Inspired by the structure of the Combahee River Collective Statement, the Movement Statement assignment asks students to compose a statement that educates readers on an issue of their choice and to discuss how a multi-dimensional queer politics might engage that issue. This student writes on food sovereignty through the voice of an imagined LA-based collective called Everybody Eats! The statement discusses mutual aid, neoliberalism, food apartheid, surplus, exploitation, and more in aims to show how food sovereignty is central to dreams of liberation.
Who We Are
Everybody Eats! is a collective determined to help actualize food sovereignty for women, working class, queer, trans, gender non-conforming, and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities. We root our work around this definition of food sovereignty from our comrades in La Via Campesina:
“The right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems…It puts the aspirations, needs and livelihoods of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.”Food Sovereignty for Africa: A Challenge at Fingertips, La Via Campesina
We believe wholeheartedly that food and land are at the core of our liberation. Furthermore, food sovereignty is not something we can look to the state to provide for us but is something we must dream and build up for ourselves.
In efforts to reach more folks with our work, we have spent hours sharing ideas and edits among each other so that we can tell the public who we are and what we’re about. We now present you with a love letter to our food sovereignty dreams, an honest reflection on where we have struggled as a collective, and an overview on the work we’ve done so far. If our words move you, this statement is also an invitation to join us in dreaming and building food sovereignty and, thus, liberation.
The Genesis of Food Sovereignty and Everybody Eats!
The term “food sovereignty” was coined in 1996 by La Via Campesina. However, long before there was an officially recognized genesis of the term and the movement it sparked, food sovereignty has been practiced and pushed for for generations. From Black cooperative farms and grocery stores to the rebuilding of indigenous food systems, practices aimed at increasing access to healthy food and at a fair and ecologically sound production of food for marginalized folks have been at the heart of many communities for years. What we are doing is nothing new. Instead, we are building on the continual reality of our communities’ experiences with food insecurity and our comrades’ many generations worth of work to continue the food sovereignty movement.
With COVID rapidly spreading throughout the country and gaining awareness starting in March 2020, we also started to see a shift in public discourse around community care. There was a spike in mutual aid and other cooperative economic practices. We wanted to capitalize on the seemingly sudden (for many, but surely not all) sense that we have a responsibility to our communities in order to see us all thrive. Thus, that month, we began our collective in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles was a great starting ground for many reasons. A small group of us from Los Angeles were friends before our collective began. We started out thinking of these questions around food and social justice in early March as we saw more and more mutual aid projects like community fridges being spread around the county in response to the COVID crisis. We talked about our interest in joining the fight to continue this kind of care for our people. While reaching out to other folks we knew involved in similar movement work in the area, we started finding people doing all kinds of things from working in urban gardens to building connections between marginalized communities and the great outdoors to raising awareness around migrant farmworkers and the horrible labor and climate conditions they’re working under to bring us food. We saw an opportunity to bridge together these seemingly disparate movements to bring our people — women, working class, queer, trans, gender non-conforming, and BIPOC communities — and our struggles together under the umbrella of food sovereignty. We hoped that this umbrella could move us a bit away from rights discourse and more into ideas of our responsibility to the land and to each other.
The folks who we have gathered in this fight have luckily brought us wisdom and many resources from other movements they’ve been a part of. Our members have connected us to various local farms, gardens, and healthy food delivery organizations in the county. To help build on and connect these projects, Everybody Eats! started out as a food-coop in Los Angeles in partnership with local farmers and vendors. Since then, we have continually regrouped to figure out how we, in conjunction with others whom we are connected to, can better serve our community.
Everybody Eats! operates under the primary assumption that we cannot wait for the state to save us. We have to support and build for ourselves and one another. As women, low income, LGBTQ+, and BIPOC folks, we have come to understand our position as one of surplus. We are viewed as outside the “norm” of society, with reason and potential to rebel. We must be contained, ordered, and separated from one another. However, through our unity is where we find our power.
