Local Food Systems Key to Healthy, Resilient, Equitable Communities

From Planning magazine Winter 2021

This story is part of Planning’s Disruptors series, a year-long look at the trends, challenges, and opportunities driving change in our communities. Visit Planning magazine online to read the article in full.

By Cynthia Currie and Mary Hammon

Exploring “The Color of Food” – A book and website by Natasha Bowens

The Color of Food by Natasha Bowens (New Society Publishers) is the result of the author’s multimedia project launched in 2010 to share and amplify stories of food sovereignty in communities of color.  It uses stories and photographs to tell stories of farmers and explore and document the relationships between race and food.  The Color of Food tells stories of individuals, their experiences with issues ranging from crop loss to farmworkers’ rights, connecting lives with the food sovereignty movement through firsthand storytelling and observation. A central aim is to serve as an outlet for the voices of people of color in food and farming.  As the author says, “If we cannot see and hear from our communities, we will not have a food system free of racial inequalities.”

The web-based companion (http://thecolorofood.com/projects/) to the book provides resources for food systems planners, workers, researchers, and anyone else interested exploring issues of race, food sovereignty, and inequality within the food system. It includes an online (free) map and directory of people of color leading food and farming businesses, including farms, farmers markets, and other organizations, as well as a photo blog. Recent posts include pieces from CivilEats about a resurgence of black farmers in Texas and how the food movement can learn from #blacklivesmatter. Another central feature of the online site is the Color of Food Speakers Collective – a list of people working in farming, education, activism, food justice, and other realms, available to speak at events and for organizations on a range of issues, intertwining racial disparities in the food movement, the importance of preserving culture and building community, and personal stories.

Connection to food systems planning

Topics of food justice, food equity, and “food deserts” have become increasingly visible throughout food systems planning and policy work, yet many of the people most directly (and often indirectly) impacted by these issues are not visible or do not control the systems that result in disparities. Addressing inequity in the food system is a priority of a substantial portion of food systems planning and policy work these days and The Color of Food, the website, and speaker collective can serve as a forum and resource for exploring issues of race, equity, access, and justice.  They can help planners deepen our understanding of the impact of the dominant food system on communities of color and the impact of food planning and policy on communities. It can be frustrating, disheartening, and difficult to take on issues of race, class, and social injustice, but as planners who believe in equity – or any type of planners at all, we must. As Eric Holt-Gimenez, Executive Director of Food First put it recently in a post on CivilEats, in order to have a restorative food system, we must first tackle racism, and doing that shouldn’t be seen as “extra work” but rather “the” work.

By Erin Thoresen, APA-FIG member