Unconstitutional Food Inequality

75 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2020

See all articles by Andrea Freeman

Andrea Freeman

University of Hawai'i William S. Richardson School of Law

Date Written: October 22, 2020


Racial disparities in food-related deaths and disease are vestiges of slavery and colonization that have persisted for too long. Rhetoric around personal responsibility and cultural preferences obscure the structural causes of these disparities. Regulatory capture by the food industry makes reform through the political process unlikely or subject to severe limitations. This article explores the structural causes of food inequality by examining how two U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition programs, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations and the National School Lunch Program, contribute to food-related health disparities. First, it traces food inequality back to slavery and colonization. Most slave owners carefully rationed out food to fuel labor but prevent revolts. On almost all plantations, enslaved people ate a non-nutritious diet that led to a plethora of nutrition-related illnesses and deaths. Similarly, colonization occurred in great part through the destruction of Indigenous foodways. Land theft, displacement, and the intentional elimination of food sources led to starvation and illness. Lack of access to healthy food still represents one of the most significant obstacles to Black and Indigenous Peoples’ full participation in society, contributing to lower life expectancy, serious illness, and cultural erasure. The Reconstruction Amendments provide a constitutional basis for challenging these two USDA nutrition programs, in addition to other laws and policies that lead to health disparities and food injustice.

Keywords: Food Law and Policy, Critical Race Theory, Constitutional Law

Suggested Citation

Freeman, Andrea, Unconstitutional Food Inequality (October 22, 2020). Harvard Civil Rights- Civil Liberties Law Review (CR-CL), Vol. 55, No. 840, 2020, University of Hawai’i Richardson School of Law Research Paper No. 3717230, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3717230

Andrea Freeman (Contact Author)

University of Hawai'i William S. Richardson School of Law ( email )

Honolulu, HI 96822-2350
United States

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