Transforming the Global Food System through Radical Interdependence

February 28, 2023 | By Shi Woo Ji

six large row crop tractors on crop fieldIndustrial agriculture and the global transport of food has contributed significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions among other ecological impacts. Image courtesy of James Baltz.

The following is Part 3 of a 3-part interview on the topic of food, justice, and ecology with Jocelyn Jackson. For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here.

Jocelyn is the founder of JUSTUS Kitchen and co-founder of People’s Kitchen Collective, two California Bay Area organizations that center the lived experiences of Black and Brown communities while bringing healing experiences around food for the purpose of collective liberation. She also serves as the new Chief-in-Residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. 

In Part 3 of the interview, Jocelyn describes the many ways in which the current global food system is failing to meet the needs of the global majority and the environment. She points to hyperlocality as a critical solution, while highlighting how essential it is to return to a state of radical care and interdependence at the community level. She calls upon people everywhere to remember our inherent interconnectedness with each other and the Earth, and to slow down in order to heal the harm that’s done to people and planet.


Shi woo Ji: I actually want to return to the systemic, how we think about systems of oppression and how they relate to food. Can you describe what the global food system [is] like now and what is really needed to transform that system?

Jocelyn Jackson: We're learning so much about our global food system right now. And what keeps ringing true for me is that hyper locality is the past and future of food. I love global access to foodways. Don't get me wrong. I feel like it's such a gift to be able to have food from so many different places, to have these ingredients that serve us in so many different ways. And it's like we need to get back to victory gardens. Because corporate farming is deadly. It is, and by corporate farming I mean almonds, I mean cattle, I mean chickens, I mean oranges. All this idea of super production is what's killing our planet, and quite frankly killing our soil. For me, I need us to reclaim the fact that we need to take care of ourselves in a very commons' kind of way.

Jocelyn Jackson: Because global agriculture does not serve the interest of our survival, it serves the interest of feeding—quite frankly—a few and not everyone. We have enough food in the world, but we can't feed everyone, [that] is the symptom of food not being local enough. And so in my mind, it really is divesting from that idea of food economy and going back to the smaller version. And that means sacrifices of course, and we have to be okay with that. We have to be okay with whatever our growing season has. We have to be okay with actually knowing our neighbors again, so that we can create commonly-used foodways that are based in neighborhoods. It's just so apparent even with water and it's moving away from us often because of climate change, that we have to investigate and reclaim those propagations through desert environments, like in Las Vegas.

Jocelyn Jackson: It was an immigrant from Japan, by way of California, that came to L.A. and created so much of the dry agriculture. Of course his land was stolen from him because of a predatory lending scheme, but we have the knowledge that we need to create smaller versions of our food economy so that we can respond to what is really right in front of us. I really hope that we get to that point of being able to make big changes, because whether it's the transport of food or the growing of food, it's something that is so apparent and clear that it's not sustainable. I really look forward to us as human beings making a more collective decision that is in alignment with replenishing resources as opposed to depleting them.

Jocelyn Jackson: I feel like there's more I want to say on that, but I don't know that I have it all in me right now, because it is a really big question. I really just want us to be in that place of reclaiming Indigenous knowledge and stop believing that big is better, that big can't fail or that big is a solution. Because it's not, small is.

Shi woo Ji: Or even that more is the solution. Because nowadays that's what it is, right? Accumulate more, eat more—not about eat better or eat local. I think the reality of the global food system is that most people don't have access to land or even fresh food. I'm wondering what your thoughts are around people without access to land and fresh food, how can they still reconnect to the Earth through food? Is that possible? How might they go about doing that?

Jocelyn Jackson: It is a luxurious thing to speak to, and it is accessible once we remember how. But the loss of that information makes it feel impossible, and that's a lie. I really want to point out all the lies. It's a lie that we all can't access fresh food. Our mutual aid in the last two and a half years has shown us that too, if you don't have access, your neighbor does. Talk to your neighbor. We have all these apps now that are in process of how to share the bounty of fruit trees in every season. There's technology that's inspiring this idea of the commons, but whether it is really us engaging in covering everyone—and by “cover” I mean in old Black churches, there's often that expression of “you're covered” and in that context, it's “covered” by the grace of God. For me, I use it more as you're "covered" by community.

Jocelyn Jackson: And by that I mean in the mutual aid sense, how do we become so connected? I'm talking about Redwood root system trees connected, that we can feel that we all have access to this freshness and to produce in a way that is benefiting us long term and not just one-offs. It really is being determined, as communities, to cover one another, to take care of one another, to get in each other's business. At that level there's enough, but if we're not communicating and we're not talking and we're not reaching out proactively and we're not seeing the gaps and filling them, then there will continue to be this lie that's perpetuated that there isn't enough, and it is a lie. We have as much capacity to be connected as the synapsis in our brain.

Jocelyn Jackson: We have this intelligence to really enact it and stop the siloing and the partitioning of “you're not my business, you're not my worry.” No, we are all each other's business. We can care in a much more voluminous way when we really hold to a commitment of the commons. I really want us to reorient. If we had this commitment to neighborhood foodways and using repurposed land, whether it's rooftops or alleyways, whatever it may be. So many countries have had to do this because of necessity, right? Cuba did this out of necessity. We need to do it before that. We need to see the necessity of the future now, because quite frankly it is now.

