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Michigan State Panel Tackles Racism in U.S. Food Supply

Michigan researchers say racism permeates all aspects of the nation's food system, from farm workers to food preparation and service. (Pixabay)
Michigan researchers say racism permeates all aspects of the nation's food system, from farm workers to food preparation and service. (Pixabay)
April 5, 2016

LANSING, Mich. - People don't often think of racism when they think of how food gets from the field to the table, but experts say it's an issue all along the nation's food supply chain.

From farm workers to food processors, to restaurant servers, the need to embrace racial equity along with sustainability in the food system is the topic of a panel discussion today at Michigan State University.

Graduate of MSU's Community Sustainability Department, Anel Guel, explains racism permeates many aspects of the food system.

"Usually, African Americans get tipped less than a white waiter or bartender," she says. "This can be Latinos who heavily occupy the packaging and the processing and this can also go to people of color who usually occupy fast-food, urban jobs."

Guel says there's a lot that can be done to improve the situation.

Director of the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems Rich Pirog says not only in Michigan, but around the world, people of color in the food and agriculture industry are exploited, subjected to harsh work conditions, and paid very low wages.

"If they work hard, people should be paid a living wage," says Pirog. "And that's an underlying economic element for the issues around structural racism, is that there's a lack of economic justice for people of color."

Pirog and Guel have developed an annotated bibliography to provide a clearer picture of this structural racism for researchers, educators and students working in any food or agriculture-related field.

While for some it's an uncomfortable conversation topic, Guel says it's important to begin a dialogue on the problem of racial inequality in the food system, so solutions can be developed.

"Right now for Michigan, a huge thing that we can do to move forward is just, first of all, bring awareness to this, and just equity as a whole, throughout other areas of interest," she says.

Today's event, entitled, "Racial Equity and the Promise of Good Food in Michigan," begins at 4:45 p.m. at MSU.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI