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Published On: August 2, 2022529.8 min read11645 words

What is Food Justice? These Leaders Explain How They Expand Food Access in Marginalized Communities

HEALTHLINE

By Taneasha White

“It’s time to fix our broken food systems. If community-based, urban agricultural initiatives worked back in the day, then surely they can work again now.”

There are varying interpretations and definitions of the term “food justice.”

They range from supporting communities in exercising their right to grow and sell their own food, to promoting systemic structures that collectively support access to healthy food, to simply understanding food as a basic human right.

Shari Rose, the New York-based City Parks Foundation’s associate director of environmental education, leads an initiative called Learning Gardens. To her, food justice means creating a world where everyone has access to healthy and culturally relevant food.

It would be “a world full of equitable nourishment and connection,” she told Healthline. “Food insecurity would no longer exist.”

The bottom line is this: in order to achieve food justice, everyone must have adequate access to nourishment without barriers.

But presently, this is far from true.

Racial and gender disparities in food access

The most marginalized of us are also the most affected by food apartheid — or disparities in accessing healthy, culturally-appropriate food attributed to political moves affecting those with non-dominant social identities and experiences.

This includes Black and Latinx communities, especially those who are undocumented or have experienced incarceration.

Queer Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), especially those who are transgender and gender nonconforming, are also at disproportionate risk of food insecurity.

Socioeconomic status and racial identity are at the top of the list for food insecurity risk factors. For example,

  • In the South Bronx, which is predominantly Black and Latinx, at least 1 in 3 residents live below the poverty line.
  • Black folks living in rural counties are 2.5 times more likely to be at risk of hunger compared to white counterparts.
  • One in four Native people experience food insecurity.
  • Black and Latinx households are disproportionately affected by food insecurity, with food insecurity rates in 2020 triple and double the rate of white households, respectively.

Organizations are applying food justice to challenge the disparities

These statistics are disheartening, but countless organizations have hit the ground running with the goal of reaching food justice.

They tackle the issue of food inequity through work that focuses on:

  • urban gardening
  • education
  • feeding families directly
  • amplifying the experiences of workers and advocates in the food justice field
  • redistributing food and reducing food waste

Feeding families

Both the Learning Gardens’ Rose and Nina Womack of Los Angeles’ Let’s Be Whole said that today, rising food prices affecting low-income families make the pursuit of food justice even more vital.

Food accessibility has long been an issue, but the current rate of inflation has made groceries more expensive than ever.

Rose shared that the Learning Gardens she leads are home to food crops, yielding fresh food for local community members, free of charge.

During peak growing season, Rose says the gardens can grow thousands of pounds of food that get distributed to both the youth in our programs and their families, providing the opportunity to both feed and educate communities simultaneously.

Another organization focusing on feeding communities is the Oyate Group of New York.

The Oyate Group offers varied initiatives that focus on poverty alleviation within their community, centering food justice through their partnership with GrowNYC.

Since the fall of 2021, in addition to leading community events, the collaboration has provided fresh food to more than 500 families.

Jason Autar, chief operating officer of Oyate Group, said that the organization only plans to scale up from here, citing the importance of continued direct collaboration with community members.

Mitigating the lack of transportation access

In addition to the rising cost of ingredients, because food apartheid is the intentional racial and socioeconomic segregation of food-based resources by neighborhood, transportation is a major barrier to access.

Communities are separated, limiting the grocery stores (especially those that are high-end and selling primarily organic ingredients) to the wealthier parts of a town, which are often dominated by white individuals.

This bars folks who don’t have vehicles, who have hectic shift-based work schedules, or face issues accessing childcare from reaching these stores and their high-quality ingredients.

When grocery stores are inaccessible to a community, its residents often rely on convenience stores for food, which generally sell more expensive products with less nutritional value. Research suggests that this contributes to racial health disparities.

Womack from Let’s Be Whole pushes for food justice by bringing food directly to the South L.A. community.

She uses her experiences with hunger and poverty to create a health food business that doubles as a mobile food pantry.

