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Hunger and Humanity: Connecting Food Justice and the Pressing Issue of Climate Change

Food justice and climate justice are deeply interconnected. Climate justice movements focus on addressing the unequal effects of climate change on historically excluded communities, ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to live in a healthy environment. The communities on the front lines of the climate crisis — especially Black, Indigenous, and all Communities of Color and low-income communities — are also more likely to experience hunger. One of the most powerful actions we can take in the movement for food and climate justice is to advocate for ending the root causes of both.

Food justice is the powerful idea that our communities should have control over our own food systems, allowing us to decide what we grow, produce, distribute and consume. Climate change poses a major challenge to achieving true food justice. Climate change disrupts food systems at every level, worsening food insecurity. Extreme weather caused by climate change (like fires, floods and droughts) disrupts food supply chains, which leads to higher and unpredictable prices, more food scarcity in communities already facing food insecurity, and fewer fresh fruits and vegetables. To make things worse, people who lose their housing because of a major weather catastrophe, like the fires that leveled the community of Lahaina in Maui, Hawai’i, are at high risk of food insecurity.

Working together, the food justice and climate justice movements seek to dismantle the underlying structures that create food apartheid, limit food access and widen nutrition and nourishment gaps. In communities across the globe, these movements are decolonizing food systems by preserving traditional food systems, promoting land stewardship and recognizing traditional cultural practices. At the same time, they are making it easier for communities to find sustainable, locally sourced and ethically produced food that benefits both people and the planet.

Climate Change Disproportionately Impacts BIPOC, Low-Income Communities

Climate change does not exist in an abstract future. We are experiencing the painful reality right here in Oregon and Southwest Washington, from devastating wildfires to record-breaking heat waves.

Erica Alexia Ledesma is the Co-Executive Director of Coalición Fortaleza, an organization that sprouted from the ashes of the Alameda wildfires in 2020. She explains how the wildfires — resulting from strong winds, dry conditions and hot temperatures due to climate change — impacted people in her community: “We woke up to smoke and strong winds. We heard there was a fire north of Ashland. Our community was already experiencing so many different layers of crisis. It was in the middle of the pandemic in 2020 and we were in a housing crisis. And then so many people lost their homes in a matter of hours. Historically, Latinx and BIPOC, low-income, working class communities were severely hit. Their houses were completely destroyed in a matter of hours.”

Extreme heat in Oregon caused by climate change in the summers of 2021 and 2022, with temperatures hitting 116 degrees Fahrenheit, further illustrates how climate change impacts historically excluded communities. Without heat relief precautions or job security protections, farmworkers — many of whom were immigrants of color — continued working through this climate crisis, and some lost their lives. More than 100 Oregonians died due to heat just in the summer of 2021. And one in three families in Oregon do not have air conditioning — a dangerous reality during heat waves. Three out of every four multigenerational homes, which house members from multiple generations of a family, lack cooling systems.

The climate crisis is not going away. In addition to continuing droughts, wildfires and heatwaves, rising sea levels threaten coastal communities in the years to come.

“We’re going to continue to see more and more disasters,” Erica says. “So how can we start building a resilient community now? I'm not just talking about Jackson County but across the state of Oregon. We’ve learned a lot from the fires of 2020. As more disasters happen, how are we able to support our community out of crisis?”

Erica Alexia Ledesma is the Co-Executive Director of Coalición Fortaleza

Oregon Food Bank’s Efforts

There is a clear connection between food justice and climate justice and we are integrating sustainability into every part of our work. Here are a few examples:

  • Local Food Purchasing and Community Grower SupportSmall agriculture combats climate change in several ways — it contributes to biodiversity, uses sustainable farming practices, and keeps food local, reducing fossil fuel emissions from packaging and transportation. Our Community Grower Support project supports local farmers and food producers from Oregon Food Bank’s equity constituencies (Black, Indigenous and all People of Color, immigrants and refugees, gender expansive individuals, and single mothers and caregivers), who face the highest and most disproportionate rates of hunger. This includes Native and Tribal fishers, fruit/vegetable growers, ranchers, herbalists, dairy farmers, bakers and more.