Jocelyn Jackson: I'm really wanting to partner with people that have that capacity to ignite necessity. Because I feel as human beings it's real hard for us to move in a direction that doesn't feel urgent. I don't want us to be spurred by urgency, because urgency gives its own perception of not being able to accomplish something or being frenetic or chaotic. I want us to be able to hack around that, create those moments of inspiration that get us to that reality of there is enough, we are each other's business, and we can create a commons that is being of service to all of us. I don't like to think that I'm naive. Matter of fact, I know that I'm not. But often people will say these ideas of human connection are naive. I say that they are just a habit waiting to happen, given the right influence and incentive. We have it in us. We've done it before. I look forward to us returning to that state of interdependence and care.

Shi woo Ji: That's such a powerful image of how nourishment comes from community. And it's through that connection that we can actually access so much more than we could by ourselves.

Jocelyn Jackson: That's it. And that access piece is key. There's so much about rehumanizing, because I feel the separation also is a result of dehumanizing. It feels like it's a result of heartbreak. The news is horrible. And if we don't want to be in that horror, we ignore it or we explain it into a category that is separate from us. I want us to develop a real broad capacity to hold all that we perceive as terrible and say it's human. And that's the abolitionist perspective as well. There's no such thing as “away”. Everything that we think that we're putting away is impacting us in some way, no matter what the location. How do we instead integrate?

Shi woo Ji: We've really lost our connection with our neighbors and those in our community.

Jocelyn Jackson: The baseline expectations have shifted. And in my experience, it's because of fear, and we really need to get to this place where love is really stronger and can overcome the fears. I want us to make that natural and our habitual nature. With the pandemic, it's made that easier and harder in strange ways, where a lot of our society has shown up in beautiful ways and then the result of isolation has created more separation. I want us to really think about what it means for us to heal that on purpose as we figure out how to do the long version of being in pandemic, because it's impacting all the ways that we choose to commit to one another and be present for one another.

Shi woo Ji: What can everyday people do to bring greater healing, greater connection and embody climate justice in real and concrete ways?

Jocelyn Jackson: Such a good one. My answer to that today would be different on Tuesday and different in September. I really want there to be just more commitments to one another and to this idea of slowing down in order to heal. For me that really does mean simple things like cook for someone else, not just yourself. And by someone else I mean not in your family unit, I mean someone else, cook for others. It exercises a very specific muscle around what it takes to care for others that aren't within your first degree of stewardship. And when you expand beyond that first degree, it exercises these really important muscles of mutual aid and care and responsibility and possibility, right? So just doing that on purpose feels like such an important part of opening up our awareness of what's possible when creating a commons.

Jocelyn Jackson: And I really want there to be an opportunity for people to get their hands in the soil. There's been too much separation between the food we eat and where it comes from. And it's not something that's useful to access for some folks, but whether it's a container or a farm, finding ways to cultivate feels like such an important part of taking responsibility and opening up perspective of what we're actually fighting for. Planting simple things or culturally relevant things, but planting on purpose to cultivate something that can be of service to you and to others. 

Jocelyn Jackson: I really want us to be actively healing our feelings of isolation. I feel like putting our hands in the soil and cultivating something is a big way that we can do that in very simple terms. And to the big picture, one of the most important things for me is for people to plug in to organizations that are already doing the work. Don't try to create something new. More likely than not, the work's already being done, but identify your passion and your purpose and your curiosity, find that in the world where it's already happening. And it can be any issue. It can be disenfranchisement, it can be abortion, it can be food access. It can be any issue. It doesn't matter because all of it's serving us being collectively responsible for liberation.

Jocelyn Jackson: And so what I would love for people to do is to find those groups and connect to them and really think about what it is to do that every day, to be active and in the streets every day, and to hold the larger organizations accountable that are truly responsible for these issues. Unfortunately, so many of these large organizations and conglomerates that are the most responsible for climate change are able to do what they do because of societal obsolescence. We're not watching and we're not doing. And so I really want people to make their work groups. Sometimes it's hard to do individually, [so] make your work group of five to eight people, connect to organizations that are relevant to the work that you want to do, and do the work every day.

Jocelyn Jackson: Take a rest. Take the rest, but do it in a way that's strategic. And so if you're in a group of people doing the work, you're never missing a day. Because the urgency is now. The more dangerous version of urgency I don't want us to get to. I really want us to practice our survival now.

Shi woo Ji: Thank you for that. My last question for you is, do you have anything else you want people to know or that you want to share that we weren't able to cover through the questions that I asked?

Jocelyn Jackson: There's so much. There's so much. I think in broad terms, I think what's at the heart of it for me today is really to recognize something that I've said already many times, but I'll make it my last piece of statement, which is, we are all connected to one another. We are all invested in each other's survival because of that. If we harm one of us we harm all of us. I really want us to slow down and take those deep breaths every day and understand with every breath that we are all breathing the same air and we need one another, we absolutely need one another. And that need is not a weakness. It's a strength, and it's so beautiful, and it is an indication of what we're capable of. I want us to get really deep pleasure in knowing that more and more we are showing up for one another in all of these ways that matter for us to build this more liberated world that we want to live in. It is so important for us to really, really get that. We are all connected.

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