“As a wellness and food relief organization, we bring the food to the people and eliminate the need to have a permanent building in order to be able to give out food confined to just one area,” Womack told Healthline.

Expanding education

According to Rose, the Learning Gardens program — originally called Growing Gardens — was created in 1997 in an effort to transform failing public schools and revitalize underserved neighborhoods through a partnership between City Parks Foundation and the New York City Department of Education.

In 2004, the program became Learning Gardens, which now rehabilitates neglected plots throughout the city, turning them into beautiful community gardens and sites for immersive, outdoor learning.

An aspect that sets Learning Gardens apart is the program’s dedication to centering the community’s youth.

Many young folks of color — particularly those from low-income communities — don’t have the opportunity to consider land ownership as a possibility for their futures.

The initiative takes a “yes, and” approach, combining the necessity of feeding families right now with the education to continue agricultural practices long-term.

“I’ve found that educational programs are most effective, especially in having the inclusion of urban farming in our community gardens that allow youth to be at the forefront,” Rose said.

Meeting people where they are is vital, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t also introduce new techniques and foods.

The Learning Gardens leader emphasized the importance of acknowledging about the impact of poverty cycles.

“If you want people to eat better, you have to educate without talking down,” Rose said.

— Shari Rose, associate director of environmental education at City Parks Foundation and leader of the Learning Gardens program in New York

Addressing racial disparities with representation

When it comes to trust-building and effective change, it’s important to have the opportunity to engage with folks who look like you.

That’s especially true when we think about systemic issues like food insecurity, where BIPOC folks are most vulnerable to the impact — yet are pushed out of the larger-scale conversations surrounding solutions.

Autar said that the Oyate Group addresses this problem not only through their BIPOC leadership team, but also by providing resources directly into the hands of the community.

With their goal of avoiding overcomplicated bureaucracy, they aim to directly serve the most vulnerable of their community.

Autar referenced the stark racial disparities within New York City food insecurity, especially in much of the South Bronx. He said these areas are effectively void of healthy food options.

“This is very representative of what communities experience the highest rates of food insecurity and food deserts,” he said.

Rose’s Learning Gardens program is also BIPOC-led, intentionally reflecting the communities they serve and teach within.

In addition to the students, the program also teaches in five gardens in predominantly BIPOC, under-resourced neighborhoods.

“The program ultimately connects students to their families and cultural roots, empowering them to fight food insecurity and making the program a powerful, on-the-ground tool in the fight for a more just food system,” Rose says.

Addressing exploitation of farm workers of color

The racial disparities are also present for workers of color within the agricultural field, particularly those who are Indigenous or undocumented.

They’re often exploited through long hours, poor treatment, low compensation, and little to no benefits.

This means that often, white individuals with higher incomes are the ones able to regularly afford fresh ingredients, while People of Color are blamed for what are considered poorer dietary choices — all while BIPOC farm workers are overlooked and underpaid.

Achieving food justice has to include addressing this issue not only through increased widespread access to food, but significantly improved conditions for the folks that make the food possible.

Community and urban gardening

Rose encourages students in the New York City area to get involved in the Learning Gardens program to learn skills that you can take back to your community or to start a garden if you don’t have one near you.

“Food justice is about regaining access to healthy, culturally appropriate food for all, so spreading the wealth of knowledge is essential,” she said.

Learning Gardens’ leadership wants youth to feel empowered by the practices of farming and gardening, particularly because BIPOC folks have been excluded from those conversations.

“Education is a precursor to food sovereignty,” Rose said, speaking to the history of BIPOC exclusion in white-dominated spaces.

It’s time to fix our broken food systems,” Womack said. “If community-based, urban agricultural initiatives worked back in the day, then surely they can work again now.”

“I WANT THAT OUR FOOD MEDIA IS TRANSFORMED AWAY FROM A CULTURALLY HOMOGENOUS LANDSCAPE AND THAT THERE IS NO LONGER A DOMINANT NARRATIVE THAT THE INDUSTRIALIZED FOOD (AND AGRICULTURE) SYSTEM IS EFFICIENT AND THE HARM IT CAUSES IS NECESSARY TO FEED THE WORLD.”

