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Equity vs. Equality; differences & discoveries – SELRS Update February 10, 2012

Posted by gfsa in Community Stories.

From my experience (Brenda) – no question created more discomfort in our conversations than asking “what does equity mean to you?” After many long pauses, we received a wide variety of answers and from these conversations we have had many large lessons that inform the framework we are building.

There is a difference between Equity and Equality

When we talk about EQUALITY, it aims us towards a system where all people had the same amount of the same kinds of foods. That we treat all people the same, not taking into consideration each person’s individual needs, current circumstances, cultural preferences, skills, abilities, geographical location, urban/rural location, etc, etc. This is the kind of system people sometimes jump to in their mind when we ask them about equity and it usually leads to comments like, “that would mean following the communist examples and we know that didn’t work.”

Speaking about EQUITY – we shift the conversation to one that is about acknowledging the uniqueness of each person and their circumstances. We aim to build a system that meets people where they are to provide opportunities and support that ensures that differences do not lead to exclusion from participating in a sustainable, regenerative, and local system for food.

Equality leads to images where food is gathered, accumulated and redistributed in equal piles and portions to each individual – it carries with it a feeling of scarcity, mistrust, and playing to the least common denominator. Equity leads to images where food is abundant with multiple ways to access it – including growing your own, using alternative forms of currency, building relationships and recognizing and valuing differences.

Equity is for eaters and producers

In the initial scoping and framing of this project – our focus was on equity from an eaters point of view: having options for access to healthy, nourishing food. However we quickly found out that there are particular challenges with equity for producers – especially when we consider having a sustainable, regenerative and local food system. From the regulations that get in the way of local farmers by making producing and distributing their food illegal or more complicated, to the generally shared expectation that food should be affordable by making locally grown food cheaper and able to compete with industrial food at the till, there are challenges for the producers of food in order for them to be a part of our food system. Equity FOR local food producers means looking at the rules in place, the expectations we have, and how we value food.

What exploring equity has brought to the fore is that our current food system is creating conflict between eaters and producers. The people who are trying to grow healthy, nourishing, sustainable food in our local communities can’t produce food at the price that eaters have been conditioned to pay. Yet simply saying, “eaters need to pay more for their food” isn’t going to address the fact that there are many parts of our population who are already struggling to simply put food on the table.

There is another angle to consider when we talk about equity: that of ownership.

In one conversation, the individual pointed out that equity is also about ownership; that equity points to the value of an ownership interest in the property. So talking about equity means talking about who owns the food system and who should? And it allows us to pose the question, “what would it mean if eaters and producers were the real owners of our food system?” And what if they could be the co-owners and partners in creating an alternative?

It’s about more than money, it’s about relationships

In a previous post <https://gfsa.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/infusing-value-in-supply-selrs-update/>, we spoke about the difference between the food system we have and the food system we want: that we are aiming to build a food system that is based on values and with the goal to feed people, where money is a tool in that systembut is not the commanding purpose of the system.

This means that we can’t boil equity down to being about money. Access to healthy, nourishing food also means having it available and easy to bring home or grow at home in a climate with a short growing season. We’ve said before that the challenge in front of us is a complex one – which means the solution to equity will not be simple or single solutions.

Equity for eaters and producers means finding solutions that go beyond traditional economics and financial models. Equity for also means equity between: we need to build relationships that create understanding, change expectations, and even challenge ownership of our food system.

Designing ‘with’, not ‘for’

As we now move into thinking about how to bring our framework into realityto move from idea into actionthere is another key point that the SELRS ‘E’ reminds us of: that we cannot design for and act on behalf of those who are left out of today’s food system, we must design with. At any point we find ourselves talking with about ‘them’ and about solutions for ‘them’no matter who the ‘them’ is… we need to check ourselves and how we get ‘them’ in the room or identify what room ‘they’ are in and go there.

Going forward

Also expressed in the conversations was uncertainty around how realistic and possible our aspirations of a sustainable, equitable, local, and regenerative system for food are.

From the beginning we have been honest with ourselves that we don’t know the ‘hows’ but we feel this is a ‘why’ worthy enough of walking into the uncertainty for. Alberta’s provincial slogan is “Freedom to Create, Spirit to Achieve” and it’s with that freedom and spirit which we aim to create a food system that ensures all people have access (beyond money) to healthy and nutritious food and a living wage for food providers is upheld by the local economy.

In March we will be hosting a one day workshop with the Sylvan Lake “Growing Green Neighbours” group. This is our first opportunity to take these ‘lenses’ we have been building (Sustainable, Equitable, Local, Regenerative) and have a concrete look at a specific community and their respective actions.

We may find ourselves considering questions like,

  • What conditions does equity depend on?
  • What, in practical terms and concrete examples are we trying to create in an equitable food system?
  • How does that contrast with a system based on equality?
  • So what, now what? What efforts are under way to build the equity-based food system (e.g., Slow Money, Urban Agriculture (permaculture), etc.)? What else can we do?

And by asking those questions, we will start to walk into the solutions.

Submitted by Brenda Barritt and Rene Michalak.

Additional Resources:

A) Sacred Economics (book) – http://www.realitysandwich.com/homepage_sacred_economics

B) Sacred Economics (video) – http://vimeo.com/22303203

C) Sacred Economics (article): http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/to-build-community-an-economy-of-gifts

D) Paul Hawken – Ecology of Commerce (video) – http://www.globalonenessproject.org/videos/paulhawkencomplete

E) Woody Tasch – Slow Money (video) – http://www.globalonenessproject.org/videos/woodytaschcomplete

F) Cooking Up Karma (article) – http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/cooking-up-karma

G) Money and Life (movie trailer) – http://moneyandlifemovie.com/

H) Economics of Happiness (movie trailer)http://www.theeconomicsofhappiness.org/



1. peacefullpantry - February 12, 2012

Reblogged this on PeaceFull Pantry.

2. Soames Smith - February 12, 2012

I agree with the articles point of view,There has to be away for the consumer to take a share in the equity and also the risk in the production of food .Allowing for the producer to make a living wage .

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