Racial Equity

Racial Equity Statement of the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems

December 2020

The MSU Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) recognizes that racism in the food system is historic, ongoing, and systemic. As we collaborate with partners to advance food systems rooted in local regions and centered on food that is healthy, green, fair, and affordable, we are striving to embed racial equity as foundational to our work.

Racial equity is an action and an outcome.1 By removing barriers, procedures, and policies that harm people of color, we create opportunities for everyone to achieve their full brilliance in order to build a better future. We can only advance a good food system through critical self-reflection, empathetic dialogue, authentic collaboration, accountability, and systemic change.

Our Intent and Our Impact

This statement intends to make explicit our organization's values, commitment, and work as we advance just and equitable regional food systems that are anti-racist. We work to build multiracial, connected partnerships centered on shared power and transformation. We hope that this will encourage other organizations to do the same.

This statement and this work are part of an evolving process for our organization and for each of us personally. Our understanding is shaped by the changing perspectives, cultures, struggles, and triumphs of the people carrying the work forward. We will be changing throughout this process and we know we will make mistakes along the way.

Our staff will review this statement annually, next in December 2021. We would be grateful to receive feedback at any time via email at crfs@msu.edu or phone 517-353-3535.

Why Embed Racial Equity?

There are many dimensions of equity. By definition, equity implies that everyone has what they need to participate, prosper, and make decisions to reach their full potential regardless of differences, including class, disability, gender, and race.

We are focusing on racial equity because it addresses broad and ever-present barriers to an equitable food system.2 Many definitions exist for racial equity. We define racial equity as all people having what they need to thrive regardless of race and ethnicity. Although it may seem that working toward equity alone should forego any distinctions, our nation’s past and present racist practices require that we embed racial equity in our work.

Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)3 disproportionately face limited access to healthy food,4 increased risk of diet-related chronic disease,5 and additional barriers to owning a farm or food business in comparison to White people.6 These realities are in large part due to historical and current race-based systemic oppression and discrimination.

A good food system is only possible with equitable access to resources and equitable outcomes for health, education, and economic opportunity. By removing barriers, procedures, and policies that harm people of color, we can achieve a food system in which a person's race7 no longer affects their ability to access food, land, and other resources. Therefore, addressing racism is foundational to our work.

BIPOC have built and shaped the food system in the United States. Black people created the wealth of this country through their agricultural labor.8 The majority of farmworkers are Hispanic or Latino/-x; they produce and harvest much of the food we eat today.9 People of color have been and continue to be vital leaders in the movement toward just and equitable food systems.

White people have a necessary role to play in achieving a just and equitable food system. Through continued self reflection, learning, and action, White people can make racial equity an ongoing, integral part of their lives.

We need everyone's full brilliance to achieve a thriving economy, equity, and sustainability. Dismantling racism in the food system opens up more opportunities to all people: fewer barriers to access (of food, land, education, etc.), improved health, increased collaboration, more environmental and economic sustainability, and many more outcomes that benefit wellbeing.

Racial Inequity and Recent Events

The events of 2020 have impacted Black, Indigenous, and people of color disproportionately and have clearly illustrated the compounding effects of systemic racism. The ongoing racist killings of Black community members have resulted in international protest. The coronavirus pandemic has drawn attention to health disparities harming BIPOC communities. Racism has now been recognized as a public health crisis in many jurisdictions. Altogether, these events have worsened the existing and avoidable disparities in health and quality of life that make it harder for BIPOC to grow, learn, live, work, and age compared to White people.10

Among these racially driven inequities, the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the failures of our food system. Due to inequitable power distribution, opportunities for BIPOC to influence and shape our food systems are often withheld. For instance, farms and food businesses owned by BIPOC have faced great difficulty obtaining financial relief both before and especially during the pandemic. These disparities have highlighted many issues within our food system that perpetuate injustice and inequity.

Our team at CRFS wants to be part of the solutions. We commit to embedding a racial equity lens in our work and disrupting places and spaces that are not yet recognizing racial inequity as an issue in our food system.

Land Grant Universities and Systemic Racism

It is essential to recognize that the Center’s position within Michigan State University, a land grant university, informs our past, current, and future work.11 Land grant universities were established under the premise of benefiting all people, but they have not fulfilled that mission.

One clear example of how systemic racism is embedded within the land grant system was the need to establish 1890 (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), 1994 (Tribal Colleges and Universities), and 2008 (Hispanic-Serving Agricultural Colleges and Universities) land grant institutions to address the unmet needs of these communities. Ongoing funding disparities exist among 1862, 1890, 1994, and 2008 institutions.12

Our challenge is to better understand and address the impact of the land grant system historically and currently. Institutions of higher education contribute to systems of privilege, holding power that must be harnessed to dismantle racism and inequity.

Our Values

  • Everyone should have access to food that is healthy, green, fair, and affordable.
  • Equitable access to and outcomes for health, education, and economic opportunity are necessary for a socially just food system.
  • Our capacity to achieve positive change at the personal, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural levels is greatly increased through authentic partnerships.

Our Commitment

We commit to advancing just and equitable regional food systems that overcome and transcend racism. This means we have responsibilities to:

  • Take steps to ensure that Center personnel and partners are reflective of the communities in which we work.
  • Prioritize racial equity in our strategic planning and staff plans of work.
  • Become a more effective and authentic partner to organizations led by food justice advocates, farmers/ranchers of color, and farm and food worker organizations, among others.
  • Collaborate across systems, including health, education, and others to effect lasting change.
  • Respect communities of color as leaders, formulators of critical questions and solutions, and producers of knowledge.
  • Practice empathetic listening and seek to understand feedback so we may strengthen our framework and strategies in this ongoing process.
  • Dismantle barriers and strengthen pathways to equitable collaboration, participation, and leadership that includes people of color.
  • Co-create an ongoing dialogue to explore and address critical issues of food systems, including racism and white supremacy culture, and work to create solutions in partnerships of accountability.

