Equity as both a means and an end: Lessons for resilient food systems from COVID-19

World Dev. 2020 Dec;136:105104. doi: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2020.105104. Epub 2020 Aug 4.


Food systems are important sites of economic stress, political response and adaptation. Access to food is also an important marker of how well a society distributes its wealth, reflecting the state of political accountability, economic redistribution, and the society's level of commitment to uphold the right to food. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the interconnected weaknesses of our food, social and economic systems and offers lessons for building more just and resilient food systems. We focus on three lessons learned anew in the pandemic: (1) food insecurity both reflects and reinforces inequity, (2) food workers are essential yet treated as sacrificial, and (3) racialized migrant food workers face unique forms of inequity. These lessons - chosen for their ethical salience, global relevance, and political urgency - show how interconnected inequities revealed by the pandemic are undermining resilience. We conclude with specific policy recommendations for redress, both within and beyond food systems. This will not be the final global pandemic, nor is it the only shock that regions are currently experiencing. COVID-19 is an opening to think about how societies might center justice and equity in efforts to build back better. Governments should take this opportunity to invest in structural changes to reduce persistent inequities in food access due to poverty, health outcomes, decent work and overall wellbeing, especially for racialized communities and migrants.

Keywords: Equity; Food insecurity; Food systems; Labor; Migration; Resilience.