— Esperanza Pallana, executive director of Food and Farm Communications Fund

Amplification and funding

Another avenue is supporting and uplifting the work already being done.

Food and Farm Communications Fund pushes towards a more equitable world through financially supporting agriculturally-focused organizations’ communications programming, as well as shifting the media narrative around food and access.

“I want that our food media is transformed away from a culturally homogenous landscape and that there is no longer a dominant narrative that the industrialized food (and agriculture) system is efficient and the harm it causes is necessary to feed the world,” Esperanza Pallana, executive director of the fund, told Healthline.

Pallana says that participation in this network has not only aided partners in lessening the isolation that can occur with agricultural work, but has even connected them to folks to expand their work.

This proved especially helpful during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 amid restaurant closings and contract changes.

“Many small producers are blocked out of big contracts, so they sell to smaller independent grocers and restaurants,” she said. “With restaurant closure in 2020, those farmers operating in networks were able to redirect their produce to projects ensuring populations particularly vulnerable to the effects of COVID were food secure.”

Reducing food waste

A staggering amount of food that’s procured doesn’t get sold, and instead gets marked for the garbage.

Part of Let’s Be Whole’s work includes food recovery from places like food banks, grocery stores, and farmer’s markets.

That way, instead of being wasted, they’re given to low-income community members for free.

“People appreciate the Let’s Be Whole mobile food pantry because we offer primarily organic, prepared foods and produce from grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, as well as lots of fruits and vegetables from local farm organizations or farmer’s markets,” Womack said.

Ways to get involved in the food justice movement

If you’re aiming to get involved with food justice work, you can look to the mentioned organizations. If you’re in their areas, feel free to reach out if you’re interested in connecting.

Donating to causes or organizations is always an option, but if you’re looking to get involved in other ways, you can also search for ongoing initiatives in your own area doing work around:

  • food distribution
  • food waste reduction
  • urban or community gardening
  • extending opportunities for agricultural education

Other ways to address this include:

  • funding and financial support like the Black Farmer Fund
  • land stewardship and acknowledging Indigenous roots of the land
  • policy changes
  • a combination of wealth-building and creation of food access points like the Mandela Partners

Takeaway

The full scope of food justice is wide. While a full understanding could feel daunting, that also allows for many opportunities for education and engagement.

Oyate Group, Learning Gardens, Mandela Partners, Let’s Be Whole, Food and Farm Communications Fund, and the Black Farmer Fund are just a handful of great organizations and programs out here doing vital food justice work.

These organizational leaders agree that an ideal future with food justice means that no one is hungry or struggles to access fresh ingredients. Instead, people deserve the continued access to feed themselves and their families without shame.

“I want that food is recognized as a basic human right and not a commodity that is weaponized for control,” Pallana said.

These folks are based in major cities on the coasts, but there are many others that would welcome your involvement, regardless of where you live or what your skill set looks like.

There’s definitely a place for you in the movement if you’re interested.

Taneasha White (she/her), a graduate of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, is a Black, Queer lover of words, inquisition, and community, and has used her role within both literary and organizational spaces to make room for folks who are often cast aside, silenced, or overlooked. In addition to mental health, her other writing, editing, and sensitivity consulting work covered varied topics related to the intersections of Blackness, fatness, & Queerness, activism, and reproductive justice. Taneasha is excited to continue this work of amplifying marginalized voices, centering intersectionality, and destigmatizing mental health.

 

These 6 Documentaries and Docuseries Will Help You Learn About Food Justice

By: Zuva Seven

The food justice movement is a grassroots initiative and structural view that sees nutritious food as a human right.

It argues that lack of access to healthy food is both a symptom and cause of the structural inequalities that divide society, while recognizing how race, class, and gender play vital roles in the way food is produced, distributed, and consumed.

