The Case for Equitable Food Oriented Development—Food Justice for All

Thursday, February 14, 2019
Kharmika Alston, MPP
Piri Durham showcasing their cuisine, a fusion of piri spices and food of the Black diaspora at a pour taproom pop up

For some Americans, getting nutritious, fresh food is pretty easy and not something to think too much about. For others, it’s a day-to-day struggle. The underlying cause for why this happens is not a matter of personal motivation, or not understanding what it takes to be healthy. These same individuals also find it incredibly difficult to start a small business, buy a home, do well in school, get good exercise, have clean drinking water, or receive good healthcare, just to name a few activities many of us take for granted.

The reason for this disparity goes deep into our country’s history and way of doing business. It’s what many food justice advocates, activists, sociologists, and scholars call structural racial inequity. Historical and intentional practices like redlining and racism in planning and development have led to what are presently known as food deserts. Or, more aptly, what community activist; black farmer; and co-founder of the Black Urban Growers based in Bronx, NY Karen Washington calls a food apartheid. These are areas where there is structural inequality between more affluent and primarily white communities compared to low-income communities of color.

Food activists and food sovereignty advocates have developed a framework to systematically address issues of structural inequality. They argue that community ownership over land and production of food is the way to address structural racial inequity in the food system.

Visualization of the food system
Source: In their report, Building the Case for Racial Equity in the Food System, the Center for Social Inclusion uses data from Wholesome Wave to provide a visual representation of the food system.


Michelle Burton, Rudy Espinoza, Clare Fox, and Veronica Flores, authors of the “Fresh Perspective: Food, Equity, and Community Development” white paper, argue for systemic change that promotes equity and community ownership in the food system. They write, “Understanding the root of why low-income communities and communities of color lack access to healthy food needs to critically inform strategies for community food projects if we are to be successful in generating health equity. Community food work must not only provide food access, but also build an economic infrastructure that supports the sustainability of that food access while investing in community wealth building and the elimination of the racial wealth gap.”

As the Food System Finance Fellow at the Duke World Food Policy Center (WFPC), I spend my days talking with aspiring entrepreneurs of color. People who, for whatever reason, absolutely must start their own business in order to survive. And I see how difficult it is for them to engage with a system that is genuinely stacked against them.

One of our operational values at the WFPC is to strive with optimism towards inclusiveness, diversity, and equity in food system policy. This really speaks to me on a personal level. If we aren’t considering how race contributes to a broken and inequitable food system, we are doing our audience and stakeholders a disservice.

“EFOD works because a food based economy uplifts and preserves local cultures, individual and community health, and a value added chain that creates economic opportunity from production through consumption.  It acts as a catalyst for other economies in the community – even those not directly food-related.  This framework successfully revitalizes a broader community based economic engine that leads to sustained community health, and asset building.” – Dana Harvey, Mandela Partners

The Equitable Food Oriented Development (EFOD) framework serves as an incredible tool to address and ultimately alleviate structural racial inequity in the food system. Dana Harvey, Executive Director of the Oakland based non-profit organization Mandela Partners, outlines the core elements of the framework:

  • Community engagement to direct planning and needs assessments
  • Place-based healthy food retail, aggregation and supply owned by community members
  • Business incubation and technical assistance
  • Capital access and financing
  • Training and education in business and health

Directing investment and resources into the EFOD framework strengthens existing community businesses while creating space, incubation, and innovation for new businesses. Food-oriented enterprises operating under this framework are more equitable in that they provide an opportunity for all people in the community to be paid a living wage in the food system value chain. An EFOD ecosystem also links local businesses to health and wealth building efforts resulting in local ownership, greater distribution of wealth among communities, and a preservation of local culture.

Kharmika Tillery-Alston is the World Food Policy Center Food System Finance Fellow, where her role is to provide technical assistance to food entrepreneurs of color that are expanding access to healthy foods in low-income communities. She holds a Master of Public Policy.

Photo caption: Piri Durham showcasing their cuisine, a fusion of piri spices and food of the Black diaspora at a pour taproom pop up