FOOD AND WATER JUSTICE IN BALTIMORE
One of the ongoing struggles we see in cities around the world has to do with the lack of a sufficient supply of quality food and a sustainable source of water. This is something that disturbs various cities and groups of people worse than others depending on the social circumstances, economic class, and even gender and race of the individuals. That being said, I am going to discuss how this issue of food and water insecurities have an impact on the city of Baltimore, MD. Two groups who involve themselves with food and water justice in Baltimore are The Black Church Food Security Network (BCFSN) and Jews United for Justice (JUFJ). Before I get into what these groups do in regards to fighting for food and water justice, it would be beneficial to first point out what they are trying to accomplish with their efforts, then realize how we got to this point of food and water insecurities. The goal is food sovereignty; a right to all individuals. The issue in the way of this is known as food apartheid. That is what I will be discussing in this essay. First, I will speak on the goal of food and water justice efforts, which is food sovereignty. The I will discuss the problem we are facing with food apartheid. Next, I will look into the efforts of the above mentioned groups on this issue and ways we as individuals can do our part to help.
In simplest terms, food sovereignty is the right of people to have access to a sustainable source of healthy and appropriate foods (Terrell, 2020). This is ultimately the goal of the food justice efforts for groups like The Black Church Food Security Network. So how did we get to where we are and how do we further pursue food sovereignty? We got here because of the problem referred to as food apartheid. Food apartheid is “The systematic destruction of black self determination to control food by being excluded from agriculture industries, or lack of access to healthy food…” (Terrell, 2020). This has been an ongoing issue for the Black community with only what seems to be a gradual solution. Historically, Blacks have had to fight for their freedoms that gradually gets addressed over time. The Baltimore’s Civil Rights Heritage timeline website (https://baltimoreheritage.github.io/civil-rights-heritage/timeline/) looks back and we notice whether it be regarding slavery like the first fugitive slave law in 1793, or even the free Blacks right to vote being denied in 1802, there was no immediate action to give them their rights and freedoms, rather a gradual progression. Reaching food sovereignty with a gradual progression has been no different due to food apartheid.
WHITE L & THE BLACK BUTTERFLY
Let’s now take a look at the city of Baltimore, MD. The World Population Overview website (https://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/baltimore-md-population) shows us Baltimore’s population as of 2020 at 590,479. 62.46% of that being black or African American and 30.45% being white. Furthermore, look at figure 1. This is a map of the Baltimore City Food Environment in 2015. Food desert areas are in red, major parks in green, supermarkets in yellow and public markets located in blue. We are focused on the food desert areas in red. However, the term food desert is not to be confused with the systematic problem that is food apartheid. The
city of Baltimore is separated in two because of the history of racism and racist policies (Brown, 2016). Because of this, notice on the next map (figure 2) the segregated White and Black communities where the red “L” outlines the white neighborhoods and the Black neighborhoods take on a butterfly shape (Brown, 2016). When comparing the two maps, look at the “L” in reference to where the food desert areas are in red. We can clearly see a direct correlation in the structured disadvantages that the predominantly black neighborhoods face as opposed to the structured advantages the predominately white neighborhoods face (Brown, 2016). I believe this could have been influenced by the historical trauma these neighborhoods face being a social determinate, as well as the practices and policies that led to the segregation of these “two Baltimores” (Okoye, Nwakibu, Ibelegbu, Rodriguez, Alshahwan, 2015). This comparison is where we begin to understand food apartheid even more by noticing the staggering numbers of Black to White neighborhoods in a food desert environment. This is the very issue The Black Church Food Security Network is focused on.
RELIGIOUS GROUPS INVOLVED
The Black Church Food Security Network was founded in Baltimore in 2015. They are currently growing state to state and church to church. Their mission is to create a new food system of their own by working together and getting the Black churches involved to use existing land and assets to create a sustainable food system for the Black community and more (Terrell, 2020). As I mentioned before, their problem statement is food apartheid. However, their mission only begins with them. It is not just one church, but multiple churches that come together around all the points in the food system like food production, food processing, marketing, purchasing, investment, and distribution (Brown, 2020).
The Black Church Food Security Network is not the only group involved in food justice in Baltimore. Jews United for Justice has also been doing their part in regards to this issue. In their efforts they are working to provide safe and sustainable water for all. Prior to the efforts of Jews United For Justice, Baltimore’s unjust water policy affected Black families by a disproportionate amount (Lloyd, 2020). However, because of the efforts of Jews United For Justice, the Water Accountability and Equality Act has passed creating a huge victory for Baltimore residents, especially renters (Lloyd, 2020).
I have now discussed the issues relating to food and water justice and how it is hurting Black neighborhoods in Baltimore City. I also mentioned what groups like The Black Church Food Security Network and Jews United For Justice are doing to help. We also have a better understanding of food sovereignty and food apartheid. However, it is important to understand that Baltimore, and even the United States, are not the only places to look at food sovereignty. Thomas Sankara, the former president of Burkina Faso, emphasized on food sovereignty in Africa and the importance of national food sovereignty (Sankara, 2007). While this is a national issue, we as individuals can do out part by supporting groups like The Black Church Food Security Network or Jews United For Justice. In the words of Dr. Brown with The Black Church Food Security Network during our guest lecture, “Food charity can reinforce the same unjust systems that had people hungry to begin with.” (Brown, 2020). The Black Church Food Security Network is not a food charity organization, rather they are an organization “working to advance food access and agency.” (Brown, 2020). Let’s be part of the solution, do our part to raise awareness to the unjust food and water situations our brothers and sisters in Black neighborhoods are affected by, as well as all over the nation.
Terrel, S. (2020, November 17). Guest lecture with the Black Church Food Security Network [Video file]. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d
Brown, H. (2020, November 17). Guest lecture with the Black Church Food Security Network [Video file]. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d
Brown, L. (2016, June 28). Two Baltimores: The White L vs. the Black Butterfly. Baltimore Sun. https://www.baltimoresun.com/citypaper/bcpnews-two-baltimores-the-white-l-vs-the- black-butterfly-20160628-htmlstory.html
Okoye, I., Nwakibu, C., Ibelegbu, I., Rodreguez, P., Alshahwan, S. (2015, December 8). Healing the Black Butterfly from Contemporary and Historical Trauma. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/11s-JbX3IEsnuo0tlDmng75Cq5j-9kmOw/view
Santo, R., Plamer, A., Biczynski, A. (2015). Researching the Baltimore City Food Environment: Contributions From The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School Of Public Health. Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.
Sankara, T. (2007, January 1). Thomas Sankara Speaks: The Burkina Faso Revolution 1983- 1987. Ney York, NY: Pathfinder Press.
Lloyd, R. (2020, November 17). Action Alert: Guarantee Water Justice in Baltimore. Retrieved from https://jufj.org/bmore-water/