By: Anya Shetty
During quarantine, many people can leave their rooms, go to their kitchen, and can see a myriad of options. Do you want a sandwich with whole-wheat bread, turkey, and mustard? Do you want some chips or ice cream? Maybe you’ll opt for something more healthy like a salad or a fruit bowl. The overall point is that you open your pantry, open your fridge, open your freezer, and see options. Many people in the country, however, don’t have these options, especially those living in low-income communities. Injustice and inequality have been engraved into the DNA of the United States since its conception. This injustice has spanned from police brutality, rejection to the right to vote, Jim Crow Laws, and wage gaps but, there is one area where injustice is unexpectedly prevalent: food. Food justice should be more discussed as it impacts a fair percentage of the United States and everyday communities. The question at issue here is whether or not low-income communities and people of color are more impacted by food injustice? According to research studies and prestigious news outlets: yes. Low-income communities and people of color are disproportionately affected by food injustice which halts social equality and mobility by promoting racial and economic inequality.
Food injustice is a term referring to the way in which systematic oppression in everyday society has worked its way into everyday society. It, of course, doesn’t help that the food and agriculture industry have become increasingly monopolized, leaving American food to become an industrialized, toxic industry. The movie Snowpierer, starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, paints a society that lives in a single train. The caboose of the train houses society’s poorest. The poor have little access to food, wear dirty clothes, have no access to proper personal care, and live like zoo animals. Towards the front of the train, live the rich. The rich live lavishly, with fancy interiors, Wolfgang-puck chefs, and dress like the royal family. The food industry is like the train in the movie. As you go towards the back of the train, the worse the quality and access to food are. As you move forward, the quality of food and access to food increases. Food injustice is, in short, the train. It works and functions the same way, leaving the poor in a vulnerable, tragic state and leaving the rich in a lavish, blindingly privileged state. A real-life example of food injustice is seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the clear segregation of New Orleans’ neighborhoods. In a journal on Food Activism and Race in Post-Katrina New Orleans, the author writes: “majority-minority” neighborhoods and schools are poorer, access to health services is dismal, and residents have fewer (if any) options for purchasing affordable nutritious food” (“Whose Right?”). The source shows how the Food injustice “train” exists in modern society. Food injustice is a modern, prevalent issue that affects low-income communities and communities of color to a much larger degree.
Food injustice affects low-income communities by transforming them into food deserts and depriving them of proper resources. It is a well-known fact that low-income communities lack the resources that middle and upper-class communities have on a silver platter. One of these resources includes healthy food options. A news article from the Huffington Post, covering food injustice, wrote that ever since the monopolization of the food industry and the growing popularity of fast-food restaurants, residents of low-income communities are predisposed to not have or even want healthy food. Part of McDonald’s marketing strategy was even for “the Big Mac to be the meal of the working class and the poor, producing lifelong consumers addicted to their product” (“Food Injustice”). The source shows how the rising popularity of fast-food restaurants has not only psychologically wired the low-income to “like” their food but, have also mitigated healthier food options from the lives of the low income.
People, when reading about fast-food, food injustice, and the low-income communities will often respond to the issue by saying something like: “well it’s their choice isn’t it, I mean they have healthy options”. The response to this is: Imagine working a minimum-wage job and having two kids. You make $12 an hour and, subtracting the money that you use for rent and utilities, you only have a certain amount of money to allocate towards food. You walk into a restaurant and you see chips for $1.50 and you also see an apple for $2.00. When you only have a certain amount of money, every cent counts, and, especially in low-income areas, healthier food options cost more than unhealthy ones. As stated in a scholarly nutrition journal, researching whether or not low-income families can actually afford a healthy diet: “When incomes drop and family budgets shrink, food choices shift toward cheaper but more energy-dense foods. The first items dropped are usually healthier foods...Low-cost energy-rich starches added sugars, and vegetable fats represent the cheapest way to fill hungry stomachs” (“Can Low-Income..?”). This source shows how the diet of the residents in low-income communities is dictated by just that, their incomes. It is easy to judge residents for their diets but, the problem isn’t the choices of the residents. They don’t have cheap, healthy options available in their local supermarkets, so the problem isn’t that they have options and don’t use them, the problem is that they have options, they just aren’t cheap or accessible.
In addition to affecting low-income communities, food injustice affects communities of color through practices like color-blindness which lead to persistent segregation in the food market. In her scholarly article, Guthman points out research that shows a disconnect in the participation of African-Americans in weekend activities such as farmer’s markets. She writes “thus far, existing research suggests that people of color, and African Americans especially, do not participate in these markets proportionate to the population” (“If They Only Knew”). Research has proven that the ratio of people of color to white people that attend farmers’ markets is incredibly disproportionate. Farmers’ markets are an excellent way to get fresh, locally grown produce and people who often go to farmers’ markets can have healthier and a more quality diet. The problem, however, isn’t that people of color don’t go to farmers’ markets because they don’t feel welcome or because they don’t want to, it is that farmers’ markets aren’t prevalent or even accessible in communities of color. One factor that contributes to the low, “Non-European” population of farmers markets is the location of them. Guthman mentions that most farmer's markets are located in “high-end” areas and most of the population within these “high-end” areas are white. She also mentions that they are located in these areas because farmers make more money in the “high end”/ “high income” areas. This is where the philosophy of color-blindness comes into play. Color-blindness propels food injustice forwards in modern society by disregarding the disproportionate nature of farmer's markets. Such disregard leads to ignoring the problem, leading to the problem persisting for however many years. In general, color-blindness contributes to the aversion of problems such as not every racial demographic getting the same access to organic, affordable (or what should be) food like in the farmer’s markets. When you don’t acknowledge racial disparity, you ignore the problem, and the problem never ends up getting fixed.
Guthman, Julie. “‘If They Only Knew’: Color Blindness and Universalism in California Alternative Food Institutions.” The Professional Geographer, vol. 60, no. 3, 2008, pp. 387–397., DOI:10.1080/00330120802013679.
Alkon, et al. “Whose Right to (Farm) the City? Race and Food Justice Activism in Post-Katrina New Orleans.” Agriculture and Human Values, Springer Netherlands, 1 Jan. 1970, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10460-014-9490-x.
Drewnowski, Adam, and Petra Eichelsdoerfer. “Can Low-Income Americans Afford a Healthy Diet?” Nutrition Today, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2847733/.
Finley, Ron. “Food Injustice: The Revolution Starts In The Garden.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 3 May 2014, www.huffpost.com/entry/prison-break_b_4862026.
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