ReFED’s recently published landscape assessment – Building a Food System that Works for Everyone: A Look at the Intersection of Food Waste with Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion – examines the link between food waste and key JEDI issues and highlights crucial efforts to unpack and undo systemic inequities. While the report focuses primarily on the racial and socioeconomic aspects of diversity, we understand that many other dimensions of identity play a role in the systemic bias that different members of our community experience. These (often intersecting) factors include gender, gender identity, and sexuality, as well as language, religion, citizenship status, age, and more.
As we reach the end of Pride month, we’re sharing additional research and information that starts to expand the assessment’s analysis to issues specifically affecting the LGBTQIA+1 community and the challenges they must navigate within the food system. Using key insight areas explored in the original assessment, we have identified how inequitable treatment of LGBTQIA+ individuals can lead to increased food waste; we have also highlighted organizations and initiatives that are seeking to address these inequities. (Please reach out to us at [email protected] with more examples that could be added to this list.)
Many of the barriers to inclusive, equitable, and sustainable participation in the food system are shared across marginalized communities, and addressing these issues to uplift queer justice can also uplift racial justice and economic justice – and vice versa. Acknowledging that we at ReFED are just beginning our learning efforts on these topics, we see fundamental inequities that can preclude full inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community within the food system and – by extension – in efforts to reduce food waste and food insecurity.
JEDI Insight Area #1: Treatment of Workers in the Food System
People working across all sectors of the food system to grow, process, pack, distribute, sell, and serve the food we eat can face working conditions that are uncomfortable or even dangerous because of their identity. In such situations, it can be difficult for them to prioritize food waste reduction programs.
- A survey of 188 farmers who identify as LGBTQIA+ conducted in 2020 found that 72% of respondents anticipated discrimination in their work based on their queerness. 36% of respondents reported feeling socially isolated.
- A 2022 One Fair Wage Report found that while restaurant workers experienced the highest levels of sexual harassment (e.g., witnessing or experiencing sexual behaviors or comments that made them uncomfortable or feel unsafe at work) in any industry, restaurant workers that identify as LGBTQ reported even higher numbers (82%) of sexual harassment than their cis/straight counterparts (67%).
- Over 80% of LGBTQ restaurant workers reported experiencing or witnessing transphobia and homophobia in the workplace in the form of comments or behaviors from customers, supervisors, or colleagues.
- Across all non-farm industries, LGBTQ+ workers earn about 90 cents for every dollar that an average worker earns, according to a 2021 report by the Human Rights Council Foundation. The survey of nearly 7,000 U.S.-based LGBTQ+ respondents who were non-farmworker, full-time employees in the public or private sector indicated the wage gap was even more pronounced for individuals holding multiple marginalized identities, such as Native American and Black LGBTQ+ workers.
Case Studies of Potential Labor Solutions
- Queer farmers are building a movement around cooperative ownership, and developing communities of acceptance and belonging.
- Beth Ford, CEO of Land O’Lakes, was listed on Fast Company’s 2023 “Queer 50,” a celebration of queer representation and influence in the highest ranks. She is the sole openly gay female CEO of a Fortune 500 company and represents the only food business to make the Fast Company list – highlighting the need for more representation in the industry’s leadership.
- There are a growing number of education and training programs to support organizations in centering and institutionalizing a JEDI mindset and creating an inclusive and equitable work environment. Examples include Food Shift and Out & Equal.
JEDI Insight Area #2: Capital Flows
Studies have shown that businesses led and/or founded by members of marginalized communities receive disproportionately smaller shares of resources and financial support, locking in a cycle of disinvestment and disadvantage. With limited capital to draw upon, these businesses frequently struggle to scale and find additional investors – so potentially game-changing food waste reduction innovations may never get the funding they need. And without certain stakeholders represented, we risk elevating food waste solutions that only resonate with a portion of the population, leaving aside enormous potential impact.
- Queer farmers experience limited access to land, labor, credit, and knowledge (Cramer, 2020; Dentzman et al., 2020; Hoffelmeyer, 2021; Wypler, 2019). These factors, coupled with a lack of training opportunities and skills, pose significant barriers for queer farmers in entering and remaining in the farming industry. See also “Queering the Family Farm” and this 2019 Leslie et al. paper on relational agriculture.
- LGBTQ-owned small businesses are equally likely to apply for loans or financing in general but less likely to receive it, according to a 2021 report released by the Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement and Research (CLEAR) and the Movement Advancement Project. About 46% of LGBTQ-owned businesses reported that they had received none of the financing that they had applied for in the past year, compared to only 35% of non-LGBTQ businesses.
