Food affects every part of our lives: our mental and physical health, culture, social lives and finances. This section will review some of the ways our food system connects to other parts of our lives and how eating more plant-based foods and reducing our food waste is better for the health of people and the planet.
Chronic illnesses are linked to what we eat. Meat and dairy products have been linked to many diseases: diabetes, cancer, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, higher blood pressure, obesity and strokes.
These statistics add up to many doctor visits, hospital stays, and increased medication needed to address a multitude of chronic illnesses.
Culture is the beliefs, social norms, and traits of a racial, religious, or social group, and food is a significant part of culture.
This toolkit talks at length about plant-based foods as a part of the solution to climate change. When advocating for such solutions, we must consider cultural differences and the importance that food plays in cultural identity.
This subsection is a reminder to take culture and identity into account when thinking about and advocating for more plant-based foods in your community. For instance, traditional cuisines (often meat-centered) are passed down from one generation to the next, and they are an expression of cultural identity. Cooking and food has helped immigrants and refugees preserve their culture, connect us to our religious traditions, and bring families and communities together.
Environmental justice, racial justice and food justice (and injustice) are all connected. They’re all rooted in unequal and exploitative treatment of low-income communities and people of color. Large industrial polluters -- confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), toxic waste dumps, landfills, coal plants, trash incinerators -- are often placed near communities of color or low-income housing. Or similarly, marginalized communities are priced out of their homes and may only be able to afford living closer to these hazards.
Food injustice develops in many ways. for instance:
(1) Farm workers, a majority of whom are migrants and fall below the national poverty line, are exposed to harmful chemicals and inhumane treatment. (You can learn more about this from the Food Empowerment Project here.)
(2) As suggested above, rural, low-income communities that are close to CAFOs are similarly exposed to harmful chemicals and hazards. For example, North Carolina residents sued Smithfield Foods for negative impacts to their land and won millions of dollars. However, after the lawsuit, North Carolina put big business over its residents, and changed the law in favor of Smithfield and other polluters.
(3) Unequal access to affordable, healthy, whole grains, fruits and vegetables is also part of the problem:
Justice means empowering people who experience these injustices the most. It means amplifying their voices with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. We achieve environmental justice when everyone has equitable and fair access to healthy food, and a healthy environment to live, work and play.