Advancing Equity at USDA
Pear in Mind: A Blog in the Public Interest
Working on CSPI’s Healthy Food Access team for the past year and a half has been a joy for me. Our advocacy in food insecurity and public health unites two fields that have not always worked in tandem. As a result, there is much work to do in this space, like ensuring that the food environment supports obtaining affordable, healthy foods. Unfortunately, access to healthy food has not been equitable, historically or in the present day, as there are barriers that make it harder for people from historically excluded racial backgrounds.
I was pleased when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a request for information from their program users and advocates about how the agency can advance racial equity and better serve underrepresented communities. This request was in response to Executive Order 13985, which President Biden signed on his first day in office, seeking to advance equity through the federal government.
As CSPI advocates for access, nutrition, and safety within various USDA programs, my colleagues and I made recommendations that would also serve to close the gap in racial inequities.
- For participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), we highlighted that the USDA should address challenges faced by people with low incomes with previous drug felony convictions, people who have non-traditional family structures, college students, people with chronic diseases who require special diets, and residents of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
- We noted that there are many factors, including systemic disadvantages related to race and socioeconomic status, that prevent people from following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). Future guidelines can consider the impacts of social determinants of health and healthy dietary patterns for a diversity of cultural preferences.
- Our comments underscored the importance of culturally relevant foods in The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), and how the lack of these foods in the charitable food system creates inequities.
- We recommended making healthy school meals permanent for everyone through the School Breakfast Program (SBP) and National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which would eliminate the stigma of participating in the program.
- We highlighted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention findings that COVID-19 outbreaks at meat and poultry facilities contribute to the existing disparities in infection rates between White populations and Black and Latinx populations. We recommended that USDA work with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to extend enforceable standards to protect all meat and poultry workers.
- We called on USDA to help combat the effects of systemic oppression on Black farmers. Historically, USDA has mistreated African American farmers from the creation of the agency through the present day: USDA loans were denied to Black farmers at higher rates than other groups in 2020. We recommended that the USDA dedicate resources to righting past discrimination.
As the USDA has recently updated the Thrifty Food Plan to more accurately reflect the cost of an affordable, nutritious diet through SNAP, I eagerly await future changes that will advance equitable nutrition security and racial justice.