CSU faculty member’s new book examines how food is used in social justice efforts

Josh Sbicca

Recently the term “food justice” has come to focus almost exclusively on increasing underprivileged groups’ access to culturally appropriate, healthy foods.

But a Colorado State University faculty member argues in a new book that the term should be viewed much more broadly, and he outlines several examples of how food is used as a key element in social justice efforts.

Book coverIn Food Justice Now!: Deepening the Roots of Social Struggle, Assistant Professor Joshua Sbicca of CSU’s Department of Sociology examines three cases in California that illustrate how food can play a strong role in political movements to address social inequities. These encompass the issues of labor, mass incarceration and immigration.

“Food justice is not just about making sure people have access to food,” he said. “There are many examples of how food justice can be so much more.”

About the book

The book, published this summer by the University of Minnesota Press and available at the CSU Bookstore, explores the relationship between food activism and social justice activism with a historically grounded and ethnographically rich narrative. With his argument that food justice is more than a myopic focus on food, Sbicca provides scholars and activists alike a framework to investigate the causes behind inequities and evaluate and implement political strategies to overcome them.

“By highlighting sites where justice, rather than food, is the primary motivator of social action, Joshua Sbicca’s timely and important book takes the conversation about food justice exactly where it needs to go,” said Julie Guthman, co-editor of The New Food Activism: Opposition, Cooperation, and Collective Action.

Sbicca begins the book with examples of broader food justice initiatives in history, including the Black Panther Party’s efforts to provide free meals to schoolchildren and the United Farm Workers’ campaigns for labor rights. He connects this to contemporary, but often sidelined, manifestos and practices that center on the need to address social inequities if there is to be a truly sustainable and just food system.

Josh Sbicca

The case studies

In his first case study, Sbicca examines the labor campaigns of food system workers in Los Angeles, including unions’ efforts to boost employee rights. Just because a Walmart is built in an area that doesn’t have a grocery store doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s providing well-paid, respectable jobs to those neighborhoods, he explains. Food justice requires connecting good food to good jobs, a goal that prioritizes improving people’s economic standing as the solution to food insecurity and poverty.

In his second example, he writes about Planting Justice, an Oakland food justice nonprofit that creates jobs for former prisoners of San Quentin State Prison. The organization builds edible permaculture gardens for all income brackets; manages a nursery; works with high-schoolers to connect gardening, health, and social justice; and runs a canvassing operation to support formerly incarcerated people transitioning back to society. In empowering those affected by mass incarceration, the organization has proven effective at eliminating recidivism: Only one of the 35 workers is known to have gone back to prison since the program’s inception, according to Sbicca.

In the third case study, Sbicca discusses the need to overcome social divisions based on citizenship. He highlights the local food nonprofit San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project that runs the six-acre Wild Willow Farm & Education Center along the U.S./Mexico border. Staff witness the flow of immigrants into the local food system as they help train a new generation of San Diego organic family farmers, although they don’t take an active role in the immigration debate. According to Sbicca, despite visions imagining the contrary, the militarized border poses significant challenges to advancing the human rights of immigrants in the local food system.


Sbicca concludes the book by using these three lessons to examine the potential for food justice policy-making. He envisions policy that focuses on land, labor, urban and rural community development, health, self-determination and environmental sustainability.

“We can solve problems in the food system, but also solve other problems with food,” Sbicca says. “There’s a long history of that.”

Sbicca, who has been on the CSU faculty since 2014, holds doctoral and master’s degrees in sociology from the University of Florida. The Department of Sociology is part of CSU’s College of Liberal Arts.

Journalists who would like a review copy of Sbicca’s book may contact publicist Anne Wrenn of the University of Minnesota Press at awrenn@umn.edu.