Hunger has been an issue addressed for ages. The widespread neoliberal approach, one of ending food insecurity through access to food and inclusion of local farmers, makes hunger feel like a fairly nonpartisan and apolitical issue to take up. Through this framework, going to a homeless shelter once to serve some food becomes a way to address hunger at its roots instead of a small act to sustain communities in need while larger-scale work is being done. We must band together to dismantle the systems that perpetuate our food insecurity and the exploitation of land and workers in our food production to really address hunger. Therefore, as much as addressing hunger should be something we’re all on board with, to get to the roots of this issue is a radical act under the shadow of neoliberalism.
What food sovereignty can look like for one community can look super different from what it looks like for the next because of things like the history of the community, its relation to land and the state, and its demographics. Thus, the movement must be rooted in the belief that local communities know what’s best for them and can, thus, determine what needs to be changed and revolutionized about their own food systems for themselves.
Furthermore, our focus on women, low income, queer, trans, gender non-conforming, and BIPOC communities comes from our belief that we must center those most marginalized by the absence of food sovereignty in order to actualize it. Low income and BIPOC communities are more likely to live in food apartheid, areas where little to no access to grocery stores and healthy food has been created by a human-made, intentional system of inequality. LGBTQ+ folks are more likely to live in poverty and to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assitance Program (SNAP) benefits than cisgender and straight folks. Women, low income folks, and BIPOC folks are most likely to have their labor exploited in order to produce food for others. Black and especially indigenous communities have had many historical, mutual relationships with food and the land attacked and severed. If these folks can actualize food sovereignty, then everybody gets free. Thus, we believe a movement for food sovereignty must be rooted in the anti-racist, anti-colonial, anti-imperial, anti-captialist, and feminist belief that everybody eats.
Our Organizing Challenges
When talking about hunger and food insecurity, often the first response is food security. The idea at the core of food security is that everyone at all times should have access physically and economically to enough food and healthy food. But just thinking about access falls into the same traps of individual rights that have only furthered many of our world’s problems within battles around incarceration to queer rights to woman’s rights. This trap is set up by neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism wants everyone to live in a dog-eat-dog world. It’s the individual rights over collective justice at all costs. Thus, thinking about our access to healthy food without thinking of those who produce our food, those displaced by us gaining access to healthy food, or the land we’re getting our food from, is ok because we’re just looking out for us as we should do. Wrong! Food sovereignty necessitates the question, “How do we all get free?”
This mindset to think about ourselves first and not those most marginalized within our communities has been heavily ingrained into American culture. Fighting this instinct to separate the problems food sovereignty tries to address — migrant workers rights, ecologically sound and sustainable land cultivation practices, public transportation and the building up of mobility for all, racial and economic segregation, etc — has been the greatest struggle to our organizing. As we have built and continue to build, we hope to help break the dangerous blinders that neoliberalism has put on society and open up broader possibilities of living.
Another major problem we face as a collective is the surveillance from the police state. Gathering marginalized communities to provide what the state will not can make us a target visually and more theoretically as an organization, which makes some folks worry about the threat of state violence as well. This will continue to be a threat to our cause and our freedom until abolition of the police state becomes seen as a necessity as opposed to a radical, fringe movement.
Issues and Projects of Food Sovereignty
As we’ve continued to expand and build, Everybody Eats! and its members have taken on many causes. We’ve advocated for the destruction of borders, land back, cooperative economics, housing for all, the end of drilling and other exploitative resource extraction practices, prison and police abolition, and expansion of public transportation that doesn’t displace community members to name a few of our causes. We could take on projects like working with local libraries, book stores, and community centers for consciousness raising around the multidimensionality of food and land liberation. Starting our own housing for folks in precarious living situations, supporting labor and tenants unions, and growing our own gardens and farms to produce food for the community are some other ways we can build upon the great work of our food co-op.
We hope to hold monthly meetings for co-op members and anyone else who would like to join. We could even build out and start Everybody Eats! collectives in other cities. However, we want to make clear that our dedication is to the cause before the preservation of our organization. The most beautiful and incredible goal we could see actualized for our collective is that it’s no longer needed because our people are developing healthier, more mutually beneficial relationships with food and with the land. In the meantime, we will continue fighting and organizing for food sovereignty. Everybody eats!