Frederic Laforge Co-Founder & CEO @ The Farmers' Truck

Food Insecurity and Race: The Troubling Stats and What You Can Do About It

6 min read

Food Insecurity and Race

The facts don’t lie. Racial inequity plays a big part in food insecurity in the US. Non-white households are two times more food insecure than white households.1

It’s a complex social problem that has a lot of layers. And the problem isn’t going to go away overnight. But, let’s try and peel back some of those layers and see how race is intricately tied to food insecurity.

When you see disparities in wealth distribution, the legacy of redlining, and look at who’s behind bars in the US, certain patterns emerge. And it’s clear that non-white people are at the blunt end of these issues. One of the results is that they have a harder time accessing affordable healthy food.

So even though it’s a big problem in the US, it doesn’t mean we should just give up trying to make it right. There are a lot of ways that you can effect change, at any level. And a lot of little actions can make a big difference in so many people’s lives.

That’s where we see initiatives like mobile farmers’ markets, nutrition education, and community partnerships come into play. We want to show you how you can use these tools to benefit your community and fight for food justice.

Want to peel back the layers of this onion a little with us?

The Wealth Gap That Divides Racial Groups

an american one hundred dollar bill on a wooden background

Our global food system has created a world where unhealthy, processed foods are cheaper than healthier, whole foods. I mean, how is it that fresh local produce is more expensive than packaged food that’s come from the other side of the world?

It’s created a very unequal food system where only people who can afford to, can eat healthily. No one should have to choose between healthy food and paying their bills. But that is what’s happening. And it’s happening mostly to African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. 

Why is that? It’s because they’re more likely to suffer unemployment and have lower-paying jobs. 

White Americans have eight times more wealth than African Americans and five times more wealth than Hispanics.2 That’s one of the reasons why they have higher student debt and very little or no savings at all. Decades of racist policies and discrimination have created a huge racial divide.

Those stats show us why food insecurity is so much more common among non-whites.

Wealth Inequality Means Hungry School Children and Hard-To-Access Healthcare

a billboard sign painted on the side of a brick building that reads how are you really

It’s very hard on African American and Hispanic children too. They’re six times more likely to attend high-poverty schools.3 These schools are most often found in segregated neighborhoods where there’s a higher African American or Hispanic population. 

A lot of these kids end up going through the school day with an empty stomach. How can they concentrate and do good in school when all they’re thinking about is whether or not they’ll be able to eat that day?

Unfortunately, the wealth gap plays out in other ways too. Because non-white Americans are more likely to have lower-paying jobs, they also have less health coverage and less access to healthcare

These are the very people that should have more access to healthy food to help them lead healthier lives. But instead, they’re the ones who are forced to make tough decisions when it comes to their health.

Redlining: It Is a Black and White Topic

an african american boy at a water fountain with a red and white painted sign that reads "colored"; food insecurity and racial inequity facts

In the 1930s, the federal government started building new houses – and new neighborhoods – as part of the New Deal.4

They focused their efforts on providing houses for white middle-class families. And it’s no coincidence that the white middle-class is a large segment of the voting population in the US.

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) laid out in their policies that they wanted to create safe suburban neighborhoods. And they only subsidized builders who built white-only neighborhoods. African Americans weren’t allowed to buy in these neighborhoods at all. 

They even went so far as to say that these “safe” neighborhoods should be physically separated from “inharmonious racial groups.” The FHA encouraged separation by highways and even tall cement walls.5

Their argument was, “A change in social or racial occupancy generally contributes to instability and a decline in values.

“If a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes.” This is straight from the FHA’s Underwriting Manual.5

The explicit racial segregation didn’t stop there.

The FHA developed color-coded maps of every metro area in the country. They used the color red to show the areas they considered too risky to insure mortgages.

This is how the term “redlining” came about. It made it pretty much impossible for African Americans to own a home where they wanted, or to have a mortgage.

That’s how our neighborhoods came to be so segregated.6 It’s also a large part of the reason why white Americans have been able to accumulate more wealth. They were the ones who, for all of these decades, were allowed to own more valuable real estate.

Supermarket Redlining

a silver car parked in front of a 7 eleven convenience store

Where large food retailers have no presence in inner-city or low-income neighborhoods, it’s known as “supermarket redlining”.7

It’s the same idea as having no interest in insuring non-white mortgages. These food retailers have no interest in operating stores in poorer, disadvantaged neighborhoods.

So what’s left are smaller retailers – corner stores and fast food joints – that sell cheaper, unhealthy food. It’s very hard for people in poorer, segregated neighborhoods to access healthy, affordable food. That’s why a lot of these communities are also food deserts.

And more Americans live in food deserts than the entire population of Florida.8 It’s in these facts that you can see how food insecurity affects non-white Americans more so than white Americans.9

How the Criminal Justice System Creates Food Injustice

a black and white photo inside an empty prison

African Americans are five times more likely to end up in prison than white Americans.10 And they usually end up with longer prison sentences too. This puts them and their families at greater risk of being food insecure. And the food insecurity doesn’t end once they get out of prison.

