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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Re-localizing Food Systems to Promote Justice and Build Social-Ecological Resilience: Lessons from Los Angeles County

  • Author(s): Hooper, Ashley Michelle
  • Advisor(s): Feldman, David L
  • et al.

Our global food system contributes to climate change, shortages of accessible freshwater supplies, declining biodiversity, deforestation, unsustainable land use practices, and increased risks to human health. Furthermore, our food system is inequitable and unjust, with communities of color, people of lower socio-economic status, and women facing disproportionate burdens of these inequalities. To address these crises and promote social-ecological resilience, scholars and advocates are calling for a re-localization of food systems at the city-level. Without examples to draw from, the concept of a socio-ecologically resilient food system within the urban context is still largely theoretical. To address gaps in our understanding and incorporate the insights of those already working within urban food frameworks and toward changing current food system outcomes, this dissertation explores how resilience is conceptualized by innovative, active food organizations (e.g., food justice advocates, urban farms) within urban contexts and within locally relevant policies/plans. Using Los Angeles County as a case study, textual data were collected and analyzed from selected organizations, in-depth, open-ended interviews with associated program directors, and planning and policy documents. Results indicate that resilient food systems promote community-level access to food that is sustainably produced, healthful, equitably accessible, and culturally relevant. External constraints for promoting resilient food systems mirror larger systemic risks facing other sectors (i.e., climate change, economic and social inequalities, conflicts over space). Extreme food waste, limited knowledge of food preparation, production and distribution, and onerous or ambiguous regulations are additional barriers. Furthermore, a globalized food economy and environmental challenges threaten the viability of smaller-scale farms. Opportunities for transforming our current food system through urban-led efforts and achieving more resilient food systems include: (i) activating the citizenry to mobilize around food issues; (ii) policymaking and institutionalizing change through multiple strategies (e.g., strategic policy framing), in multiple forms (e.g., formal and informal), and at various levels of governance (e.g., city and state); and (iii) embracing and supporting an integrated, diversified urban food system (e.g., supporting regenerative agriculture, reintegrating agriculture into all urban spaces, bridging small scale food production with community demand). Findings indicate the potential for cities to be instrumental in promoting food system resilience locally and even at the state level, by incorporating justice and equity into urban food policy and planning.

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