A Note on Language

We recognize the language in this statement may be unfamiliar to some. If you would like to learn more about the words and concepts we have referenced, we invite you to explore the following resources:

Additionally, if you find anything in the language we used problematic, please get in touch. We are always looking to learn.

Acknowledgements

We wish to thank the trusted partners whose feedback helped shape this document.

In addition, the following groups’ statements on racial equity particularly inspired us as we created our own:

Center for Environmental Farming Systems
Center for Health Progress
Inter-Institutional Network for Food, Agriculture, and Sustainability
Michigan League for Public Policy
National Farm to School Network
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Rainforest Action Network


Some Actions We Are Taking

We feel it is important to share some examples of how we are advancing racial equity in our work and as individuals. We hope this will encourage other organizations to do and share their own work. As a community of food system organizations, we can inspire each other to action. We recognize this is ongoing work and we still have a long way to go.

We Strive to Prioritize Racial Equity in All CRFS Activities

Through our food systems research, outreach, and education, we work to increase awareness and understanding of historic and ongoing racism. We have established objectives in our current strategic plan that help us embed the pursuit of racial equity in our organizational culture and structure. We share the following examples of initial steps in order to be transparent.

We are developing a research portfolio that helps benchmark equitable good food systems change.

Our publication, “Measuring Racial Equity in the Food System: Established and Suggested Metrics,” is a tool for food systems practitioners to hold ourselves accountable to progress towards racial equity.

Another publication, “An Annotated Bibliography on Structural Racism Present in the U.S. Food System,” crowdsources references in an ever-growing listing of literature that links the social construction of whiteness and its intentional or consequential impact on structural racism within the United States’ food movement.

We are increasing our understanding of racial equity in food systems.

All CRFS staff include racial equity learning opportunities in our plans of work and annual professional development.

In 2018, we co-founded a Racial Equity in the Food System Workgroup. This group of Cooperative Extension professionals, food systems educators, and community stakeholders is working to connect, learn, and collaborate to use a racial equity lens in all aspects of their work.

We are working to ensure the Center is reflective of the communities in which we work.

We are examining our hiring processes to ensure that opportunities at CRFS are shared with a diverse pool of candidates.

We invest in opportunities such as the Summer Research Opportunities Program for students of color to further their skills, content knowledge, and experience to be competitive applicants.

We are involved in shaping the diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and practices at the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), in which we are housed.

We are working to inform state and federal policy.

Over the course of the next two to four years, we are collaborating with partners throughout the state to develop the next iteration of the Michigan Good Food Charter. Advancing equity and dismantling racism are a central focus of this process.

This statement was originally published in December 2019.


Endnotes

1"What is Racial Equity?” Center for Social Inclusion. Retrieved from https://www.centerforsocialinclusion.org/our-work/what-is-racial-equity/

2“Food Equity.” Center for Social Inclusion. Retrieved from https://www.centerforsocialinclusion.org/our-work/our-programs/food-equity/

3We recognize that the term BIPOC is imperfect. We are using it to recognize that Black and Indigenous peoples have a “unique relationship to whiteness...which shapes the experiences of and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color within a U.S. context." Retrieved from https://www.thebipocproject.org/ 

4"Hopkins Study Examines Racial, Economic Disparities in Access to Healthy Food.” Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved from https://hub.jhu.edu/2013/12/09/race-and-health-food-access/

5"The Devastating Consequences of Unequal Food Access.” Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved from https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2016/04/ucs-race-income-diabetes-2016.pdf

6"Building the Case for Racial Equity in the Food System.” Center for Social Inclusion. Retrieved from https://www.centerforsocialinclusion.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Building-the-Case-for-Racial-Equity-in-the-Food-System.pdf

7Race is “[a] social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification, and the social, economic, and political needs of a society at a given period of time. Racial categories subsume ethnic groups.” Retrieved from Adams, M., Bell, L., and Griffin, P. (Eds.). (2007). Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. Routledge.

8Nikole Hannah Jones writes, “Before the abolishment of the international slave trade, 400,000 enslaved Africans would be sold into America. Those individuals and their descendants transformed the lands to which they’d been brought into some of the most successful colonies in the British Empire. Through backbreaking labor, they cleared the land across the Southeast. They taught the colonists to grow rice. They grew and picked the cotton that at the height of slavery was the nation’s most valuable commodity, accounting for half of all American exports and 66 percent of the world’s supply…. They built vast fortunes for white people North and South — at one time, the second-richest man in the nation was a Rhode Island “slave trader.” Profits from black people’s stolen labor helped the young nation pay off its war debts and financed some of our most prestigious universities. It was the relentless buying, selling, insuring and financing of their bodies and the products of their labor that made Wall Street a thriving banking, insurance and trading sector and New York City the financial capital of the world.” The material wealth created by African Americans is only one of the ways in which Black people have built the food system. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/black-history-american-democracy.html

983% of farmworkers in the US are Hispanic, according to findings from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) 2015-2016: A Demographic and Employment Profile of United States Farmworkers. Retrieved from https://www.doleta.gov/naws/research/

10Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Health equity considerations and racial and ethnic minority groups. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html 

11“Inside the Push to Bring Racial Equity to Land Grant Universities.” Civil Eats. Retrieved from https://civileats.com/2018/05/30/inside-the-push-to-bring-racial-equity-to-land-grant-universities/

12“The U.S. Land-Grant University System: An Overview.” (2019). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R45897.pdf