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This flexible glossary is designed to help storytellers use language chosen by communities that are represented by those words. The terms included here are essential building blocks of telling the story of our collective, daily plight for food justice and racial equity on Turtle Island and around the world. We intend to evaluate these terms, welcome community feedback, and note updates as our English language necessarily evolves. Ideas, submissions, feedback, corrections and questions are always welcomed at language@slowfoodusa.org.

Learn more about Slow Food USA’s approach to storytelling and cultural exchange by exploring our Cultural Exchange Framework for Storytellers.

Artwork by Nightwolfdezines

People-first language puts the person before their diagnosis, disability or condition. This is important to keep in mind, for example, when referencing people who are experiencing homelessness or poverty. This method puts an emphasis on the person and reinforces the idea that a person is not defined by their diagnosis, disability or condition.

Example: “This program is designed to support people experiencing homelessness – or people who are unsheltered.”

Identity-first language emerged in reaction to the prominence of the people-first language movement. It often asserts that a person’s disability is an important part of their identity that should be embraced. Those who prefer identity-first language may treat their disability in the same way a person may relate to their gender, race or nationality. Ask people how they would like to be referred / related to.

Example: “This new organization centers and advocates for disabled people and their many access issues in the Twin Cities.”

AAPI/Asian American/Pacific Islander Asian and Pacific Islander defines “all people of Asian, Asian American or Pacific Islander ancestry who trace their origins to the countries, states, jurisdictions and/or the diasporic communities of these geographic regions.” [Source


Agroecology is “a holistic and integrated approach that simultaneously applies ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agriculture and food systems. It seeks to optimize the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment while also addressing the need for socially equitable food systems.” [Source]


“Use the capitalized term Black as an adjective in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense: Black people, Black culture, Black literature, Black studies, Black colleges.

African American is also acceptable for those in the U.S. The terms are not necessarily interchangeable as both identities, though often overlapping, are unique.

Use of the capitalized Black recognizes that language has evolved, along with the common understanding that especially in the United States, the term reflects a shared identity and culture rather than a skin color alone.” [Source]


Equality uses the same strategies for everyone, but because people are situated differently, they are not likely to get to the same outcomes. Equity uses differentiated and targeted strategies to address different needs and to get to fair outcomes.” [Source]


Equity “ensures that outcomes in the conditions of well-being are improved for marginalized groups, lifting outcomes for all. Equity is a measure of justice.”


Food apartheid refers to the intentional design of our urban spaces to enact racist urban planning practices that create large geographic areas without nutrition-dense food nearby. Rather than the outdated term “food desert,” this newer term focuses on “creating food sovereignty through community-driven solutions and systemic change” (read more here) and ​​“brings us to the more important question: what are some of the social inequalities that you see, and what are you doing to erase some of the injustices?” (read more here)


Food desert is an outdated term for “geographic areas where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient traveling distance.” Opt for defining and using the term “food apartheid” to recognize that these so-called deserts do not naturally occur but are rather the result of racism and policies that reinforce the segregation of resources in the US. [Source]


Food justice “is a holistic and structural view of the food system that sees healthy food as a human right and addresses structural barriers to that right.”

“A food justice lens examines questions of access to healthy, nutritious, culturally appropriate food, as well as: ownership and control of land, credit, knowledge, technology and other resources; the constituent labor of food production; what kind of food traditions are valued; how colonialism has affected the food system’s development and more.” [Source]


Food sovereignty is defined as people’s right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. This term was developed by the international peasant group La Via Campesina. [Source]


Food swamp refers to an “environment where there is a lot of food for sale that is not nutritious, or worse, and therefore is seen to be a threat to public health. This foodscape is typical of the North American food system that is corporate, industrial and increasingly global.” This term is complicated and sometimes considered controversial; read more here.


Foodways as a discipline examines the role of food and food-related behavior in cultural groups, and the ways in which food knowledge is transferred within and varies between different societies.” [Source]

Example: “We’re interested in exploring how Black foodways emerged in northern states in the US following the Great Migration.”


Indigenous/Native American people and Nations (recommendations from Native Governance Center)

  • Always describe individual Native people by using their specific preferred Native nation affiliation.
  • Use “Nation” instead of “Tribe” unless otherwise directed by the community or its members. 
  • Capitalize:
    • The names of Native nations
    • Indigenous, Native American, Native, and American Indian (For the word Native, the uppercase n helps make the distinction between human beings and objects. For example, Native people and native plants.)
    • The phrase “Indian country,” which broadly refers to any of the self-governing lands of Native American communities in the US.
  • Non-Native folx should not use the terms American Indian or Indian unless directed to do so by a Native American.

Land acknowledgement “is a way to recognize the original and ancestral people of the land you are on … But just ‘acknowledging’ occupation or presence on Indigenous lands with no other relationship or action, actually recreates extraction and erasure.” [Source

Language marks
are important to include and use correctly. They indicate proper pronunciation of words and help preserve the cultural significance of languages. For instance, the Hawaiian diacritical marks ‘okina and kahakō must be used properly when incorporating Hawaiian language and locations. [Source] Languages like Spanish and French incorporate a number of diacrtitical marks to aid in pronunciation. [Source] Consult with a native or fluent speaker to ensure correct usage of diacritical marks.

Latino, Latinx, Latine are all generally accepted terms to describe the diverse, vast community of people who live in or are ancestrally tied to Spanish-speaking nations or lands or who are from Latin America. Latina can be used to describe an individual or group of women. Always default to the description that your storyteller prefers.


Pronouns are words that replace nouns, particularly in the context of people’s names. Pronouns are typically connected to one’s gender identity, which is not necessarily connected to one’s sex. Refer to individuals in the way they want to be written about, in both their name and their pronouns. Ask, “how would you like us to refer to you in our digital and written communications?” or “My pronouns are […], What are your pronouns?” Pronouns can include she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/theirs or other variations, or simply a person’s name instead of any pronouns at all. [Source]



Race Forward defines four unique modes of racism:

  • Internalized racism lies within individuals. These are private beliefs and biases about race that reside inside our own minds and bodies. For White people, this can be internalized privilege, entitlement, and superiority; for people of color, this can be internalized oppression.
  • Interpersonal racism occurs between individuals [and includes] bias, bigotry, and discrimination based on race. 
  • Institutional racism occurs within institutions. It involves unjust policies, practices, procedures, and outcomes that work better for White people than people of color, whether intentional or not.
  • Structural racism is racial inequities across institutions, policies, social structures, history, and culture. Structural racism highlights how racism operates as a system of power with multiple interconnected, reinforcing, and self-perpetuating components which result in racial inequities across all indicators for success.

Be as specific as possible when describing racist actions, practices and experiences.


Rematriation is “to restore sacred relationships between Indigenous people and their ancestral land. Honoring our matrilineal societies and lineage’s ways of tending to the land, in opposition of patriarchal violence and dynamics.” [Source


Trauma-Informed Care recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role trauma may play in an individual’s life- including service staff. It is important to be as mindful as possible of how trauma may show up for ourselves and others. [Source]


Turtle Island is a reference for North and Central America used by some Indigenous Peoples in the United States and First People’s Nations Canada as well as some indigenous rights activists. The name is based on a common North American Indigenous creation story that refers to earth as a turtle.


White supremacy culture “is the widespread ideology baked into the beliefs, values, norms, and standards of our groups (many if not most of them), our communities, our towns, our states, our nation, teaching us both overtly and covertly that whiteness holds value, whiteness is value.” [Source

Funding for this project was provided in part by the Food Systems Leadership Network, an initiative of Winrock International.