The following guest post by Program Manager, Grassroots Alliances at IDEX Katherine Zavala originally appeared on IDEX (International Development Exchange.)
Food Justice – Where Local Meets Global
Growing up in a regular family in an urban environment in the Global South, the idea of where my food came from was not a question that came up often. I had always trusted that the supermarket was going to provide us with the best ingredients to eat delicious and nutritional home-cooked meals on a daily basis. It was not until I lived in rural Guatemala eight years ago, in a mostly indigenous community, that I started to build my own awareness of the relationship between humanity, the environment and food justice.
At the time, I was volunteering with IDEX’s Guatemalan Partner, AFEDES (Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepéquez), an indigenous, women-led organization promoting economic empowerment and women’s rights. Almost all of the indigenous women AFEDES worked with were rural farmworkers, who were cultivating local vegetables on their own parcels of land. Over multiple visits with them, these women proudly shared their stories of successfully growing crops to both feed their families and earn extra income.
For the first time in my life I was living far from restaurants and fast food chains, so my only choice was to buy groceries at the local market and prepare my own meals with fresh produce. In the most basic way, I learned that I had surprisingly easy access to food and, in many cases, a personal relationship with people who produced it. My experience in Guatemala sowed the seed in my consciousness to care more about food; where it came from, who produced it and how.
After joining the IDEX team in 2006 I visited more rural organizations in other areas of Guatemala, as well as Mexico and South Africa. These community-led organizations extended my knowledge of seed-saving, agroecology and food sovereignty.
One of IDEX’s South African Partners, Biowatch—a grassroots organization working in the field of biodiversity, food sovereignty and social justice—gave me an analytical context of the global food system, as well as an appreciation of their courage and determination, in fighting for everyone’s right to food in a nine-year battle against the big seed company, Monsanto, and the South African State Department. A seemingly simple request by Biowatch for information from the National Department of Agriculture about the environmental releases of genetically modified (GM) crops in South Africa, led to a legal victory in which most of this information was granted. But there was an unexpected twist: a devastating order for Biowatch to pay all the legal costs, for both sides. This led, in 2009, to the case being heard – and the costs order overturned – by the highest court in South Africa, the Constitutional Court.
IDEX saw a powerful opportunity in 2010 to bring Biowatch to the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, to share how they mobilized their allies and strategized to win a case against Monsanto and the South African government. The inspiration of this victorious case was passed to residents of Detroit and Forum participants from across the U.S.
In cities like Detroit and Oakland, liquor stores, fast-food restaurants and gas stations are the nearest food-related establishments. Most city stores have a very limited variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, and most foods are canned, boxed, frozen and/or highly processed. These stores also lack food alternatives for persons with the chronic conditions, such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. These and other chronic health conditions exist and at alarming rates in the African-American community, and their prevalence is growing. As Biowatch shared their experience, Detroit residents started to express how valuable it was to them to learn that with perseverance and the support of peer allies, people like them could challenge these giant corporations to demand their right to non-GM foods and an alternative food system.
It was in this moment that I understood how interconnected we all were in this world. Essentially we all want the same thing: easily accessible, nutritional food, produced sustainably and without harming the environment, for this generation and future ones.
Katherine Zavala is the Program Manager, Grassroots Alliances at IDEX. She will be speaking at Food for Thought: In Conversation with Leaders of the Food Justice Movement on Friday, June 7th. Buy your tickets today to join Katherine, Ocean Robbins, Nikki Henderson and Armando Nieto for a rousing discussion on the intersection of food justice and agroecology.