Rewriting the Call to Charity: From Food Shelf Volunteer to Food Justice Advocate


  • Beth A. Dixon State University of New York College at Plattsburgh



Charity, Food Justice, Moral Responsibility, Activism, Narratives


Consider the food shelf volunteer (or any charity worker) who is inspired to practice good work on behalf of those who are poor and hungry. Her beneficence is praiseworthy. But a simple call to charity may also blind the volunteer to certain facts about food justice. First, it leaves out why clients who utilize the food shelf are hungry. Second, it suggests that the generous volunteers who staff the food shelf have met their political responsibilities. In this viewpoint I argue that hunger relief advocates may be transformed into policy advocates only if they are epistemically positioned to do so. What we need is a new practical strategy or technique for rewriting the very nature of what it means to engage in charity. This strategy involves using stories or narratives that profile particular people who are food insecure, but that also include systemic background conditions describing the social, political, and economic positions of more than one person. To make visible these background conditions I employ the philosophical concept of a "counterstory." Counterstories reveal structural inequities that identify how groups of people are unfairly disadvantaged. Acquiring this point of view is necessary for undertaking our collective responsibilities for achieving food justice because it positions us to see what structural conditions must change. In this way food justice activism becomes a real goal, made possible by the creation of a knowledgeable and informed citizenry.


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Author Biography

Beth A. Dixon, State University of New York College at Plattsburgh

Department of Philosophy, State University of New York College at Plattsburgh, Champlain Valley Hall 0306; Plattsburgh, New York 12901 USA; +1-518-564-2836.



How to Cite

Dixon, B. A. (2015). Rewriting the Call to Charity: From Food Shelf Volunteer to Food Justice Advocate. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 5(2), 71–79.



Papers from UVM Food Systems Summit