Does race matter when seeking access to healthy food? Part 2

Strategies for building a racially-equitable food system.

Building on the evidence presented in part one that our food system is racially inequitable, we can ask ourselves what we can do to change it. The Center for Social Inclusion’s recently published report - “Building the Case for Racial Equity in the Food System” - offers suggestions and tools. We can also look to examples of these strategies here in Michigan.

The report offers six recommendations that food system stakeholders can work towards in order to advance equity in the food system. The critical piece of these recommendations is that they are approached with an intention to build racial equity. Many of these suggestions may already be happening, but if they are not explicitly meant to promote equity, they may (and likely will) benefit the people who already benefit from an imbalanced system.

  • Surface opportunities to construct broad, intersectional policy issues. In part one; we learned that the policies which disadvantage people of color span multiple sectors and time periods. In order to begin to address the ripple effects of these policies, we need to look at connected policy solutions.
  • Forge partnerships across urban and rural communities. Racial inequity impacts urban, suburban and rural communities. When we create connections across geography, we can better understand the impacts of inequity and the potential benefits to everyone by promoting an equitable system.
  • Support indigenous and community leadership through small business financing and community capacity building. Those communities that are most impacted by our inequitable food system have the best understanding of what is needed in order to make change. By lifting up community leaders to do this work, changes made will have the most traction and staying power.
  • Advocate for labor rights and more balanced ownership of the food system. On an economic level, if the people who work food system jobs were paid a living wage, there would be a significant multiplier effect in terms of increased money circulating in our economy. On a human level, the people who grow, process, package, prepare and otherwise handle our food supply deserve a fair wage and equal opportunity to own food-based businesses.
  • Invest in immediate solutions in our communities, schools and farms. Innovative approaches to addressing inequitable circumstances in all of these settings are necessary in the short term.
  • Offer tools and resources to guide creation of racially equitable solutions. The report includes numerous tools for food system stakeholders to evaluate their own work through the lens of racial equity.

Across Michigan, and particularly in Southeastern Michigan where we have the most diverse population, the work to advance a racially equitable food system is desperately needed. As food system participants, we have a responsibility to consider how our work and activities (such as where we eat, or where we buy our food from) are promoting or degrading this effort. Fortunately, we have many great examples of community groups, stakeholders, organizations and institutions that are pushing this work forward.

For starters, Detroit is a hub of activity around racial equity. The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network is promoting community leadership and capacity building among the Black community. Earthworks Urban Farm and Keep Growing Detroit are also providing capacity building, as well as economic opportunities within the food system. Eastern Market is a unique space where urban, suburban and rural communities come together around food. The Uprooting Racism, Planting Justice group holds monthly meetings and discussions on the topic of racial equity, to build understanding of the issues and opportunities for action.

The Center for Regional Food Systems has multiple initiatives that intersect with promoting racial equity in the food system. Recently, the Center has formed a Food Justice and Sovereignty Workgroup, which includes academic and community participants to help understand Michigan’s food system equity landscape.

These are just a few examples of the important work that is going on throughout the state. If you would like to learn more about promoting racial equity in the food system, the report that these articles was based on is an excellent place to start.

Community Food Systems programs within Michigan State University Extension promote the production and purchasing of good food, which we define as healthy, green, fair and affordable. These efforts are tied to promoting equity in the Michigan food system.

Other articles in this series:

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