Backgrounder: Dismantling Racism in the Food System
Introduction to this special series
This Backgrounder is the first in a multi-authored series on “Dismantling Racism in the Food System.” In this series we seek to uncover the structural foundations of racism in the food system and highlight the ways people, communities, organizations and social movements are dismantling the attitudes, institutions and structures that hold racism in place. Food First is convinced that to end hunger and mal- nutrition we must end injustices in the food system. Dismantling the injustices of racism in the food system, in the food movement, in our organizations and among ourselves is fundamental to transform- ing the food system and our society.
Food First invites contributions on this topic from authors engaged in research and community action to dismantle racism in the food system. Different aspects of the topic can include land, labor, finance, food access, nutrition, food justice and food sovereignty organizations.
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Food—Systems—Racism: From Mistreatment to Transformation
By Eric Holt-Giménez and Breeze Harper*
Racism—the systemic mistreatment of people based on their ethnicity or skin color—affects all aspects of our society, including our food system. While racism has no biological foundation, the socio-economic and political structures that dis- possess and exploit people of color, coupled with widespread misinformation about race, cultures and ethnic groups, make racism one of the more intractable injustices causing poverty, hunger and malnutrition. Racism is not simply attitudinal prejudice or individual acts, but an historical legacy that privileges one group of people over others. Racism—individual, institutional and structural (see Box 3)—also impedes good faith efforts to build a fair, sustainable food system.
Despite its pervasiveness, racism is almost never mentioned in international programs for food aid and agricultural development. While anti-hunger and food security programs frequently cite the shocking statistics, racism is rarely identified as the cause of inordinately high rates of hunger, food insecurity, pesticide poisoning and diet-related disease among people of color. Even the wide- ly-hailed “good food” movement—with its plethora of projects for organic agriculture, permaculture, healthy food, community supported agriculture, farmers markets and corner store conversions— tends to address the issue of racism unevenly.1 Some organizations are committed to dismantling racism in the food system and center this work in their activities. Others are sympathetic but are not active on the issue. Many organizations, however, see racism as too difficult, tangential to their work, or a divisive issue to be avoided. The hurt, anger, fear, guilt, grief and hopelessness of racism are un- easily addressed in the food movement—if they are addressed at all.
This Backgrounder is first in a series about how racism and our food system have co-evolved, how present-day racism operates within the food system, and what we can do to dismantle racism and build a fair, just and sustainable food system that works for everyone.