- A 2022 index release by the nonprofit StartOut found that just 0.5% of the $2.1T in startup funding was raised by LGBTQ+ founders. And despite raising 16% less funding compared to the average founder, LGBTQ+ founders created 36% more jobs, 114% more patents, and 44% more exits.
Case Studies of Potential Capital Solutions
- Backstage Capital specifically invests in founders it considers “underestimated” by venture capitalists, including women, people of color, and those who identify as LGBTQ+. In 2021, the firm partnered with FarmTogether to support farmland properties that represent shared values in inclusion and equity.
- Venture capital is down this year, but Gaingels, an LGBTQIA+/Allies private investment syndicate, is forging ahead as the most active U.S. investor in May 2023.
- The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce partnered this year with the Grubhub Community Fund to provide small grants to LGBTQ+-owned and allied restaurants, cafes, bars serving food, and other eating establishments.
JEDI Insight Area #3: Food Assistance Infrastructure and Processes
149 billion meals’ worth of food went uneaten in 2021, while 10% of U.S. households experienced food insecurity. Solving hunger is about much more than just distributing that uneaten food, but donation efforts can’t succeed in truly supporting those in need without considering the access, dignity, and food preferences and requirements of their recipients. And when those aren’t addressed, there is a risk that more food is wasted.
- Individuals who identify as LGBT are more than twice as likely to experience food insecurity, according to a 2020 Williams Institute study, which found that over three million adults – nearly 27% of LGBT people – experienced food insecurity in 2017.
- These disparities are more pronounced among LGBT individuals with multiple marginalized identities:
- 37% of Black LGBT adults compared to 22% of White LGBT adults.
- 31% of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women compared to 21% of gay, bisexual, and transgender men.
- Transgender individuals were nearly 2.5x more likely to face food insufficiency during COVID-19 compared to cisgender individuals. (19.9% compared to 8.1% for straight women and 7.5% for straight men)
- These disparities are more pronounced among LGBT individuals with multiple marginalized identities:
- Barriers to accessing food include affordability, transportation access, health or mobility concerns, and safety concerns. According to a 2022 Williams Institute study, more LGBTQ+ people than non-LGBTQ+ people reported these barriers to accessing food, particularly for transportation, mobility or health limitations. The disparity is particularly stark for transgender people:
- 27.7% of transgender people “couldn’t get out to buy food” compared to 11.5% for straight women and 11.3% for straight men.
- 19.7% of transgender people reported safety concerns compared to 10.3% for straight women and 7.5% for straight men.
- Food relief agencies, which are often religiously affiliated, may not be viewed as welcoming places by LGBTQ+ people. Findings from qualitative studies in Southern California and the Southeastern U.S. indicate that some LGBTQ and transgender people anticipate rejection or judgment, and that others have experienced staring and looks of “disgust” at religiously affiliated food pantries (Wilson et al., 2020; Russomanno and Jabson Tree, 2020).
Case Studies of Potential Food Access Solutions
- Last year, the USDA clarified that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) prohibition on discrimination based on sex includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, “[W]e must recognize the vulnerability of the LGBTQI+ communities and …[stand] firm against these inequities.”
- A Portland nonprofit is delivering meals to trans community members, specifically those healing after gender-affirming surgery.
- A food pantry in Chicago is “taking extra steps to make sure our LGBTQ neighbors facing hunger not only feel welcome, but feel seen and accepted for who they truly are.”
- Queer Food Foundation was created to serve the “need for dedicated spaces for queer and LGBTQIA+ communities to gather, build community, learn from one another and find resources.”
Research gaps abound, and lack of data makes it even more difficult to discuss both challenges and solutions to food system inequities. However, ReFED’s commitment to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion means a commitment to constant learning, listening, and iteration in our work. As part of this effort, we’re beginning a project examining bias in the datasets that power our Insights Engine models, with the goal of making transparent how information is collected and integrated – and what that means for how those findings should be interpreted. This nuanced understanding will clarify critical data gaps and enable more strategic and informed applications of existing data to solving the problem of wasted food. Please reach out to [email protected] if you would like to be involved in this learning journey.
1. ReFED's synthesis uses the term "LGBTQIA+" to recognize the broad spectrum of identities represented in this community. However, when referring to findings from specific studies, we use each author’s term in order to remain true to the scope of that work.