well as the meal, you’d also get the recipe card w your serveitte, an invitation to their community garden, and a discount if you volunteer to cook. Amazing piece of community building & food justic-ing!

      • While I appreciate this person’s viewpoint, I tend to roll my eyes at any article that implies being vegan = caring more. Being vegan = having access to the money, time, and food that it takes to be vegan. I think it’s great to view the way human rights and animal rights intersect – Carol Adams has two really wonderful books about the issue – but I tend to bristle at sanctimonious diet behavior.

        Sorry, I’m not trying to dump anything at your doorstep, or the author’s. I just get kind of peeved with the “veganism is morally superior” argument. Yes, you are eating consciously and with empathy. Bravo. However, veganism is not a sustainable food choice the entire population can make, and I think there’s a lot of unacknowledged privilege that happens with diet and lifestyle choices like veganism, and raw foodism.

    • I’ve often wondered why a lot of queer women are vegan (and it does seem to be more queer women than queer men, do others find this too?)

      I think part of the reason has to do with that article Fran linked – people who are involved in other activisty/justice issues are more likely to care / know about animal welfare things because they’re in that headspace (values space??)

      It also seems to me that many, particularly younger queer women, often seem to be vegan less for considered ethical reasons and more because its part of a queer subculture… So its more a lifestyle thing than a personal ethics thing.

      So maybe a certain number of queer women go vegan for ethical reasons, it looks kinda cool and other queer women go vegan too…

      • Just to clarify – not saying that all or even most queer vegans are vegan because its ‘cool’, more that its a trend I’ve personally noticed that many girls I know are vegan without the strong ethical reasons that that linked article goes through, or that you somewhat expect.

  3. I really appreciated this article. I was wondering if anyone has any suggestions for an ally who is passionate about food justice? I have my own personal reasons for being invested in the food movement but I’m not sure how to participate without coming off as one of the people described in the article. Thanks for the post!

    • One of the key things you could do is that when you roll up into a community is to ask questions like:

      “What is healthy eating to you?”
      “How busy is your family’s schedule?”
      “What kind of food do you like to eat?”
      “What kind of things would you like to see done around here to help you eat healthier?”
      “What suggestions do you have?”
      Etc.

      And then listen and see what people say. See what suggestions are viable and which aren’t, and then incorporate the community in implementing things.

      • This applies also on a more personal level – people know themselves the best, don’t fight them.
        I know I don’t like bananas at all, and I won’t eat them. All bananas do in my house is sit there and rot, and yet many of my healthy eating campaigning friends will sit there and tell me to eat bananas.

        If somebody says I have no time to cook, don’t argue with them. They don’t have the time, fine. Here’s suggestions on what to eat at McDonalds, here’s stuff you can whip up with little time investment, here’s some slow cooker recipes that seem to fit your work schedule.

        Working with people gets you farther on your goals than not working with them.

  4. IT’s very interesting to hear about the association between poor food and demographics in the US. In Canada, it is native people who suffer from restricted access to quality food. Canada has been criticised by both Amnesty International and the United Nations for not ensuring adequate food security for ALL Canadians.
    Here are some links…not necessarily the best ones though….
    http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2012/05/16/un_food_envoy_blasts_inequality_poverty_in_canada.html

    http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/12/19/canada-rejects-un-human-rights-criticism-detailed-in-amnesty-international-report/

  5. Thank you so much for this article. I am someone who tries to stay up to date when it comes to food justice issues, and usually, because the resources I read are things given to me by my major, it is very white male centered and lacks perspective. You can imagine how happy I felt when I found Vandana Shiva for myself. This just brought that excitement back!

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