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Abstract

This qualitative case study of the equity-oriented RI Food Policy Council (FPC) situates alternative food movement (AFM) practice within the food, social movement, and public policy literatures. I suggest radically-inclined food justice critics highlight valid concerns with reformist AFM activities, yet remain unsympathetic to the practical realities of policy making. Drawing primarily from civic engagement and community organizing scholarship, this paper explores the RIFPC’s capacity to achieve food justice in light of its participatory, democratic potential. I build upon McClintock’s (2013) call to embrace the AFM’s internal contradictions, further arguing that FPCs can serve an essential function in bringing radical and reformist camps together. After investigating three key themes—professionalization, implicit bias, and engagement ecology—I offer concrete recommendations for FPC practitioners moving forward. While exclusionary practices and locally-bound actions will limit FPCs’ transformative potential, I posit that, at their best, FPCs create a space for the inclusive, genuine participation that a well-functioning democracy requires, as well as the direct political connections for such civic engagement to produce material outcomes.