Depressing stories about reproductive healthcare and rights routinely fill the news: four Planned Parenthood clinics close in Iowa due to targeted budget cuts, our ass of a president expanded the global gag rule that prevents organizations that provide abortions from receiving U.S. foreign aid money, the soulless ghouls who make up the U.S. Senate Republicans have created a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare that targets reproductive healthcare, and the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale strikes fear into our hearts (I guess this one is only depressing because it’s “too real,” as they say). In the United States, activists and feminists continue to struggle just to beat back anti-abortion legislation. Unfortunately, this has meant that many of us are stuck in a reproductive rights paradigm. The reproductive rights framework for activism is generally limited to the legal sphere and focused primarily on the legal right for someone to have an abortion. This legal right is, of course, nothing to sneeze at, and reproductive rights are critical to reproductive freedom. However, as a paradigm for movement-building, reproductive rights lacks the capacity to effectively connect with other social movements, and to move beyond a narrow focus on choice and “women’s health.”
Reproductive justice, on the other hand, is a sprawling concept that captures many other unsuspecting social justice movements in its net. It is a movement created and led by women of color; racial, environmental, and economic justice are in its very bones. SisterSong defines reproductive justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,” and SPARK says it is “a social justice movement rooted in the belief that individuals and communities should have the resources and power to make sustainable and liberatory decisions about their bodies, genders, sexualities, and lives.” Because reproductive justice was developed as a movement for all people, not just white women, connection between movements and intersectional activism are central parts of reproductive justice. As the reproductive justice conference Take Root says, “A reproductive justice framework helps us see the connections between poverty and food access in rural and urban environments, histories of coercive sterilization of women of color, the disparity in impacts of criminalization of drugs and its effects on families, gender self-determination and gender violence, and access to contraception, transition services, sexual health and consent information.”
When we think about reproduction and activism, we tend to focus on contraceptives, pregnancy, and abortion, but, as the reproductive justice framework underlines, our bodily autonomy and reproductive concerns can and should go beyond these issues. One crucial part of the way we care for ourselves and our children is through food. Even though without food, we are literally dead, the connections between food justice and reproductive justice are obscured to many of us who are operating with a reproductive rights framework, rather than a reproductive justice one.
Bodily autonomy is a basic principle of reproductive justice; this applies not only to abortions but also to everything else that affects one’s body, including food. Access to affordable, nutritious, toxin-free, and culturally appropriate food is crucial to physical and mental wellness, and that is a part of reproductive justice, regardless of whether someone chooses to have children
Food justice movements aim to create a world in which everyone has the right to eat affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate foods (and enough food). Unfortunately, there are a lot of geographic and economic barriers to making that right a reality. Lack of grocery stores and farmer’s markets in low-income communities and communities of color is a real injustice. If the only place to buy food is a liquor store or a convenience store, then what one eats is not really a choice.
Food injustice violates not only the principle of bodily autonomy, but also the ability for caregivers and parents to raise children in a safe and healthy way. Even before birth, nutrition can affect a baby. Pregnant people need access to all that affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food. Once a baby is born, their caregivers and/or parents need access to the same good food. Being able to reproduce your body and your children’s bodies (as in literally sustain them to reproduce their cells and to continue living) is reproductive justice. Parenting without fear of malnutrition, starvation, or any number of other health consequences of not being able to eat nutritious food is reproductive justice.
We can’t live without food, but our food system is killing us. Food is one of our most basic human needs, but it’s produced primarily by an industry with no regard for human wellbeing, animal rights, or sustainable practices. The mainstream food industry in the United States consistently exploits marginalized workers, destroys soil quality, treats animals with violence and cruelty, invests in energy inefficient food sources (looking at you, cows), and drives small and midsize farmers out of business. One result of all of this crap is that good food that people want to eat is often unavailable to them. This affects people’s bodies, minds, and spirits, as well as those of their children. Food security and freedom from fear should not be privileges, and the fight for food justice should be an integral part of reproductive justice movements.