Sunday, January 15, 2012

MLK and Food Justice

This Monday, January 16th is a national holiday celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The mainstream media will be filled with solemn quotes from pundits and reflections by activists, many of whom were involved in the civil rights struggle that continues today. This being an election year, there will also be speeches and even emails from politicians asking for continued dedication to the equality struggle.

I have recently started to appreciate the deep sense that Dr. King had for the idea that justice was as much as anything about "freedom from violence." I was reminded of this by Naomi Tutu (daughter of Bishop Desmond Tutu) when she spoke at the Race2Equity Summit sponsored by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. She talked about the process of healing after apartheid ended in South Africa and quoted Dr. King in her remarks.

A major theme of Dr. King’s life was justice. And, I wonder what Dr. King would think about the food justice movement?

Perhaps this quote from Dr. King’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize gives us a clue.

“I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

Reading his words shows the deep sense Dr. King had for the idea that justice was as much as anything about "freedom from violence." In this quote, King is clearly targeting hunger as an act of violence and the result of institutional racism.

Another of his quotes really drives the point home. "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a...beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

His acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize also demonstrates a commitment to a non-violent transformation of the structures that breed poverty and hunger.

Some think that food system reform, which encompasses access, sovereignty and justice is the next big movement for our country. In Detroit, we have been focusing on these issues for some time now. Paramount to this work is to ensure that Detroiters are leading this reform and that food system changes address the structural and institutional barriers mentioned above. There are many people engaged in this work on many levels. Due to limited space, I will mention just three of them.

The Detroit Food Justice Task Force is a consortium of People of Color led organizations and allies that share a commitment to creating a food security plan for Detroit that is: sustainable; that provides healthy, affordable foods for all of the city’s people; that is based on best-practices and programs that work; and that is just and equitable in the distribution of food and jobs. For more information about their activities and how to get involved, go to

Undoing Racism in the Detroit Food System At the 2009 Great Lakes Bioneers Conference, Earthworks Urban Farm Outreach Coordinator, Lisa Richter and Detroit Black Community Food Security Network Board Member Monica White, Ph. D., hosted a workshop entitled “Race, Food and Resistance.” They shared discussions that had been taking place about the role of race in growing movement to create a new local, sustainable food system. Participants were encouraged to continue the conversations beyond the conference and since that time, a dedicated group of food activists have met monthly to explore how race and white privilege play out within the individuals and organizations in Detroit’s movement to create food security and justice. The group meets on the first Saturday of the month from 1-3 p.m. For more information, check out their Facebook page.

The Detroit Food Policy Council’s vision statement reads: “We envision a City of Detroit with a healthy, vibrant, hunger-free populace that has easy access to fresh produce and other healthy food choices; a city in which the residents are educated about healthy food choices, and understand their relationship to the food system; a city in which urban agriculture and other sustainable practices contribute to its economic vitality; and a city in which all of its residents, workers, guests and visitors are treated with respect, justice and dignity by those from whom they obtain food. “ The Council meets on the second Tuesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. at Eastern Market Corporation. For more information and upcoming events, see

So, as we pause to reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s celebrate the progress that has been made, but also rededicate ourselves to personal reflection and action to create a community that reflects the love, compassion and equality that Dr. King aspired to for all of us.