“Food is not just central to whether we live or die; it is also central to our personhood, our place in society and our fundamental notions of who we are. And so an empty plate is not just about the absence of a meal. It is about the absence of care, the absence of dignity and the absence of kindness. These are the real moral evils of our food system.”

These strong statements, and Dr Tracy Ledger’s resolve to draw attention to the injustice and inequality entrenched in the South African food system are what make her an indomitable food hero in the eyes of SA Harvest.

Most importantly, Tracy doesn’t just point out the problems and what’s caused them, she presents what is possible if we reimagine our society and build a new system on the foundation of solidarity and ethical food citizenship.

Tracy is a South African researcher in the field of economic development, with 25 years of research experience. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of the Witwatersrand and a Master’s degree in Agricultural Economics from Stellenbosch University. She is an agrifood activist, believing that a more equitable agri-food system is fundamental to building a more equitable society.

In her book ‘An Empty Plate: Why We are Losing the Battle for Our Food System, why it Matters, and how We Can Win it Back’, and at every opportunity to make the facts known, Tracy asks: “Why is it that food prices are so high that millions of South African families go hungry, while the prices paid to farmers for the same food are so low that many cannot stay in business? Why are the people who produce our food – farmworkers – among the most insecure of all? Why do high levels of rural poverty persist while corporate profits in the food sector keep rising? How did a country with a constitutional right to food become a place where 1 in 4 children is malnourished and classified as stunted?”

“In SA, corporates have got a disproportionate amount of power in the food system, and this is detrimental to most of our social justice and equity outcomes – food security, the viability of small farmers, critical land use, nutrition, the environment etc.”

In 2017, Tracy said that according to the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign (SAFSC), 53% of the South African population do not have enough food; and about 14 million people go to bed hungry every night. In 2020, even before COVID, this number had skyrocketed to 18 million and is now estimated at around 19 million.

Thank you, Tracy, for telling the story, exposing the truth and fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves.