Chicago’s Food Equity Agenda Tackles Social Inequity and Food Insecurity

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
food equity agenda

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:

  1. Eliminating barriers to food pantry expansion: The City will help to clarify the zoning, permitting, and licensing processes needed to open new food pantries. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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    
Phone: 312-744-3334 

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. 

Learn more: 


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