Why racial justice has to be at the heart of food justice

January 24, 2024

Sareta Puri is Diversity Outreach Coordinator at Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming

At Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming we campaign for a more equitable food system that is good for the planet, animals and people. Any discussion of food justice – for people to have access to healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food – has to acknowledge the need to tackle the societal in equalities from which food insecurity and food injustice stem.

In the UK 7% of people, including 21% of children, live in food insecure household (House of Commons, 2023) and Black and minority ethnic people are 2.5 times more likely to be in relative poverty compared to white people (Runnymede Trust, 2022). One in ten people live in areas within food deserts: areas with limited access to fresh, healthy and nutritious food. Added to this that many people of colour are more likely to experience diet-related illnesses including type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease it is clear that systemic barriers exist in the food system.

The challenge we face around citizens’ access to food is intrinsically tied to who grows, produces and provides it. Big business controls most of the food system, influencing what food is available and to who. Most British land has been accumulated over centuries by wealthy white landowners – many of whose ancestors will have played a part in colonising land from indigenous populations. Without access to land, Black and people of colour have limited food sovereignty. Taking this control and choice away is one of the structural barriers that exacerbates food insecurity and diet-related illnesses.

The agriculture and environmental sectors are well documented as the least diverse workplaces and without people that represent diverse communities at the heart of decision-making their opinions, needs and values will not be centred. As highlighted in an article for Social Watch (2021) the “current narratives of food insecurity reproduce a form of patriarchal ableist whiteness that does not reflect the socially diverse society in the UK, or address the structural power that leads to hunger.”

So, what do we do?

For Sustain, being part of the RACE Report provides a useful insight into our progress on internal diversity, equity and inclusion. We can always learn, develop and do better and the transparency of the report enables that. We recognise there is so much more to do and that having a diverse team won’t create systemic change. Which is why as an alliance we value the need for movement building.

My role as Diversity Outreach Coordinator at Sustain was created last summer to provide an outward focus on building capacity, raising awareness and creating opportunities that work towards a more diverse and equitable sector. We’re committed to integrating diversity into all our projects and campaigns and embedding an anti-racist approach within our team. To support the movement we’re creating information and resources to support organisations committed to progress in this area which will primarily be available through our Roots to Work platform. And we want to inspire and motivate a whole new pipeline of talent into the sector through events and information on careers in sustainable food and farming. By considering racial justice and equity throughout our work we can build a better, fairer, and more sustainable food system for all.