Food Justice and Food Security

This guide is based in part on the Food Justice Summit, 2013 including Dr. Y. Murphy-Erby, Dr. G. Feenstra, Dr. S. Schneider, Dr. K. Fitzpatrick and Ben Simon, creator of the Food Recovery Network. It is a work in progress.

Aspects of Food Security

Some aspects that should be considered in food justice and food security:

  • Food miles: how far must food be transported from field to plate? Food that travels less distance is fresher, cheaper and more sustainable, in general.
  • Relational/proximate: where does what is raised go? from whom? to whom? for what price? where does the profit go? what is wasted? who is left out?
  • Food accessibility: how far must people go to get healthy food? How hard is it to do? Without a car? With different kinds of disability? With four children under five?
  • Economic equity: what's considered affordable food would vary according to income, but there must be something safe, appropriate, nourishing and palatable for each person in a given place.
  • Health disparities: People who live in poverty have a significantly higher rate of most health problems, but those that relate to food quality and quantity include diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and related illnesses. Many of these diseases are specifically correlated with poor diet and consumption of cheap, highly processed foods.
  • Environmental protection: the low price of food overall in the United States has been driven historically by the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. This has allowed greater yields, and visually appealing food, but there have been environmental, genetic and financial costs that must be mitigated to avoid continued environmental damage.

These main points are drawn largely from a conference talk by Dr. Gail Feenstra, UC Davis. Food Justice Summit, Fayetteville, AR, 2013.

Some Definitions

In a food-just world, each person would have the ability to grow or purchase, store, and prepare for themselves and their families sufficient wholesome food to be healthy on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to-year basis. Of course, this has agricultural, economic and political precursors and ramifications, as well as social, political and educational ones.

The definition from the USDA's NIFA is simple: "Food security" means that people have access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members." (, accessed 4/12/2014)

Food security has different aspects and official definitions, including legal and governmental definitions. See the box above for USDA Economic Research Service's definitions.

Why is Food Justice Important?

There are so many issues surrounding food justice or its lack that this box could be a whole guide on its own, but the common thread is that proper nutrition is key to health, development, well-being, and cognitive and physical performance, so the ability to provide for oneself and one's family becomes a huge focus. If you are hungry, it's hard to focus on anything else. If you are full of not-very-nutritious food, then you will not feel as well or be able to perform as well as you might if you had better nutrition. The nutrition of the parents both before, during and after conception may make a difference to the health of their children. Deficiencies in some vitamins, such as folic acid, can lead to birth defects. Hungry children and adults aren't as able to perform well in school, at college or at work.Food insecurity can effect generations of people when the problem continues. 


USDA ERS Definitions of Food Security

The USDA's labels describe ranges of food security:

Food Security

  • High food security (old label=Food security): no reported indications of food-access problems or limitations.
  • Marginal food security (old label=Food security): one or two reported indications--typically of anxiety over food sufficiency or shortage of food in the house. Little or no indication of changes in diets or food intake.

Food Insecurity

  • Low food security (old label=Food insecurity without hunger): reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake.
  • Very low food security (old label=Food insecurity with hunger): Reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.

For more commentary and specific data, see

Bring Back Food Education

What About Food Safety?

Food safety is a huge issue, and related to these topics, but it should have a guide of its own.According to the World Health Organization, these are the most important points:

"The five keys to safer food:

- Keep clean (hands, cutting surfaces, knives, utensils)
- Separate raw and cooked foods (especially meats and eggs, which spoil more quickly and are more likely to carry problematic microorganisms).
- Cook thoroughly, to specified internal temperatures or doneness. (This is especially important in pork or other meats that may carry parasites).
- Keep food at safe temperatures-- (Don't let food sit out too long, even if your Grandma used to do so).
- Use safe water and raw materials."  Much more information under this link.