Specifically, the movement seeks to shed light on how Communities of Color and low-income communities are disproportionately harmed by the current food system — for instance, how they’ve been denied access to the means of production.

In addition, the framework considers other factors that hinder food access, such as the price of goods and the locations of grocery stores.

Therefore, food justice activism is just as much about creating local food systems as it is about ending the structural inequities that lead to unequal health outcomes.

The movement aims to address the structural barriers and economic factors that prevent access to healthy, culturally appropriate, and nutritious food.

Knowledge around food justice and culture, therefore, is vital. However, for those unfamiliar with the area, knowing where to start can feel a little daunting.

Luckily, there are many incredible documentaries out there aimed at educating audiences and raising awareness of the food system.

Here are 6 documentaries and docuseries you can stream to learn more.

1. High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America

Quick facts

  • Release year: 2021
  • Director: Roger Ross Williams
  • Synopsis: “Black food is American food. Chef and writer Stephen Satterfield traces the delicious, moving throughlines from Africa to Texas in this docuseries.”
  • Where to watch: Netflix

High on the Hog” is a four-part Netflix documentary series that explores African American culinary history and the influence of classism, racial disparities, and labor relations on African American food culture.

The documentary is an adaptation of American culinary historian Dr. Jessica B. Harris‘s 2011 book of the same name.

“High on the Hog” is hosted by Stephen Satterfield, founder of Whetstone Magazine, a publication dedicated to food history and culture.

Historically speaking, the show argues, American food culture has reduced African American cooking to Southern or soul food. However, Black people have made countless contributions beyond that, including to well-known, classic American dishes.

It’s an important and culturally relevant docuseries to watch, as it sheds light on how much of what is considered American cuisine originated from the African American population.

Not only does it educate viewers on the endurance of African cooking traditions and food, but it also unabashedly speaks on how enslavement influenced what we know of today as American cuisine.

It is a deeply nuanced exploration of the roots of Black American food. In terms of food justice, this documentary is a crucial text for understanding and celebrating the true foundation of American cooking.

Related Reading: Check out this article about honoring Black culture and heritage through food...

2. Salt Fat Acid Heat

Quick facts

  • Release year: 2018
  • Director: Caroline Suh
  • Synopsis: “Chef and food writer Samin Nosrat travels the world to explore four basic keys to wonderful cooking, serving up feasts and helpful tips along the way.”
  • Where to watch: Netflix

Salt Fat Acid Heat” is a four-part Netflix docuseries that explores how the titular elements are used in different local cuisines as the heart of the dishes.

The show is inspired by American chef Samin Nosrat’s 2017 cookbook of the same name. Nosrat hosts this docuseries as it investigates the essence of cooking by distilling food down to these four basic elements.

She travels to Italy, Japan, the Yucatán region of Mexico, and her hometown of Berkeley, California, to meet with restaurant chefs, home cooks, and artisans to develop a greater understanding of their unique kitchen fundamentals.

This works to celebrate each cuisine’s country of origin while also unifying their respective food cultures.

The series is a less academic, more accessible introduction to food culture and history due to its presentation as an instructional cooking and travel show. Its anchoring in food culture still makes it highly educational, relevant, and enjoyable to watch.

Related Reading: Check out this article about chef Andy Baraghani’s take on how food can reflect our social and cultural identities.

3. A Place at the Table

Quick facts

  • Release year: 2012
  • Director: Kristi Jacobson
  • Synopsis: “1 in 4 kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Hunger is a growing epidemic in the U.S., and we can fix it.”
  • Where to watch: Amazon Prime

A Place at the Table” is a documentary that highlights the social and economic implications of hunger in the United States — where more than 50 million people suffer from food insecurity.

The film examines the issue through the stories of a single mother, a second-grader whose health issues are exacerbated by her diet, and a fifth-grader who depends on the generosity of friends and neighbors to eat.

The film suggests that hunger in America doesn’t stem from a true lack of food. Rather, it’s a complex situation fueled by social and governmental apathy.