  • Supporting Indigenous Sovereignty — Indigenous communities experience significantly greater food insecurity, health challenges and environmental threats — all caused by the abuse and theft of sacred lands, waters and air. At Oregon Food Bank, we recognize that our mission to end hunger and its root causes is interconnected with Native people’s struggles for sovereignty, Land Back and healing the Earth. We do not forget or turn away from the true history and current conditions of colonization — namely the invisibilization, murder, disappearance and erasure of Indigenous people and culture. We encourage people to educate themselves about decolonization, and we call on ourselves and our community to examine how we have been complicit in reinforcing ethnic stereotypes, racist actions, deficit-based ideology and recolonization.

  • Mobilizing Staff and Resources — This year, food banks around the country entered emergency response mode to address climate crises, from wildfires and tornadoes, to tropical storms and flooding. In Oregon, the Oregon Food Bank Network is always ready to respond with water, food and other critical supplies for affected communities. And in 2023, we deployed Oregon Food Bank staff to Hawai’i to help in the aftermath of deadly wildfires.

  • Facilities Upgrades — Oregon Food Bank is constructing new efficient buildings and renovating our existing facilities to reduce energy use. Projects include LED lighting retrofits, new refrigerated and frozen food storage systems, HVAC modernization and redesigned waste and sanitation areas at our headquarters.

  • Transportation — We have converted the refrigeration systems in the freight trailers used to deliver food statewide. These are now plugged into new electric shore power chargers at our loading dock, significantly reducing our fleet’s fossil fuel consumption. Thanks to federal investments championed by Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, our transportation team prioritizes electric vehicles for food distribution as more options for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles become available. In addition to changes in our delivery fleet, we partnered with PGE’s Drive Change Fund to purchase two electric cars for staff use in the Portland metro area.

Oregon Food Bank Staff and Ambassadors on Food Justice and Climate Change

“Food sovereignty is an important aspect of climate work. As the climate changes, the ability to grow a lot of our traditional foods, even back home, becomes more difficult. Being able to hold onto our traditional foods is an important part of our identity. Our food is not only what we eat, but it is our ancestors. It is part of our oral history of who we are. So it's important to continue on those traditions.”
Heifara Wheeler, Pacific Climate Warriors

“The climate crisis is born from injustice and inequality. Therefore solutions must be rooted in equality and empathy, centering on the lived experience and brilliance of those most impacted. It must recognize that we are not separate from nature — that the diversity of life on this planet is the foundation of our health and well-being. We have a responsibility to safeguard not only the land and water in this age of climate crisis but also the pollinators, plants and animals on which we depend.”
— Alijana Fisher, Oregon Food Bank Community Organizer

Harnessing the Power of the Oregon Food Bank Community for Climate Justice

One major policy priority Oregon Food Bank will pursue in the coming years, developed by our Policy Leadership Council, is “Healthy Environment, Healthy People.” A healthy environment plays a vital role in our collective health and well-being — from the food we eat and water we drink to the broader array of resources our families need to thrive.

In recent years, we have advocated for and made real progress to improve the health and well-being of Oregon families through policies that support a healthier environment. In 2023, we helped advocate for and pass environmental policies, including the most comprehensive climate package in Oregon history alongside several statewide partners.

But there is still work ahead for our state to reduce fossil fuel dependency, support small agriculture, and create protections for Oregonians at greater risk of climate disasters. Together, we can harness the grassroots power of our communities in the movement for food and climate justice.

Sign up for Oregon Food Bank action alerts to stay involved in the work to end hunger and its root causes.

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Resources

Support Coalición Fortaleza

Support Pacific Climate Warriors — Portland

Support Feed’em Freedom Foundation

Support additional local partners in climate justice:

Adelante Mujeres

Beyond Toxics

Building Resilience Coalition

Climate Solutions

Community Resilience Hubs Coalition

Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon

Oregon Community Food System Network

Oregon Environmental Council

Oregon Rural Action

Our Children Oregon — Children’s Agenda

Oregon Just Transition Alliance

Pineros y Campesinos del Noroeste (PCUN)

Rogue Climate

Unite Oregon

Learn More

Principles of a Just Transition

The Transformational Indigenous Praxis Model

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