How Activist New Yorkers Ignited a Movement for Food Justice

By Lana Dee Povitz

358 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 19 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5301-3
    Published: November 2019
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5300-6
    Published: November 2019
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-5302-0
    Published: August 2019
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5730-9
    Published: August 2019

Justice, Power, and Politics

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In the last three decades of the twentieth century, government cutbacks, stagnating wages, AIDS, and gentrification pushed ever more people into poverty, and hunger reached levels unseen since the Depression. In response, New Yorkers set the stage for a nationwide food justice movement. Whether organizing school lunch campaigns, establishing food co-ops, or lobbying city officials, citizen-activists made food a political issue, uniting communities across lines of difference. The charismatic, usually female leaders of these efforts were often products of earlier movements: American communism, civil rights activism, feminism, even Eastern mysticism. Situating food justice within these rich lineages, Lana Dee Povitz demonstrates how grassroots activism continued to thrive, even as it was transformed by unrelenting erosion of the country's already fragile social safety net.

Using dozens of new oral histories and archives, Povitz reveals the colorful characters who worked behind the scenes to build and sustain the movement, and illuminates how people worked together to overturn hierarchies rooted in class and race, reorienting the history of food activism as a community-based response to austerity. The first book-length history of food activism in a major American city, Stirrings highlights the emotional, intimate, and interpersonal aspects of social movement culture.

About the Author

Lana Dee Povitz is visiting assistant professor of history at Middlebury College.
For more information about Lana Dee Povitz, visit the Author Page.


Stirrings is important because it . . . [shows] how service provision and activism co-existed in the organizations examined. . . . They advanced social justice even as they were not explicitly about social and political change. At a moment when political strategies are often reduced to caricatures in the media, Stirrings makes an important contribution; illuminating these dimensions of social justice work.”--The Gotham Center for New York City History

“An engaging oral history of New York food activism. . . . Povitz provides a unique historical perspective on the successes and shortfalls of food activism that scholars and professionals can gain insight from today.” --Mobilization: An International Quarterly

"With vivid prose and rich detail, Povitz deepens our understanding of how individuals become engaged in community activism and of how dedicated activists have, since the 1970s, fought against poverty and for food justice. This is a thought-provoking and timely book."--Tamar W. Carroll, Rochester Institute of Technology

"Povitz provides a captivating and engrossing book about an almost completely unexamined subject: the connection between food and anti-poverty politics. The oral histories with the activists are especially fascinating--the depth, nuance and intrigue that one gathers reading about their relationships, struggles, and joys is moving and delightful."--Brian Purnell, Bowdoin College

“In Stirrings, Povitz uses the political history of food advocacy organizations in New York City to explain why such groups focus almost exclusively on feeding hungry people rather than on addressing the root cause of that hunger—poverty. The lessons taught by this history make this book essential reading for anyone interested in ending hunger in America.”—Marion Nestle, New York University, author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health

"The lifetime dedication of women activists featured in this book should provide inspiration to many readers."--Julie Guthman, University of California, Santa Cruz