Among other problems, the documentary cites:

  • the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s farm subsidy program rewarding big agribusinesses over family farms
  • the higher cost of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables compared with highly processed foods
  • the food stamp system that disqualifies many low-income households from government assistance

While some of the evidence is outdated,“A Place at the Table” is an excellent documentary to watch if you want to better understand how structural inequities lead to disproportionately unequal health outcomes for low-income communities.

Related Reading: Check out this article about America’s “food deserts” — and why some food justice scholars say that’s not the most accurate term.

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4. Eating Our Way to Extinction

Quick facts

  • Release year: 2021
  • Director: Ludo and Otto Brockway
  • Synopsis: “Starring globally renowned figures and the world’s leading scientists, changing the way people look at their food or the food industry.”
  • Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Eating Our Way To Extinction” is a documentary that explores our food system, its negative effects on the planet, and the possible repercussions it could have on our future.

The film features various locations worldwide to share testimonials from the Indigenous people most affected by the environmental crisis. They highlight the relationship between the food we eat and our current ecological crisis.

The film argues that the animal agriculture and fishing industries are key factors leading to increases in the rearing of livestock, unsustainable feed production, antibiotic overuse, and deforestation.

Thus, it asks viewers to consider a plant-based diet to counter the effects of environmental destruction.

This documentary has received some criticism for overlooking the influence and culpability of wealth-driven economies, putting the responsibility on individual consumers instead of demanding accountability from corporations and governments.

However, it is a good introduction to the relationship between food culture and climate change — particularly for those looking for more insight into how our personal dietary habits may affect the global population.

Related Reading: Check out this article offering nine tips for reducing your carbon footprint in the kitchen.

5. Gather

Quick facts

  • Release year: 2020
  • Director: Sanjay Rawal
  • Synopsis: “Native Americans on the front lines of a growing movement reconnect with spiritual and cultural identities that were devastated by genocide.”
  • Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon Prime

Gather” documents the growing movement of Native Americans seeking to reclaim their spiritual, political, and cultural identities through food sovereignty while battling the trauma of centuries of genocide.

It follows members of four different Indigenous nations as they work with community leaders to reclaim and preserve their cultural traditions. Some of these stories include:

  • the opening of a restaurant that uses Apache-grown produce to combat food insecurity
  • the reintroduction of ancient medicinal and food practices
  • a teenager’s academic research into the benefits of a traditional buffalo-based diet compared with a modern beef-based one

The film’s story is anchored in the healing of generational trauma through community collaboration in the fight for food sovereignty. Personal narratives and archival footage contextualize the continued violence that Indigenous people experience.

The documentary argues for restorative revolution and highlights how Native Americans of all ages are using their skills in research, cooking, and foraging in the fight for food justice.

Related Reading: Check out this article about the effort to preserve Indigenous cultures by honoring traditional foods.

6. Food Chains

Quick facts

  • Release year: 2014
  • Director: Sanjay Rawal
  • Synopsis: “To protest their working conditions and poor wages, farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida, start a hunger strike outside the headquarters of Publix supermarkets.”
  • Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Food Chains” is a documentary that explores agricultural labor in the U.S. and the culpability of the multibillion-dollar supermarket and fast food industries in the abuse of farmworkers.

Also directed by Sanjay Rawal of “Gather,” the film documents the experiences of migrant farmworkers who pick fruits and vegetables sold to large U.S. food wholesalers. It explores the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their hunger strike for better wages.

The workers shown, mainly from Latin America, share their poor working conditions and their experiences with both wage theft and — in some cases — modern-day slavery.

This documentary argues that America’s food system will never be sustainable if it’s based on the abuse of low-income workers. It also highlights how food justice and human rights are inextricably linked.

“Food Chains” sheds light on how farmworkers are abused and enslaved to this day within the borders of the U.S. It focuses on the human cost of our food supply industry, the battle for food equity, and the fight against corporate greed.

Related Reading: Check out this article that dives deep into the challenges associated with our food supply chain — and how you can help fix them.

