Racism in the Food Industry Leads to Food Insecurity

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

What is food insecurity? According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), it is the limited or lack of access to “nutritionally adequate and safe foods.” In 2018, America’s food insecurity rate was around 12% – not a very high rate; in the same year, countries like Yemen and Sudan had food insecurity rates of around 50 -76%. Now, however, many people in the US are struggling to acquire healthier foods due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The coronavirus has temporarily shut down many businesses; this has left many people unemployed, especially those in the hospitality and leisure industry. This is affecting over 16.78 million people’s way of earning money in America. Without their regular salaries, many are struggling to buy appropriate and proper foods for themselves. In fact, if the loss of jobs during the pandemic gets as bad as the loss of jobs during the Great Recession, then the number of food-insecure individuals can be estimated to be around 9.9-17.1 million in the U.S.

Currently, Mississippi is the state with the highest food insecurity in the US with a rate of 24.1%. In addition, North Dakota had a 77% increase in its food insecurity rate since the end of 2019. Other states with high food insecurity rates (20 – 23%) are Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Alabama, and Arkansas. To add on, households that have mothers living in the US with children under 12 years-old are facing a 40-42% food insecurity rate due to the short-lasting nature of their food and their household members being unable to buy more food. Additionally, households with children under the age of 18 face rates of 33-35% food insecurity for the same reason.

There are several reasons why food insecurity occurs including drought, conflict, and population growth. However, many do not realize that race also plays a large role in people’s access to healthy food. According to the USDA, since 1995, Black and Latinx households face higher food insecurity rates compared to the nation’s average food deficit rate. In 2017, it was found that 21.8% of African-American households and 18% Latinx households in the US were not able to acquire proper food; the nation’s food insecurity rate was 11.8%. Moreover, another analysis shows that food instability rates from 2001-2016 for African-American households, Latinx households, and American Indian/ Alaska Native (AI/AN) were at least twice the food insecurity rates of white households. As of now, the 10 counties with the highest food insecure rates have more than 60% of African-Americans, and Latinx Americans are currently facing a food insecurity rate of around 16.2%.

Lower incomes, poverty, and unemployment rates have a severe impact on food insecurity rates between African-American and Latinx households and white households. In 2019, the median wealth of African-American families was less than one-tenth that of white American families. As of March 2020, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Louisiana had an annual wage gap between African-American women and White American women of $30,000 – $35,000.

Additionally, in 2018, the Hispanic poverty rate was 17.6% and the African-American poverty rate was 20.8%, while the white American poverty rate was only 8.1%. As far as unemployment rates are concerned, Hispanics and African-Americans had an unemployment rate of 14-15% in June 2020 whereas white Americans had an unemployment rate of 10.1%. Even when the economy was running strongly at the beginning of 2019, the unemployment rate for Black Americans was 50% higher than White Americans.

If a person is living in poverty, earning low wages, or is unemployed, it will be a struggle for them to purchase nutritious and healthy foods. Hispanic and Black Americans receive lower wages and have higher poverty rates when compared to White Americans because of structural racism. Hence, more African-Americans and Latino Americans are unable to buy safe food..

There have been a few efforts to help with this issue like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a program created to provide healthy and safe foods to low-income people in America. In the past, SNAP has helped African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans who are struggling with low incomes have access to safe foods. For example, in 2016, the program helped African-American and Hispanic households with better food security by giving them $260-$290 every month.

Another program that is helping solve this issue is the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP). This program serves low-income seniors with healthy food through fundraisers, food drives, and cookbooks. There are several more programs that help with the issue of food insecurity but SNAP and CSFP are two of the main ways people with low-income, especially African-Americans and Hispanic Americans, are acquiring nutritious food and better food security.

Overall, the coronavirus has left a numerous number of people unemployed due to the temporary closings of businesses; however, it is not just the coronavirus. Structural racism has also caused many people, especially those of the African-American and Hispanic-American origin, to have higher unemployment rates, lower wages and higher poverty rates. This is causing numerous people of those origins to be food-insecure. Programs like SNAP and CSFP have taken major actions on solving this issue, helping many people recover from food insecurity due to either racism or coronavirus.

Through Teen Lenses: What do you know about food insecurity? How do you think racism impacts it?

“I know that throughout the entire world, food insecurity is a huge huge issue and it impacts so many people. For the US, I think that racism impacts it in so many ways — systematic racism literally sets the foundation for this country. Generations after generations of minorities, especially the black minority, have been impacted by the systematic racism, resulting in many of them not being able to heighten their level of income. This is a vicious cycle of the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer. Racism definitely prevents a lot of minorities in the US from having a stable income, resulting in more food insecurity. ” Auva Amirmokri, 18, Rising Freshman at The University of Maryland, College Park, MD
“Food insecurity is when someone does not have the means to receive enough food to survive on a reliable basis. Because systemic racism has impacted pretty much every part of people’s lives, especially Black Americans; they are often forced into positions where they are in a state of food insecurity. Often it’s because of reasons such as being underpaid or unemployed resulting from systemic racism.” Joel Shapiro, 18, Rising Freshman at Boston University, Boston, MA 
“While I’m aware that food insecurity is the lack of food and disruption of eating habits often caused due to lack of money, I am not aware of its effects on racism. I would assume that food insecurity would affect those of minority races especially in low income neighborhoods as well as affect their ability to get help. “ Lasya Gudur, 15, Rising Sophomore at STEM School Highlands Ranch, Denver, CO

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