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Chapter Five - Promoting Sustainable Food System Change Amidst Inequity: A Case Study of Baltimore, Maryland

September 01, 2018
Advances in Food Security and Sustainability

Haley Swartz, Raychel Santo, RoniA. Neff

Baltimore, Maryland gained international attention in 2015 when police killed an unarmed Black man, resulting in a civil uprising across the city. Though city officials, community groups, and local academic institutions had already been working together to improve the city's food system and plan for events that threaten it, the incident brought to light a variety of socioeconomic, political, and cultural questions regarding food system functioning. Baltimore's population is 63% Black, and while poverty, food insecurity, low healthy food access, and diet-related disease are widespread, there are substantial racial disparities. In response to these challenges and others, the city government has been proactive in efforts to improve the food system and is now an international leader in urban food policy. The city also has a strong sector of nongovernmental organizations, including community-based groups, working to improve the food system. Baltimore's food system challenges—and efforts to study and improve them—provide a powerful case study of the challenges and opportunities for improving food security in a city facing significant racial and socioeconomic inequities. This chapter explores the meaning of social, economic, and ecological sustainability in an inequitable city, summarizing innovative efforts from the city government—most notably, the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative—as well as local researchers and nongovernmental organizations, spanning from food production and provision to education to policy change and local political activism. Baltimore's experience in food system reform can additionally offer lessons to localities around the world on the policy power of maps, the significance of trauma-informed policy, and the benefits of working to improve food system resilience.