There are many Americans who have the resources to buy healthy food and still are denied access to it. This denial of access has created “food deserts,” a term I despise but use for the sake of argument. The trouble with the term “food deserts” is that it describes lack in a way that indicates that the solution is outside of the community labeled a desert.

To change our food system, we need to change the way we talk about it.

There is a pervasive idea in the sustainable-food movement that simply returning to a food system of the past would right all that is wrong in the food world. However, history does not show that there has ever been a time when our food system was fair or just. Reflecting through my eyes, the eyes of an African-American woman, I see a system that from the earliest days of the founding of America was built on the annihilation of Native Americans and enslavement of Africans.

There is room to expand the conversation about food to engage all Americans. Recently, the right to food has been inserted into the healthcare debate. Rightly so, since access to healthy foods is a missing component of the healthcare dialogue. For too long our debates about food and healthcare have been traveling along separate paths, even though science has long proven that diet is a major contributor to chronic diseases.

Food is also intimately tied to ideas of freedom and choice. Too often, the concept of choice is invoked in the dominant culture when it is related to all the things that destroy the moral fiber of communities. But when communities of color invoke choice, we are talking about freedom. In order to access the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness promised by the Declaration of Independence, one must be free.

I am often called a food-justice activist. However, I tend to look at myself as a freedom fighter. I believe that all communities should have access not just to food outcomes but to the production and distribution methods by which they get food. In other words, I don’t just want access to the food in the store; I want access to the land that grows food so that I may grow my own. I want access to vacant land in urban communities to not only grow food but to grow soil. Fertile soil is the cornerstone of a vibrant community, urban or rural.

Also in This Forum

Alice Waters: A Healthy Constitution

Dan Barber: Why Cooking Matters

Dave Murphy: An American Right to Food

Grace Lee Boggs: Detroit’s “Quiet Revolution”