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How one regional non-profit is pushing to make racial equity in food systems a habit

A photo of a row of produce under lights at a store.
Thomas Le
“When we think about our transformation as human beings and racial equity as being a core value, it's 365. We're living it every day,” said Karen Spiller, who co-led the challenge.

A 21-day racial equity challenge run by Food Solutions New England, a network of regional food organizations, drew to a close over the weekend. But for the group, and their participants, the work continues year-round.

“When we think about our transformation as human beings and racial equity as being a core value, it's 365. We're living it every day,” said Karen Spiller, who co-led the challenge.

Spiller is a founding member of Food Solutions New England, which is coordinated by University of New Hampshire’s Sustainability Institute. The network is working to update their vision for New England’s food, focused on producing more food in the region and developing a more just system.

The challenge is meant to address the influence of structural racism across the food system. From access to food to land and farm ownership, racism has shaped foodways in the United States. A 2018 study found Black and Hispanic households had rates of food insecurity that were twice as high as those of white households. According to another 2018 analysis, white people owned 98% of farmland in the United States from 2012-2014.

Now in its eighth year, the 21-day challenge leads participants through learning about the legacies of colonization and slavery, food sovereignty efforts, environmental justice and other topics on racism in the food system.

This year, thousands of organizations and individuals came together to learn about the history and presence of racism in the food system, with daily prompts and reflection questions. Thinking about racial justice daily for three weeks can help build a habit of exploring inequity and injustice and working to build a more just future, the organization said.

The food-based challenge was developed based on work by racial justice educators Dr. Eddie Moore, Debby Irving and Dr. Marguerite Pennick-Parks, Spiller said. Food Solutions New England adapted their 21-day racial equity challenge to be directly related to the food system.

Organizations and individuals participating are encouraged to act on the things they learn. And Spiller said for people who are able to create new policies and structures, that approach can be transformative.

“For those of us in roles that do create policy and that do create structure, they're changing those structures and they're changing their ways of doing things,” she said. “Whether it's how they hire or how they purchase, they're making intentional decisions based on what they're leaning in and learning.”

Spiller said a big part of the 21-day challenge is building relationships and trust.

“Looking for the commonality and the shared values is so critical. When we think about the transformation we want to make around the food system in our New England community, it really requires all of us being able to use all of our power and privilege, all our knowledge and skills, all our will,” she said.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
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