Food justice is important because it calls us to question the food system in the United States. Why are people of color the most severely impacted by hunger, poor food access, diet-related illness, and other problems with the food system? According to foodprint.org, it’s not only about economic justice, but also racial justice. While healthy food should be accessible to all, the statistics do not support that notion. Minority groups have higher rates of illness than white people. Let’s also not forget the injustice surrounding the stolen land our food is grown on. Understanding the structural inequities in the food industry can create awareness as a catalyst for change.
Food insecurity is defined as not having enough access to food in order to live a healthy life. In 2017, food insecurity affected 12% of US households.
Food insecurity has affected less than 9 percent of the white population in the United States. The Nation reports that in minority households, approximately 18 percent of Latinx households and 22 percent of black households are affected by food insecurity. According to the USDA, “In 2018, 35.8 percent of households with incomes below the federal poverty line were food insecure. Rates of food insecurity were substantially higher than the national average for single-parent households, and for black and hispanic households.” This is an ongoing crisis that has spiked during the pandemic. In June 2020, about 16 percent of US households with children did not have access to enough food. According to Brookings, “about three in ten black households with children and one in four Hispanic households with children did not have sufficient food due to lack of resources in June 2020, while white households with children reported a child food insecurity rate just under 10 percent.” These rates are frightening and highlight the depth of the structural injustice in the food system.
Food insecurity is rooted in much more than just being from a low-income household. It’s a racial disparity and a food disparity. Poverty is just the surface level issue to the root causes. The root causes are racism, discrimination, white supremacy, and colonialism. The food system, specifically the health and wellness sector, is Eurocentric and have been benefitting white people ever since the Americas were stolen from indigenous people. FoodFirst.org also states that European Americans “super-exploitation of enslaved human beings (African Americans) on plantations allowed slave systems to out-compete agrarian wage labor for over two hundred years.” The Jim Crow laws decreased the number of black owned farms. The decrease is still prevalent and continues to increase the wealth gap between the two race groups. In 2017, the number of farms with black producers was 35,470 in comparison to 1,973,006 white producers in the same year.
Food politics also continues to fuel the divide. Not having access to healthful and nutritious food can be a result of gentrification and food deserts.
The American dietary guidelines suggest a vegetable-rich diet, while the food industry profits off of foods that are not in the recommended categories. While one zip code could have an abundance of organic grocers and wellness clinics, in another there could be a sale on salt and other inflammatory foods, yet no hospital is around. This creates a vicious cycle that disproportionately keeps making health foods more accessible to white people, and less accessible to minorities. The roll-on effect of this is that with a lack of nutritious food available comes a disproportionate increase in the chance of illness.
In order to make changes, the white community has to commit to social justice and racial justice. This is a white problem and it’s important to ask how food can be more accessible to everyone, which starts with enriching communities in need with resources. There are many black-led farm and food organizations that work towards justice and food sovereignty. There is restoration for indigenous food systems. There are also organizations for migrant workers, like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, to reduce human trafficking and violence in the workplace. Solutions do exist. The more work that is done to dismantle racism, the closer our society will become towards food justice.
Hannah Updegraff is dedicated to health and nutrition and loves helping others do the same as a wellness blogger. Her passion is creating gluten-free, dairy-free, and plant-based recipes. She is a Food Studies graduate student at New York University and believes that food justice is racial justice.