They’re two times more likely than the general population to live with food insecurity.11 And so are their families. It’s not just a short-term problem either. They usually end up struggling for the rest of their lives.

That’s because it’s very hard for people with a criminal record to find a job or a place to live. And even if they do manage to land a job, they make way less than your average American over their lifetime.

Having a criminal record means you’re not eligible for some government assistance programs.12 Think of programs like SNAP, Medicare, Medicaid, and affordable housing programs. It makes sense then that one in four families of those with a criminal record ends up living in deep poverty. 

Current government policies make it very hard for people who spent time in prison to break the cycle of poverty and food insecurity. When you look at the data, you can see how it disproportionately affects African Americans in particular.

What Can You Do to Help?

a young boy wearing glasses doing school work at his desk

The facts show us that food insecurity does have a racial component to it. These problems have existed for generations and they will take time to fix. But because it is such a complex problem it’ll take people at all levels to make change happen.

Even if you can’t change policies overnight, there are other things that you can do to help. Let’s explore some ideas that you can implement in your community.

School meal programs are great at filling hungry kids’ tummies. When food insecurity is a reality at home, knowing that your child will get a healthy meal at school offers some relief. It gives kids the fuel they need to concentrate on school work and not on a grumbling tummy.

This seemingly small act gives vulnerable kids a greater chance at a bright future.

Combating Food Insecurity One Mobile Farmers’ Market at a Time

Dotte Mobile Grocer mobile farmers market truck parked behind buildings on a sunny day; the troubling statistics behind food insecurity and race
Dotte Mobile Grocer in Wyandotte County, Kansas City, Kansas.

Mobile farmers’ markets are also a great way to reach food deserts. You know we love ‘em! It’s so much easier for people when you can bring healthy food to where they live or work. 

Mobile produce markets offer so many benefits that go beyond just offering healthy food. A lot of them provide nutrition education, recipes, cooking demos, and more. GoFarm’s mobile market in Colorado is a prime example of this.

Most mobile markets offer great discounts to people on food assistance programs. This really matters to people who rely on these programs. It means they have a bit more money for things other than food, like rent or medical costs.

But as we mentioned earlier, not everyone who needs help is eligible for it. Food banks that run mobile markets can use them to generate more revenue to help offset the costs for these folks too.

You can also partner with health clinics and community groups and set up market events. This approach increases your reach, and impact on your community.

You can sell fresh produce at churches, clinics, schools, and hospitals. The West Sacramento Urban Farm does just that with its mobile market.

And make sure that local healthcare providers know who you are and what you do. That way they can provide some of their patients with the resources they need to access healthy food.

The Time for Food Justice Is Now

a pair of hands holding a handful of coins and a piece of paper that reads: make a change. the stats behind food insecurity and race and what you can do about it

“To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.” Rosa Parks is totally right. You’ve got to start somewhere. And by understanding the facts about racial inequality and food security, you can start to make small changes to right the wrongs. 

Can you push for equal pay, or for expanded access to food assistance programs? You sure can. Or how about starting an urban farm or community garden in an inner-city food desert? That would be awesome too.

Mobile farmers’ markets are also an important piece of the food access puzzle. They can be used in so many ways and by so many types of organizations. 

Like Fresh Approach in the San Francisco Bay Area. They use their mobile market to increase fresh food access and provide nutrition education to 12 cities.

The majority of the people they serve are African American and Hispanic. In 2020 alone, they distributed 1.3 million pounds of produce.13 Now that right there is a mobile market creating a lot of positive change.

All it takes is the will to help, and like Rosa said, to take the first step. So what’ll your first step for food justice be? Download our mobile farmers’ market brochure today.

Resources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5823283/#R1
  2. https://inequality.org/facts/racial-inequality/
  3. https://moveforhunger.org/hunger-is-a-racial-equity-issue
  4. https://www.history.com/news/housing-segregation-new-deal-program
  5. https://www.huduser.gov/portal/sites/default/files/pdf/Federal-Housing-Administration-Underwriting-Manual.pdf
  6. https://www.npr.org/2017/05/03/526655831/a-forgotten-history-of-how-the-u-s-government-segregated-america
  7. https://moveforhunger.org/blog/redlining-and-food-justice-america
  8. https://www.voanews.com/a/usa_pandemic-worsens-food-deserts-235-million-americans/6189526.html
  9. https://hub.jhu.edu/magazine/2014/spring/racial-food-deserts/
  10. https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/color-of-justice-racial-and-ethnic-disparity-in-state-prisons/
  11. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2021/02/10/food-insecurity/
  12. https://www.bread.org/sites/default/files/downloads/briefing-paper-mass-incarceration-february-2018.pdf
  13. https://www.freshapproach.org/mobilemarket/
Frederic Laforge Co-Founder & CEO @ The Farmers' Truck

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