Over the past year or so I have become more and more immersed in ideas and questions about Social Justice and the Common Good (SJCG). It has more or less consumed my academic life. This interest comes from many classes that have allowed me to explore the subjects in more detail that has humbled me because I have discovered so much, known so little, and realize that there is so much more to learn.
The common denominator between all that I have learned, is the importance that all cultures place on food. When I was first introduced to the idea of SJCG I do not think I would have ever reduced the idea of SJCG to the simplicity of food, other than issues directly related to poverty and hunger. I do think it is disgusting the amount of food we are capable of producing and distributing globally compared to the amount of people who die of hunger each year, yet that is only partially my point. What I am trying to say is that the accessibility of healthy food offers the possibility of solidarity between all cultures because it is a basic necessity of life.
One of our main texts, Matarialist Ethics and Life Value by Jeff Noonan is a complex book that gives a critical perspective on liberal democratic societies. Noonan argues that we should attribute value to all things in life in a way that is more intrinsic, and thus very different than we currently live. Amongst various terms he elaborates on are what he calls “Physical-Organic Life Requirements.” These requirements are what we need to survive that are common to all peoples. Chief among these requirements is access to food, as we must consume the proper nutrients in order to survive. Therefore a society must develop a sustainable system of food, which is a very basic social rational. Yet we have developed a system that does not place this basic life necessity as accessible to all.
Noonan argues that we have taken our Physical-Organic Life Requirements (universal human needs in order to survive) and created a system that does not allow everyone access to these requirements. The goals of profit, under current economic systems, create a blindness to issues of basic life requirements. A simple example can help explain Noonan’s thinking here. A banana worker in Ecuador might ignore the fact that her work conditions are completely unfair, the pesticides used are harmful to both herself and her environment, and that it is not a sustainable process. Yet, she will still work at this place because she needs to feed her family today.
Noonan argues that there is a fundamental contradiction in this system because those who are benefitting from the commercialization of these basic life necessities are benefiting at the expense of someone else. Furthermore, under capitalism, food may be distributed throughout the globe but we still limit people’s access based on its price. The fact that everyone needs food is a great opportunity for global cooperation and solidarity, yet it has turned into a system of exploitation through profit margins and the gross divisions of profit between the worker and the employer.
All of that said, I think we use food as a tool for building community and solidarity quite naturally in social settings. Every meal I share with family or friends is a chance for discussion, whether it is an issue in the family, current events, or something totally random and completely over our heads. I do not think that these conversations would happen in the same way if we were not sharing that space together centered on food.
This was no different when I went to Honduras this past summer. I was able to feel at home in a place so much different than where I am from because I was welcomed at the dinner table. The boundaries of difference were eliminated due to the fact that they, my host family, literally shared food with me, a total stranger (at first). This sharply contrasts the experiences of other students where food was not shared so kindly and a sense of community was harder to create.
For me, the community we create around access to food is what makes this a call to make radical change in order to create a system of food that is sustainable and available for everyone. The fact that our system is not sustainable and not available for everyone is the first step to recognizing that we live in an unjust system. If we are not able to create a system where everyone gets what they need to survive, then how are we going to solve more complex issues that are unjust?
I think this is an easy argument to make: We need to change our unjust system of food, and create one that feeds all.
Anson J Liski - 3rd Year Political Studies - SJCG