Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Divergent Definitions of Food Justice: A Critical Discourse Analysis

Divergent Definitions of Food Justice: A Critical Discourse Analysis

Jeff Rowe

Greater food politics discourses have been in the public eye for many decades, but the definition of food justice only recently emerged in the mid-1990s after integrating existing community food concerns with concepts from food security and food sovereignty. Since then, the language used in food justice definitions has evolved in response to regional, class, and cultural boundaries specific to communities who use and develop the definitions. As a result, a variety of definitions endure that apply to distinct constituencies. Food justice definitions and the language used in their execution are imbued with class, race, and cultural identities; it is crucial to analyze the discourse surrounding these definitions and to investigate the complex differences and similarities as well as the goals and motivations behind these definitions in English speaking North America. A model for both sub-textual and contextual critical discourse analysis (CDA) was employed in examination of thirteen municipal, non-profit, academic, community food-security and international policy definitions. The most common discursive elements in the definitions were nutrition/health, community, inclusivity, access, affordability and systemic inequalities. Some less recurrent elements like farm workers and working conditions were largely omitted from direct mention—with the exception of two definitions—and only the rural focused definitions included language specific to rural concerns. The intended audience was fundamental in determining what language was used and what was left unstated, like who is to blame for injustices. Food justice definitions can serve as a vehicle for examining systematic injustice and stimulating the agency of the envisioned audience, but also have clear limitations in their construction and implementation if vague or imprecise language is employed. It is essential for the future discourse and messaging surrounding food justice definitions to be clear and unambiguous about what food justice is, who it affects, who uses the definition, and how it relates to discrete communities—as certainly definitions will continue to evolve as food concerns saturate many aspects of society.


April 6, 2015 - Posted by | abstract

1 Comment »

  1. This is very interesting. Using CDA to examine policy discourse seems like it will yield a lot of revealing aspects of how to position the food justice groups position and who the group is antagonizing. However, I wonder if there is an aspect of these policies that are either intentionally made ambiguous or use tropes that might be more ambiguous than you might think. I am thinking of words like “local” when it is used in food discourse. Sometimes the word gets used without a clear indication of what one means by it. Even “community” can have a lot of underlying assumptions of who is part of the community and who is not. But you are examining a broad range of organizations and policies which will reveal a lot of very interesting things. I look forward to reading it.

    Comment by Erika Carrillo | April 21, 2015 | Reply

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