Objective 8

Increase Leadership by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Across the Food System

Introduction

Our country’s founding ideals and folklore have always been in conflict with its reality. American history is rooted in genocide, slavery, and theft.

This history—and the oppressive systems that enabled it—are ever present today and form the foundation of our food system.

From the violent dispossession and displacement of Indigenous people to the enslavement of countless Africans, to the exploitation of migrant guestworkers, the U.S. food system was built on stolen land and stolen labor. This historic and ongoing theft of land and labor is a result of enduring racism that is still deeply visible across our food system.

Today, most owners of farms, food businesses, and land are White, while farm and food workers are predominantly people of color. Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) disproportionately live in neighborhoods with limited healthy food options, and are more likely to suffer from diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and obesity. Wealth and power across our food system are held by a White majority, while people of color have limited economic opportunity and agency. These disparities are visible across every data set and are the direct result of federal policies and practices deliberately designed to discriminate against people of color.

Ironically, the movement to build a more just food system has also been dominated by White voices. Black, Indigenous, and people of color—those most disproportionately impacted by inequities—remain cast in minimizing roles, marginalized by the very movement that is intended to benefit them.

The same culture that allowed our foundational, discriminatory policies to take root is also responsible for creating our modern-day, industrial food system that erodes natural environments, local economies, and human health. Many concepts now gaining popularity as sustainable and equitable alternatives—including organic farming, regenerative agriculture, CSAs, cooperatives, community land trusts, and food sovereignty—can be traced back to food justice leaders of color. Living in harmony with nature, honoring ancestral wisdom, sharing prosperity, and using the Earth’s resources in a way that is mindful of other species and future generations are cultural values deeply held and long practiced by communities of color, particularly Indigenous communities. Excluding Black, Indigenous, and people of color from leading the way in our food system has cost us dearly.

People of color are the unrecognized leaders of our modern day, sustainable food system movement, but racist policies and narratives have perpetually kept them from gaining influence, making decisions on behalf of their communities, and simply being respected as such.

Dismantling racism and increasing wealth, power, and leadership opportunities for Black, Indigenous, and people of color is essential for creating a more equitable and resilient food system. As those who are most directly impacted by inequities across our food system, it is time to listen to communities of color, respect their wisdom, and follow their lead.

Chapter Summary

Most farmland in America today is owned by White people.

White people make up 60% of our country’s population, but comprise 92% of producers, own 96% of farms, and operate 94% of land in agriculture.

Segregation and redlining have had lasting impacts on communities of color.

From 1934 to 1968—the years when redlining was legally practiced—98% of the loans approved by the federal government went to White applicants.

Black, Indigenous, and people of color are underrepresented and face significant challenges advancing to positions of leadership.

Nationally, 93% of CEOs on the Fortune 500 list are White, 77% of businesses are White-owned, and 82% of nonprofit executive leaders are White.

In our food system, the dominant narrative has been told by White people.

The movement to build a more sustainable and equitable food system has also been dominated by White leadership.

BIPOC-led organizations have a history of being underfunded.

Research on racial equity and philanthropy found that White-led organizations had budgets that were 24% larger than those led by people of color.

Core Challenges

Ending racist and discriminatory policies

Overcoming systemic barriers to leadership

Shifting the dominant narrative around food systems

Reversing the impacts of philanthropic redlining

Strategies at a Glance

Increase community-led food system planning & policy efforts

Elevate voices of BIPOC people, places, and programs

Diversify food system leadership and Invest in BIPOC leaders

Democratize funding decisions

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