CSI’s Inaugural National First Food Racial Equity Cohort develops pathbreaking vision
In March 2016, Center for Social Inclusion (CSI) hosted the first convening of the new national First Food Racial Equity Cohort in Washington, DC. The national First Food Cohort is a dynamic group of 17 individuals from 14 different states. The First Food Cohort is working closely together with CSI for two years in order to develop leadership and capacity . Using a train-the-trainer approach with the ultimate goal of centering Racial Equity in the broader First Food field, the First Food Cohort is developing and realizing a new collective vision. After over three months of collaborative learning, which included the March convening, the First Food Cohort members are sharing knowledge and embarking on team projects together across the country.
First Food, or support for breastfeeding and breastfeeding education, is an emerging part of food equity and community health movements. Often, food equity is thought of in terms of traditional food systems: access to fresh fruit and vegetables and proximity to grocery stores and farmer’s markets, affordability of essential food items, treatment of food workers, farmers, and land ownership, as well as healthy options in both urban and rural neighborhoods for people of all income levels and racial backgrounds. The field of First Food encompasses healthy food options—from the birth of a child to the critical first years of life. Access to First Food, therefore, is a critical part of food equity and healthy food systems.
A child’s first food is more often than not, breastmilk. However, the encouragement and facilitation of breastfeeding for new parents, depends on many external factors. We know from our own research and the body of findings in the first food and health equity sectors that women of color are:
- less likely to breastfeed;
- less likely to have access to breastfeeding support or education;
- and, if able to breastfeed their infants, are more likely to breastfeed for a shorter time than their White counterparts.
First Food equity is impacted by and intersects with community health, maternal and infant health, employment policies, and health education. Not only do new parents need to be empowered to learn how to comfortably breastfeed, but they also must be permitted to breastfeed in safe and affirming spaces—whether at home, in hospitals, in public, or in places of employment.
Each member of the First Food Cohort brings varied experience and expertise in the field. Cohort members are from a variety of backgrounds, including: community health, lactation, food justice, government, and academic fields. Together, the cohort’s range of experiences facilitates peer-to-peer learning that cuts across different places and backgrounds. This also helps the cohort to think deeply about how to engage with different sectors that intersect and make up the breastfeeding field. The range of experiences is intentional. With cross-sector learning, we envision a group that can identify multiple pathways to impacting breastfeeding including: maternal and child health, employment, and medical policy. By engaging with different sectors, the First Food Cohort can make a tangible and equitable impact to increase access to First Food to a greater number of babies, as well as education for newly nursing parents, and to develop support for just policies that nurture new parents and the practice of breastfeeding.
To get a sense of the comprehensive approach of the First Food Cohort, take a look at the collective vision the cohort developed at the end of April. The collective vision includes:
- Increasing the number of women of color in the lactation field and redefining what are considered “academic” and ”community” supports
- Increasing broader understanding and appreciation of the value and necessity of breastfeeding peer counseling and community-based breastfeeding work
- More stable economic resources for breastfeeding peer support (power, position)
- Popular education, particularly education for young people and school-aged people
- Developing recognition of cohort members and peers as change makers and authorities in the field
- More racial equity research funding for women of color and people of color doing transdisciplinary research- including design, writing, and methods and data collection
- Setting the dialogue for why breastfeeding advocacy and education efforts need to be tailored to communities of color
- Shared language that will advance this work in the general breastfeeding field
- Sustained and integrated movement driven and led by those most impacted—decentralizing whiteness and beyond diversity rhetoric
- Collectively pushing the field
- Reduction in infant health disparities, increasing breastfeeding rates
As the First Food Cohort continues its work, we will be providing updates on its members and their progress towards increasing breastfeeding access to all parents, and in particular families of color. For more information on First Food, breastfeeding access and research, please take a look at these resources:
Click here to learn more about our First Food Cohort. In the coming months, we’ll be featuring profiles of the people in our First Food Cohort and stories of their new work together.