Few Johannesburg residents enjoy the right to food and even fewer are aware that they have such a right. Community Food Centres could help change that, writes SWOP postdoc, Brittany Kesselman
The right to food is enshrined in Section 27 of the South African Constitution. Despite this, almost 15 million South Africans experience hunger and just over 16 million more are at risk, according to a study published in 2013.
Like many developing countries, South Africa is experiencing a ‘double burden’ of disease. Hunger and under-nutrition co-exist with obesity and diet-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension.
Systemic insecurity in the city
In Johannesburg, estimates of food insecurity range from 27% citywide to up to 90% in the poorest wards. This is not due to a shortage of food – there is more than enough for everyone. Rather, it is the result of South Africa’s unjust food system.
Food justice is a concept that recognises the structural racism and economic injustice in the food system, and strives for greater equity and fairness. Food justice is about placing more control over food-related decisions in the hands of farm workers, food sector workers and marginalised communities. It goes well beyond the technical questions of food security and considers power relations in the food system.
To date, food-related interventions in Johannesburg have tended to focus on either charitable food distribution (soup kitchens and food parcels) or support for urban agriculture (market-oriented or subsistence). While these may help some individuals, neither addresses the underlying structural issues that contribute to hunger and malnutrition – issues such as the concentration of the capitalist food system, the gendered distribution of household labour, or the impact of colonisation and apartheid on dietary preferences and practices. Without addressing these underlying issues, food-related interventions have limited impact and cannot make a long-term contribution to food justice.
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