The food justice movement can be understood as a network of people who are concerned about corporate control and the deterioration in quality of our food supply which has resulted in a range of public health crises. For the most part, the leaders of this movement are white and upper middle class academics, journalists and other activists who speak with each other. A problem is that the main victims of the global food supply chain are actually a majority low income populations in urban and rural areas. An overwhelming proportion of this demographic, especially in urban areas, are racial and ethinc minorities and in particular African American and Latin American populations. Many of the solutions that food leaders discuss in major mainstream publications are unreasonable or out of the touch with the realities of people living in poor urban neighborhoods, for example. Solutions such as increasing one's willingness to pay more for organic foods, and shopping at locally sourced “natural” food stores are simply not within the range of possibility for people who are really at the losing end of the global injustice of food. The irrelevancy of these solutions to the plight of the working poor is at once consistent with other ideologies such as personal responsibility that has formed the backdrop of race and poverty issues in America and which fail to address root cause of intergenerational and cyclical disparities. It is in this context that Willl Allen, author of The Good Food Revolution, fits, both in his writing and innovative activist work promoting urban farming practices in inner city neighborhoods. The opening pages of Good Food Revolution frame Will Allen's project within this context, presenting the problems of inner city life and commentating on the lack of options of good food. He explains how his urban farm organization Growing Power evolved and works today to combat these issues and provide sustainable solutions for inner city communities. Underlying Allen's Growing Power project is a historical and philosophical narrative that concerns itself with the complex legacy of race and its connection to food in American culture and history. Allen writes of his own lineage to early American agriculture as well as reminds the reader of the important presence of black agricultural workers in the post Civil War era especially. His own history is a story of African American roots, with both parents having been raised as sharecroppers in South Carolina, and who were among the six million African Americans who left this region during the Great Migration hoping to shed the legacy and stigma of slavery (and the work of slavery, which was farming) from conscious memory. Allen narrates his own dynamic personal history, having started with a career in professional basketball and later entering a corporate career with Kentucky Fried Chicken Allen entered farming after these career experiences, first in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His firm urban farm project was contained on two acres of land directly adjacent to the city's largest housing project. Since opening, Allen's farm has grown and is self-sustaining, producing over forty tons of fresh vegetables a year and raising over 100,000 fresh fish in indoor tank systems. Today, Allen's project is a laboratory and training ground for urban farming and healthful eating. Throughout the book, Allen consistently ties his own personal project of food justice to racial justice. He contrasts his own childhood background growing up in an agricultural community and the challenges of race they faced with the contemporary legacy of stories from the inner city he views around him. Allen ties his urban farming project back to the early days of great black philosophers and thinkers guiding the African American people to success in the years following Reconstruction. Allen recalls that urban farming in areas like Brooklyn and Queens was fairly common in United States, even as late as the 1880s: “That people in cities should mostly eat food grown within a few miles of their homes was not always a strange idea," he writes (Allen, 142). Allen draws from early emancipatory paradigms of by W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington to provide philosophical underpinnings to his own contemporary project. Allen discusses the ways both thinkers viewed agriculture in the context of their broader schemas, and reflects on how these ideas could or should provide contemporary guidance today. Allen retrieves an early disagreement between Washington and Du Bois which provides clues to his own project and vision for racial justice. Allen discusses the ways in which Du Bois' “Talented Tenth” program resulted in many of Washington's ideas being wrongfully overshadowed. Allen finds historical evidence that Washington was in favor of black agriculture but this trend fell out of vogue quickly. Reflecting on this he writes, "Great disparities have grown in the physical health of our people. This change has come directly in the wake of the departure of black farmers from their land" (Allen, 7).
What is unique and important about Allen's justice oriented work in urban agriculture is his specific emphasis on raising and promoting African American culture . Allen locates food deserts as a symptom of a broader framework that supports and enables a continued legacy of race-based injustice in contemporary. In the broader context of the food movement overall, Allen's work makes an important contribution towards deepening the conversation about food and how food is symptomatic of legacies of social and economic injustice, with a practical emphasis on what can be done to make sustainable changes in the future.
Allen, Will. The good food revolution: Growing healthy food, people, and communities. Penguin, 2012.