The 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge

by Karen Spiller, NESAWG Board member

As one part of our commitment to racial equity and food justice, Food Solutions New England (FSNE) has been working to normalize conversations about the role of racism in shaping our food systems (local, regional, national and global). We believe that by building awareness, shifting attitudes and changing behaviors, we can create conditions to increase capacity and fuel courage to identify and address the different ways that bias, prejudice, privilege, and oppression show up in our work and lives. We are also realizing that one of the powerful ways to change institutional and structural racism in the food system is to continue to support changes at the level of the individuals who can influence these structures.

The non-negotiable commitment made by the FSNE network to racial equity and food justice was a critical and bold declaration when it was first made at the 2013 New England Food Summit.  Some attendees at that event even asked, “What does racial equity have to do with food?” Since that time our network has increasingly worked to center racial equity as a core value and a fundamental guiding principle for our work and for the food system we are trying to create together.

In 2015, our 21-day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge for Food Systems was launched as a visible ways we could share our commitment across the network. Originally developed by Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. and Debby Irving, FSNE adapted the Challenge and its structure of 21 daily email “prompts” with support from the Interaction Institute for Social Change. The challenge has been designed to create dedicated time and space to build more effective social justice habits, particularly those dealing with issues of race, power, privilege, and leadership. Participating in the Challenge, and doing something consistently for 21 days, helps people to discover how racial and social injustices are not alive in the food system we have, but also impact our ability to create the food system we need. By becoming a learning and evolving food system community, we are better able to connect with one another, to identify ways to dismantle racism and become better leaders for a more just, equitable food system.

While FSNE’s iteration of the Challenge was originally conceived as a “network innovation” to spread and deepen conversations and commitments in our region, we are now being called to go deeper and farther in response to how the national and regional conversations and actions have evolved. We were humbled by the 2018 Challenge numbers (more than 3,000 participants from almost all 50 states and parts of Canada) and by the quality of the associated online conversations. Inquiries from around the country continue to emerge as other food system projects and network seek to weave racial equity work more explicitly into their efforts. Indeed, community groups; national, local and regional businesses, organizations and food system networks; faith-based organizations; and even classroom teachers and professors are using the resources from the Challenge throughout the year, not just during the scheduled Challenge days.

We are now excited to be starting the planning for our fifth annual Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge which will take place in April 2019. As in past years, a planning team made up of FSNE Network Team members from across our region will begin convening soon to consider possible changes or enhancements to the Challenge.  For example, this year we are looking forward to supporting groups of people who want to do the Challenge together at their school, workplace or church by offering a “Facilitator's’ Guide” to allow groups to extend their moments of awakening into intentional practices and collaborative actions addressing racial equity in our food system..

As in past years, participants will be able to focus on areas of learning such as:

  • History of Race and Racism in the Food System
  • The Colonization of Indigenous Land Rights and Food Ways
  • Levels of Racism (i.e. Interpersonal, Institutional and Structural)
  • Trauma to Healing
  • De-Centering Whiteness & Dismantling White Supremacy Culture
  • Reparations & Intersectionality

[much more detail & resources available on the website]

Ultimately, the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge will continue to evolve to meet the needs of our communities. Food Solutions New England is delighted to see an such an enormous uptick in commitment to racial equity not just here in our own region but across the US, as more people realize that production or nutrition goals must also take into account the values we need embodied in the food systems we are creating.  

To learn more about the Challenge or to pre-register for 2019, visit 

Some participant testimonials:

“I’m deeply thankful for this Challenge. It provided a place and a time to reflect and look genuinely at my views and beliefs. I found biases and privileges in my life. I also found new courage and vision to act and transform my views thanks to the resources shared in this challenge.”

“One way I see of addressing structural racism in my work is to bringing awareness to the historical context of racism…. In the need’s assessment of these communities, instead of just stopping at identifying the health disparities through data, also identifying the historical context surrounding these inequities can help bring awareness to the structural racism that exists and frame the problem in terms of structural racism.”

“The tools we’ve been provided with in this challenge can get us started on a path to dismantle entrenched white supremacy and enable innovative and pragmatic steps toward reparations.”