What are the costs of racism in the food system?

In order to make the case for engaging in racial justice work, it can be helpful to point to and quantify the very real social and economic costs to communities and our country. Read the summary PolicyLink report on equity as a key to economic development and this short article Racism and public health: How environment shapes wellbeing. You might also consider skimming this report – “The Business Case for Racial Equity.” How might you begin to quantify and convey the costs of racism (exclusion, inequity, health impacts) in your food systems work/volunteerism/studies? How might you be more explicit in making the case for full inclusion and equity as being key to economic development, public health, and shared prosperity related to the food system?

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12 thoughts on “What are the costs of racism in the food system?”

  1. Anti-racism and public schools: we teachers can share and discuss with students and families relevant information (data, charts, tables, information) regarding healthy food choices and access to such goods. Are healthy foods affordable, accessible, within means and frameworks of all children and their families? Hardly. The vast range of food choices and food decisions for families – healthy and “otherwise” – remains impacted by income, traditions, accessibility, schedules, trust and mistrust in information being disseminated by teachers, the FDA, USDA, and other institutions that have frequently deceived the public. Students themselves have little power over their nutrition, and the $2 they are given periodically to spend on whatever, is often spent on chips and soda, and more recently on take-out flavored coffee because those purchases are highly accessible, affordable, and “cool.” Much must happen simultaneously: the organically grown, accessible, affordably priced/marketed food choices for the wide range of cultures, ethnicities and multi-aged consumers in North America.

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    1. Leslie, thank you for sharing your thoughts! You have pointed out the intersectionality of all this…much must happen simultaneously, consciously, in stages, in concert and in service…

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  2. The costs of racism in the US are high but at the same time not clearly apparent or recognized either. “The Equity-Drive Growth Model” from the summary PolicyLink report seems to be a start in reducing the costs of racism. The model has three steps: 1. Rebuild our public infrastructure, 2. Grow new businesses and new jobs, 3. Prepare workers for the jobs tomorrow. Step 1 is critical because rebuilding requires more jobs and uses resources from small business and increases overall cash flow in the economy. Step 2 is important because training is an essential component of increasing job opportunity and improving people’s skill set, which allows them to seek a job that pays more. Step 3 is vital because it addresses equality in the workforce. Everyone, even those who do have barriers to work, should have equal employment opportunities to receive a job, especially a “middle-skill” job. Preparing people at a young age helps break down those barriers sooner and employment opportunities increase. This Model should be used in creating new jobs, supporting small businesses, where everyone has equal opportunities, and the barriers are low to be successful, which will decrease the cost of racism in the US.

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    1. Valerie, thanks so much for this! You have been thoughtful about and writing about what it means to have an equitable lens be a guiding principle for thoughts and actions. We all have to pause a moment to state our case for more than equal and equality. Valerie, in this Challenge, you have been consistently and passionately striving for and lifting up equity. I thank you for staying with us!

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  3. This is something I could work on. In general as a typical nonprofit worker I shy away from talking about money. Even though that’s what it all comes down to. I can do a better job at talking about the economic/cost piece in my work. For one, I could see this being a discussion point when we work with individuals – e.g., how would you describe and quantify the economic cost of racism to you and your family? How does that affect your ability to live a healthy life in itself? Also, I think we could use the economic argument (nicely summarized by PolicyLink) in grant proposals. We could also reference this when we talk about our work in the community and to the public, and use it as a piece of the case for why the work we do is important. That is something to think about since I don’t right now and it requires being comfortable with the language.

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    1. Taisy, thank you for this! Making the case in this way illuminates the benefit to all, when we choose equity! Thank you for being fully present as we draw nearer to the end of the Challenge!

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  4. Racism in the United States is costing us a lot of money. Racism is restricting the access to healthcare, healthy foods, education, etc. to people of color and minorities. Because of this, people are not getting taken care of and become sick, costing our country more money for treatments. Many minorities do not have access to healthy foods and are food insecure which results in poor health, which costs more money for treatment. Racism also restricts education to minorities, resulting in people of color not being able to achieve higher education which restricts them from higher paying jobs so they cannot afford good health care of healthy foods. Racism affects so many different aspects of our society and because of that, it is costing us more money than it would if everyone was treated equally.

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    1. Brianna, yes, it is costly! As you noted, some are the concrete and tangible costs…monetary while others are invisible or concealed costs. Those acts of “restricting” impact physical and emotional health and overall quality of life, marginalizing and blocking opportunities to prosper and contribute to the health of one’s community. Thank you for this!

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  5. The first article was incredibly interesting to me because it introduced a new perspective on reducing inequality. Making a case for full inclusion, I would promote the ideas that the article had mentioned about providing loans for start-up businesses, as well as requiring that certain percentages of new business workers have to be non-White. I think that the gap of education is already being worked on, as I have some coworkers who go to college for much less money due to race. However, I do think that this can be improved upon by making ALL colleges this way, instead of just the institutions that choose to do so. I think that the economy would do better if everyone got paid more, especially food service workers. If they had more money, they would spend it more on other businesses, and other businesses would then thrive. If they got more money, they could also afford better education for either them or their children, so that their family could eventually get much higher-paying jobs and potentially management positions. If they could afford more nutritious food as a result as well, they would need less healthcare because they would be suffering from less disease/illness, which would then save more money as well.

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  6. Jessica, thank you for weaving the scenario and emphasizing the connections of all this! The intersectionality of access, education, health, economics, all play significant roles here. You surely are making the case!

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  7. As I learned in my community nutrition class at UNH, minorities in United States will soon become the majority by 2040. Over 50% of our country’s population will consist of non-Caucasian, people of color. From a business perspective, I believe it is important that we recognize the value of including people from multicultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds in our businesses and industries. These individuals each bring unique perspectives to the table that will allow us to find solutions that might have seemed unreachable before. Improving diversity in the workforce requires proper education, which includes supporting prosperous home environments that foster wellness, development and learning. We can work toward this by offering equitable educational and professional development opportunities to minorities and people of color and also by encouraging community developers to create walkable neighborhoods with access to greenery, schools, health facilities, and public transportation for all. As a future health professional, I was really enlightened by the article that discussed racism and wellbeing. The previously thought that high rates of disease among non-whites was due to lack of access to affordable medical care, preventative services, and nutritious groceries alone – this article also discussed the release of the stress hormone, Cortisol as contributing to hypertension in the face of oppression as well as how people of color are less likely to be prescribed pain medication when needed and also suffer from poorer communication with doctors than their white counterparts. All of these factors play into the greater likelihood of developing a chronic disease and is not solely because of the income gap between whites and blacks.

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    1. Ashley, thank you for sharing your learning. Yes, as a healthcare professional, one begins to recognize the links between all that you named and the resulting stress that wreaks havoc upon one’s health silently like hypertension, diabetes and obesity. Entering the conversation from the economic cost often opens the door for the more courageous conversation- case for lifting up the concealed case- the human cost. Thank you again for being on this journey with us!

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