Date of Completion


Embargo Period



food justice, food democracy, alternative food initiatives

Major Advisor

Phoebe Godfrey

Co-Major Advisor

Ken Foote

Associate Advisor

Carol Atkinson-Palombo

Associate Advisor

Debarchana Ghosh

Associate Advisor

Ruth Glasser

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Campus Access


This research engages the concept of food justice as a theoretical and practical lens through which practices of alternative food initiatives (AFIs) can be explored and evaluated. The research makes two contributions; one, the articulation of actionable criteria through which efforts of AFIs can be compared and evaluated, and two, the examination of practices of a local AFI to gauge the relevancy and applicability of the proposed criteria.

Chapter 1 introduces the concept of food justice and reviews existing literature. Chapter 2 operationalizes food justice into a set of eight actionable criteria, which are informed by principles of social justice and democratic participation. In Chapter 3, I present a case study of the Windham Community Food Network (WCFN) and the surrounding area. Chapter 4 outlines the methodology used in the study, including participatory observation, network documents, and semi-structured interviews with members of the network. Chapter 5 presents a summary of key findings from interviews. I show areas of alignment as well as divergences between proposed criteria and network practices.

Chapter 6 examines respondents’ perceptions of comfort based on their experiences and engagement with the network. Findings from the study point to the fact that while the sense of comfort is important for the creation and maintenance of group cohesion, it can isolate and limit potential integration from some individuals.

Chapter 7 explores the concept of food democracy as a vehicle for food justice. I show that while some aspects of food democracy can be observed through the network’s participation, decision-making, and leadership structure, mechanisms to ensure collective democratic engagement remain limited.

Chapter 8 scrutinizes spatial aspects within the network’s practices against key organizing principles of food justice and food democracy. In addition to limited transportation, I show ways in which the city of Willimantic, given its physical geography, population distribution, and layout of its retail activities, presents challenges for the network to organize for food justice in the area. The study also reveals major differences in how network members understand and form vernacular places, which causes confusion and could lead to opposing understandings of the network’s mission, reach, and practices. Chapter 9 draws key conclusions from the study and makes recommendations for AFIs.

Available for download on Thursday, January 31, 2030