As 2020 closes, Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB) members will remember a year unlike any other. Friends, relatives, or colleagues may be included in the sobering statistics of more than 219,000 lives lost to COVID-19.1 We have faced significant disruptions in our personal, political, economic, social, and professional ways of thinking and being. From food justice, COVID-19 justice, racial justice, climate justice, to policing justice, this year has amplified inequities routinely experienced by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).
Nutrition professionals are well aware of food, health, and wealth disparities that affect our clients and communities. We know BIPOC have higher rates of food insecurity than non-Hispanic White people. 2,3 Emergent COVID-19 data indicates food insecurity4 and morbidity and mortality are likewise disproportionately affecting BIPOC populations.5,6
At this moment in history, nutrition professionals are uniquely poised to work towards racially equitable andjust food systems by strategically re-imagining a new normal.7 We know that the answers lie not only in addressing the immediate issue of household hunger and diet-related disease. Systemically addressing poverty through establishing living wages for all, and eliminating opportunity, health, and wealth disparities between genders and between non-Hispanic White people and BIPOC would structurally advance equity practices.8,9
How will we leverage current momentum to explicitly address race and racism in our work? The SNEB leadership has recognized its role.10 In response to police injustice experienced by the BIPOC community, the SNEB Board issued a statement to end racism and challenge nutrition organizations and professionals to be part of the solution.10 “SNEB can play a critical role in exposing and addressing food injustices and racial disparities in the food system” by promoting empowering communities to change their local food systems, demand routine access to healthy food for all, and dismantle food-related discrimination in our institutions, at the local, state, tribal, and national level.11
The SNEB board members committed to participate in a racial equity training series, modeled after the Food Solutions New England 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge.12 Each spring, this Challenge provides open access to readings and resources that deeply examine racism and also identify strategies for dismantling racism in our food system. Individuals and organizations from across sectors and the country commit to “Learn, Reflect and Act” as they build skill and will for food system transformation. The Food Systems Educators Community of Practice (CoP), sponsored by Columbia University, Institute of Human Nutrition, is another option for food system educators to train ourselves and those we teach to address racism. A subgroup of the CoP recently published a paper calling for equity, especially racial equity, to be a standard competency in food system program content and practice.13
Racism and the related economic and health disparities are human-made conditions. The solutions are within our reach given the political will to structurally and systemically address them. As educators and practitioners, we shape present and future generations. This is the time; this is our charge.
“Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.” ― Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis
This editorial was originally published in the December 2020 issue (Vol. 52, Issue 12) of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.