A Statement from the Food Law Society

We are writing today to express our grief for the loss of so many Black lives to systemic racism and police violence in this country.

Racial justice requires food justice. Institutional racism is pervasive throughout every aspect of American society, including our food and agriculture systems. To give a few examples:

  • People of color make up a growing share of food workers and food consumers, and they bear a disproportionate burden of poorer health and economic outcomes as a result of the sector’s structural inequities.
  • Many of the more than 21 million workers across the food system face substandard working conditions and wages so low that they are unable to buy for themselves or their family the very food that they grow, harvest, deliver, or serve.
  • Federal land management and lending practices, such as those of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, have discriminated against and led to significant land loss among farmers of color.

We’d like to encourage those in positions of privilege to educate themselves on the history of racism in our food system and get involved with organizations working toward food justice. Click here for a full list of resources, available on our website. This list will be updated continuously—please explore that page! Feel free to bookmark and save for later. There’s a lot of work to be done, both within the food system and in society as a whole.

Here are a few resources to begin with:

  • Visit (or re-visit, if you participated in the Challenge with us in April) the 21-Day Racial Equity Building Challenge daily prompts. All their resources are available on their website and include helpful tools and resources for examining equity in our food system. It is a great, guided way to start reflecting and thinking differently about race in America, especially as it relates to our food system.
  • Explore the Equitable Food Systems Resource Guide. Click on an area of the food system that interests you and read about what an equitable approach looks like. Reflect on the model policies – how can we, as  law students and future lawyers, advance those policies in our community?
  • Look through the infographics detailing 4 Not-So-Easy Ways to Dismantle Racism in the Food System by Leah Penniman.
  • Follow Soul Fire Farm’s work through their Instagram and Website. Check out their Reparations Map for Black-owned farms near you, and donate or support them if you are able. Read Leah Penniman’s (the founder of Soul Fire Farm) book Farming While Black if you are interested in a deeper dive into Soul Fire’s amazing work!
  • Read this account of unfair, racially-biased treatment of Black farmers by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): How USDA Distorted Data to Conceal Decades of Discrimination Against Black Farmers by Nathan Rosenberg & Bryce Wilson Stucki, The Counter (June 2019)

Beyond continuing to educate ourselves, FLS will be working to bring racial equity into our activities, including our pro-bono projects, volunteer opportunities and speaker events. We are also exploring ways to advocate for a larger role for food justice and sovereignty in the law school’s curriculum. If there are other ways that we can advocate or act to promote this work in our community – or if you just want to have a conversation – please reach out. We recognize that being an Ally is an ongoing process of growth, and we hope you will join that process alongside us as we continue to make sure we are actively and responsibly engaging in anti-racist work.

Black Lives Matter.

Wicked Problems & Adaptive Management

Written by Jackie Jaffe

The call to act on environmental issues has never been more pressing than in 2020. However, the ability to act on these issues has never been more complicated than it is today. Issues like climate change, overfishing, and pollution all fall under the category of wicked problems. These dilemmas are complex, with no clear-cut solutions that will wholly eradicate the problem or leave everyone content. This complexity can largely be attributed to varying stakeholder values. For example, with overfishing, many groups have a stake in what is happening and how this problem is being handled. There are the fishermen, whose jobs and ability to support themselves depend often on exploiting populations. Conversely, there are the activist groups and organizations like Regional Fishery Management Councils that aim for fish populations to become more sustainable. So, how do we effectively make compromises in food law to address the desires of various stakeholders? One approach to tackle these wicked problems is through adaptive management. This process involves carefully considering the different stakeholder values, evaluating potential approaches to a problem and what their consequences would be, carrying out these actions in an experimental setting, and then reevaluating previous strategies.

While this is a promising method to address critical issues in food law, it can be expensive to carry out experiments. Additionally, it is difficult to change strategies once an approach has already been implemented into policy. Despite these obstacles, it is critical that policy makers, lawyers, and stakeholders communicate and find common ground in order to prioritize protecting the world’s depleting resources.

If you’re interested, read more here and here.

Jackie Jaffe is FLS’s undergraduate representative and a sophomore at Duke’s Trinity School of Arts and Sciences. She is a pre-law student who hopes to study environmental and animal law in the future.  At FLS, she works to connect law students and undergraduates who are interested in food-related issues.

Welcome to the Duke FLS website!

Duke Food Law Society (“FLS”) is a student-led organization, motivated by a shared desire to improve the food system. It serves as a hub to exchange ideas, knowledge, and practical skills relevant to the legal issues surrounding food. FLS supports a network of students, professionals and food-lovers who support a healthier, more equitable food system—both in the Durham community and nationally. Check back soon for blog posts, event updates and more.

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