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Right to Food

Hunger isn’t only the absence of food; it’s the absence of justice. 

Repeated attacks on our food systems have shown us that our access to adequate food is never guaranteed.  

Washingtonians need a Human Right to Adequate Food and Nutrition (or Right to Food) to ensure that access to adequate food is a protected right once and for all. The Right to Food affirms that solutions to ending hunger and malnutrition must affirm human dignity, and that governments are primarily responsible for creating and maintaining the conditions where people can feed themselves in a dignified manner – whether that means producing one’s own food, purchasing it directly from producers and markets, or using social safety net programs. If food is a right, then the government is accountable to the people as rights-holders.    

The Right to Food is a longstanding international human rights concept, emerging in the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights and again in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In 2004, the United Nations released Voluntary Guidelines to support governments in working toward the Right to Food in their respective countries. Since then, efforts to monitor the progress of countries have been underway.  

The Right to Food embodies three core principles:

Availability

Food is directly sourced from the land and natural resources through fishing, hunting, foraging, or farming. A well-functioning and equitable market and distribution system increases the availability of food for consumers, especially for those in areas historically lacking in infrastructure. To ensure food is available all year round and for future generations to come, our food system must be optimized to produce in both quality and quantity, with environmental sustainability at its core.

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Accessibility

Food is reasonably-priced, so that people do not sacrifice their health for other basic needs, and quality food is readily physically accessible, whether by public transit or walking. Increasing access to food also means removing barriers that currently exist for vulnerable groups, such as individuals who are incarcerated, immigrants without current legal status, and people who live in remote and rural areas.  

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Adequacy

Food meets people’s needs, both physiologically and culturally. Adequate food has the essential nutrients for all developmental stages of life, taking into account age, gender, pre-existing health conditions and more. Food must also be from the excessive use of harsh agrochemicals, growth hormones, contaminants, and other substances used in mass food production. Under food sovereignty, having adequate food means eating food that corresponds to one’s ancestry, faith, and traditions.  

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What does the Right to Food look like in Washington state? 

The Right to Food in Washington can be achieved through enacting policies that ensure people’s access to adequate food, such as municipal-level ordinances and resolutions, state-level statutes, public spending bills and initiatives, and even a constitutional amendment.  

While Washington state does not currently recognize the Right to Food, Northwest Harvest alongside others continues to pursue statewide legislative change in pursuit of adequate food for all. Click here to read how our legislative priorities align with the Right to Food framework.

Northwest Harvest serves as the current fiscal sponsor and coordination team member of the National Right to Food Community of Practice, a group of advocates, legal experts, community organizers, and food and farm organizations aimed at securing the Right to Food across various states in the U.S. 

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