Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series
Policy name: Chicago Food Equity Agenda
Overview: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot released the city’s first Food Equity Agenda in June of 2021 to address social inequities and food insecurity.
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Population: 2.7 million
Food policy category: Food insecurity, social equity
Program goals: To improve Chicago’s food system by supporting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) farmers and food businesses and increasing residents’ access to nutrition programs and benefits.
How it works: The Food Equity Agenda focuses on five high-impact areas:
- Eliminating barriers to food pantry expansion: The City will help to clarify the zoning, permitting, and licensing processes needed to open new food pantries.
- Marketing and maximizing nutrition programs and benefits: The City will increase awareness around federal nutrition programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children), simplify the WIC enrollment process, and expand its SNAP programs to include online grocery orders, prepared foods, local retailers, and farmers markets. Additionally, barriers to accessing these programs for people with disabilities will be addressed.
- Leveraging City and institutional procurement to support local BIPOC growers, producers, and food businesses: The City will draw from its Good Food Purchasing Policy and encourage large institutions to increase support for local BIPOC producers.
- Eliminating barriers to urban farming: The City will ensure equitable water access for all farmers, provide farming education and employment programs, and encourage community gardens.
- Supporting BIPOC food businesses and entrepreneurs, especially by increasing their access to capital: The City will create a public-private “Chicago Food Fund” to help BIPOC entrepreneurs who otherwise lack access to funding.
The agenda also calls for the formalization of a Food Equity Council consisting of City departments, community leaders, academic experts, and other food system stakeholders. Ruby Ferguson, former Director of Nutrition Services at Near North Health Service Corporation, was appointed as the city’s food equity policy lead in early August.
Progress to date: During the fall of 2020, a working group of food system experts met to identify high-priority issues in Chicago’s food system. Mayor Lightfoot and other community leaders then developed the Food Equity Agenda to address those issues, and the working group formally became Chicago’s Food Equity Council.
Why it is important: Chicago has one of the nation’s largest racial disparities in health and nutrition, with a Black mortality rate 65 percent higher than that of whites between 2009 and 2018, compared with a 24 percent difference nationally. Food insecurity levels in 2021 in Chicago are at 19 percent overall, but they reach 29 percent among Latinx communities and 37 percent among Black communities. As a comparison, the estimated food insecurity rate for America as a whole in 2021 is approximately 12.5 percent.
Food insecurity is associated with numerous health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, coronary heart disease, asthma, arthritis, and mental distress.
The Food Equity Agenda aims to reduce these disparities by increasing access to education, support, and food and nutrition resources for Chicago’s underserved communities and communities of color.
Program/Policy initiated: The Food Equity Agenda was released on June 24, 2021.
Point of contact:
Mayor’s Press Office
Similar practices: Prince George’s County, Maryland, also has a food equity council that works to address similar issues of social equity and food insecurity.
Evaluation: Evaluation has not yet been conducted.
- Examining the Impact of Structural Racism on Food Insecurity: Implications for Addressing Racial/Ethnic Disparities (Family and Community Health)
- Experiences of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination Are Associated with Food Insecurity and Poor Health (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health)
- Food Insecurity And Health Outcomes (Health Affairs)
- Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Household Food Insecurity During the COVID-19 Pandemic: a Nationally Representative Study (Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities)
- Advancing Food Equity in Chicago (City of Chicago)
- Chicago Among Largest US Cities with Widest Racial Health Gap, Mortality Rate: Study (ABC 7 Eyewitness News)
- Chicago Food Equity Agenda (City of Chicago)
- Chicago Names First Food Equity Policy Leader (Chicago Sun Times)
- The City’s First Food Equity Council Works to Feed Everyone (Chicago Reader)
- The Impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity in 2020 & 2021 (Feeding America)
- The Impact of Poverty, Food Insecurity, and Poor Nutrition on Health and Well-Being (Food Research and Action Center)
- Mayor Lightfoot and Community Leaders Release Food Equity Agenda for Chicago (City of Chicago)
- Mayor Lightfoot Announces Ruby Ferguson To Serve as Chicago’s First Food Equity Policy Lead (City of Chicago)
- New Food Equity Council to Tackle Food Insecurity in Chicago (Chicago Sun Times)
- Prince George’s County Food Equity Council (Prince George’s County Food Equity Council)