Food justice lens on the SDG framework

In 2021 as the Sustainable Food Systems and the SDGs project began, FSC undertook some research and reflection about the strengths and weaknesses of the framework, from intersectional and food justice perspectives. This work was included as an opening section of the publication School Food and the Sustainable Development Goals: A pathway to meeting multiple goals and targets (2021) and is reproduced below.

Intersectional critiques 

Since the 17 SDGs were first adopted by all UN Member States in 2015, organizations across the globe have highlighted the need for the goals to be analysed and implemented using the principles of reconciliation, decolonization, racial justice and broader food justice. The SDG framework has also been critiqued from other perspectives, including de-growth, ecological and feminist perspectives. The SDG framework has also been criticized over its lack of integration of a human rights approach to food (Pol & Schuftan, 2016) and the focus on marketbased interventions rather than an overall restructuring of systems that created the need for the SDGs in the first place. Before moving to a detailed analysis of school food and the SDGs, this paper will give a snapshot of these critiques. This will continue to be an ongoing journey for FSC, as well as everyone else applying the SDGs, to understand these critiques and how they apply to food systems work that is linked to the SDGs.

Literature review snapshot


  • Broadly, the SDGs have been praised for their strategic relevance in bringing about transformative change towards sustainability (Struckmann, 2018), for including civil society groups during the development phase, and for being applicable to all countries. This is unlike the more colonially framed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that preceded the SDGs and only applied to the “Global South” or low and middleincome countries). The SDGs have also been praised for recognizing systemic issues (Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights, 2017).
  • The SDGs have been praised for their intersectional dimensions towards development, bringing together many social, and environmental issues. For example, the SDGs have been praised for having a standalone goal dedicated to addressing gender and women’s rights issues, (Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights, 2017). 
  • The goals have been praised for representing “an opportunity to eliminate poverty and improve the health and wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples through action on the social determinants of health, while proactively curbing some of the negative impacts of globalization on the planet for future generations” (Odulaja & Halesth, 2018). 


  • The language used in the Goals has been considered by some as being watered down, abstract, or politically cautious and thus ineffective and an impediment to any real change (Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights, 2017; Sengupta, 2018). • One review criticized the framing of poverty as a “narrow, income-based, individualistic perspective” rather than a human rights issue (Odulaja & Halesth, 2018).
  • Other criticisms have included the need for standalone goals for Indigenous Peoples and the silence of the agenda on specific Indigenous issues (Odulaja & Halesth, 2018) and an individual rather than community focus. There is concern about how the goals are “disturbingly silent about eradicating the causes and effects of racism and racial/ethnic discrimination” and that “racism and racial/ethnic discrimination will continue to function as structural and systemic barriers to sustainable development if they are not addressed” (Integrating the Elimination of Inequalities due to Racism into the Framework of the UN Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda: 1 Recommendations from Civil Society, 2015).
  • The SDGs have been criticized for their prioritization of the economy over the environment. The goals aim to protect the environment while maintaining economic growth for private actors “the SDGs rely mainly on those institutions responsible for unsustainable resource use, and partly propose measures that even reinforce current trends towards less sustainability” (Eisenmenger, et al., 2020). This takes place as opposed to “seeking redistribution of gross global and national inequalities in wealth and income” (Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights, 2017).

References Intersectional critiques

 Pol, J. L. V., & Schuftan, C. (2016). No right to food and nutrition in the SDGs: mistake or success?. BMJ global health, 1(1), e000040. Struckmann, C. (2018). 

A postcolonial feminist critique of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: A South African application. Agenda, 32(1), 12–24. 950.2018.1433362 

Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights. 2017. Feminist Critiques of the Sustainable Development Goals: Analysis and Bibliography. Retrieved from: sites/default/files/Feminist_Critiques_of_the_SDGs_-_Analysis_and_Bibliography_-_CGSHR. pdf 

Odulaja, O., and Halesth, R. (2018). The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Prince George, BC: National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health. Retrieved from: Sengupta, M. (2018). 

Transformational change or tenuous wish list?: A critique of SDG 1 (’End poverty in all its forms everywhere’). Social Alternatives, 37(1), 12–17. https://search.informit. org/doi/10.3316/informit.573646044161666 

Integrating the Elimination of Inequalities due to Racism into the Framework of the UN Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda: 1 Recommendations from Civil Society (June, 2015). Retrieved from: documents/14989RacismPost2015SDGAdvocacyDoc526.pdf 

Bali Swain, R. (2017). A Critical Analysis of the Sustainable Development Goals. 10.1007/978- 3-319-63007-6_20. Retrieved from: Critical_Analysis_of_the_Sustainable_Development_Goals 

Eisenmenger, N., Pichler, M., Krenmayr, N., Noll, D., Plank, B., Schalmann, E., Wandl, M.-T., & Gingrich, S. (2020). The Sustainable Development Goals prioritize economic growth over sustainable resource use: A critical reflection on the SDGs from a socio-ecological perspective. Sustainability Science, 15(4), 1101–1110. 

Where Canada Stands: A Sustainable Development Goals Progress Report (2017). The British Columbia Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) & Global Affairs Canada. Retrieved from:


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