Our VoiceHealth & Environment

“How does the neighborhood I live in affect my access to good quality food?”

Charlotte Williams • Jul 29, 2011

As part of a recent discussion about food justice, a group of artists and activists posed several questions to one another and their communities. The questions touched on a wide range of factors that affect the U.S. food system and how our communities access and interact with that system. Over the next few months, Imagine 2050 will highlight these questions in the hopes of igniting further discussions.

“How does the neighborhood I live in affect my access to good quality food?”

This is an especially relevant question considering the hardships many have faced economically and with housing. And one can’t address access to quality food without looking at wealth.

With the recent release of the Pew Research report, Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics, we now know that the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from 2009.

A guest on the Rachel Maddow Show on July 26, 2011, Melissa Harris-Perry, was spot on in her analysis the report which was entitled, “U.S. Wealth Gap Reflects Racism.”   For decades, Black and Latino activists, organizers, academics and community members have not only raised their voices and brought attention to the disparities in wealth and the realities of racism, resources, and wealth building - or the lack thereof - but they have also lived them.

What is disturbing about this study is that the findings illustrate the devastating effects of the racial structure as it operates in the various institutions of this country are revealed. And the food system is one of those institutions.

The racial structure of the food system worked to widen the “gap” or disparity in access, choice and resources regarding healthy, safe, affordable food in low income communities of color.

According to the TRF Fund, in its study entitled, Estimating Supermarket Access and Market Viability, 24.8 million people (8.1%) live in low food access areas. Of these people, 6.2 million (25%) are under age 18 and 3.2 million (13%) are over age 65.

9.2 million of our nation’s households (8.0%) live in low access areas. Those households earning less than $35k are 1.5X more likely to live in low access areas compared to those earning $75k or more.  Additionally food choices are systematically limited as the lure of fast food profits and trump healthy options; besides, working two jobs creates time constraints that limit caretakers ability to slow cook.  Also, in predominantly black neighborhoods have 2.4 fast-food restaurants per square mile compared to 1.5 restaurants in predominantly white neighborhoods.

The most striking reality of this report is although people of color are disproportionately vulnerable, we are experiencing a growing phenomenon and a reality check of a different kind―an increasing numbers of Anglos are discovering that they are vulnerable, too.

The Food Justice Initiative of the Center for New Community employs an analysis of the racial structure of the food system and focuses on workers and worker justice.  We are in the initial stages of a Question Campaign to assist in advancing a national dialogue on Race, Food and Worker Justice.  We believe that critical, relevant discussion of the issues, trends, and solutions within the food system need to be critical, thought provoking and policy-changing driven.  We are concerned with issues all along the food chain and authentic food security,  “a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self reliance, social justice, and democratic decision-making.”

As the “wake up” bell is sounding, communities across the nation are called to action as the realization sets in that racism didn’t go away, and that the country’s economic future appears bleak.  In order to organize on basic human rights issues such as being able to grow, buy, eat and depend on healthy and safe food, our work happens “on-the-ground.”  It is no longer just about access; it is about having a real choice when it comes to food.

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