The bottom line

In order to achieve a sustainable food system, understanding the food justice movement is imperative.

While there’s a growing body of academic work highlighting the movement to empower historically sidelined communities, there are also many accessible documentaries and docuseries working to influence change, too.

Film, after all, is a very powerful visual aid when it comes to increasing awareness of social inequalities, and it can offer a gentle introduction into complex topics.

Watching the films and series mentioned above can certainly provide you with a solid foundation for learning about food justice and culture.

Zuva Seven is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of the online digital magazine An Injustice!. She’s committed to educating people on general health, wellness and mental health in particular, though she also dabbles in politics and pop culture. Her work has appeared in various publications, including Refinery29, Business Insider, Stylist Magazine, Greatist and many more. When she’s not writing, you can find Zuva strength training in the gym or working towards completing her Bachelor of Arts degree in film, media and gender studies from the University of Cape Town. Follow her on Twitter.

Perspective

6 Black-Owned Farms and CSAs Doing Revolutionary Work

By Alicia A. Wallace

For Black farmers, there are clear links between sustenance, land ownership, and liberation.

Food producers are a vital but often overlooked part of a community. They employ, train, and empower people while producing and increasing access to culturally relevant food.

Farms are direct producers of food and may sell their goods in local stores or farmers’ markets. They may also participate in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.

These are systems that connect consumers to fruits, vegetables, and other items (like eggs) that are grown or produced within their communities. CSAs often work through delivery services, though some allow you to pick up your weekly or monthly bundle at a farm or local distribution center.

Especially important are farms and CSAs that are Black-owned.

The community work they do — from introducing children to gardening to equipping formerly incarcerated people with the skills to grow food and transform it into livelihood — is critical.

One of the main goals of these organizations is to reduce the number of food deserts, which are neighborhoods with limited or no access to fresh foods, due to a lack of grocery stores or major distances to the nearest ones. Food deserts exist disproportionately in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

Fast food chains and convenience stores often dominate food deserts, offering poor nutrition and failing to cater to cultural and dietary needs. This gives residents little choice but to eat processed foods, and it contributes to the deteriorating health of vulnerable communities.

A common response to this issue is “grow your own food.” But for most people, that’s basically impossible.

Black farmers giving the gift of food

Enter the six Black farmers and CSA programs below.

They’re not just filling the gaps for their communities by growing culturally relevant produce and making it available to consumers. They’re also working to restore food sovereignty, connect communities with healthy options, and increase access to and skills for growing food.

Black Farmers Collective Black Farmers Collective in Seattle started 5 years ago in the Yesler neighborhood.

“Yesler is connected to a historic Black neighborhood and used to be an affordable housing project, maybe for about 50 years,” says Hannah Wilson, volunteer farm manager of the Yes Farm urban farm project, an urban farm and partner of Black Farmers Collective.

“We’re now seeing the development of downtown, units being knocked down, and new units going up and being sold at market rate, so we are witnessing gentrification,” says Wilson. “It’s becoming coveted property and Black people are being pushed to the south end.”

The Black Lives Matter movement has raised the profile of organizations, like Black Farmers Collective, that advocate for reconnection to our food source. They also call attention to the ethics of food, including farm worker conditions, pay, and the distribution chain.

“Food deserts are a reality for Black people and people of color. People have to leave their neighborhoods for fresh, organic produce, and this is the result of environmental racism, redlining, and unsustainable development,” Wilson says. “It then leads to disparities in health.”

Black Farmers Collective is focused on intentional engagement with the community. When starting community gardens, its founders noticed that many Black people weren’t able to use them, due to barriers like location, transportation, and time.

Wilson emphasizes the need for more farms, noting that funding would help the collective acquire the space and skills needed to run successful projects.

“Yes Farm is a baby of the collective, and we hope to do more. We’re now focused on building community and running education programs for schools,” Wilson says. “A class can grow in a row or a bed, take food home, and learn to cook with it. These are skills they will have for life.”

Kale, collard greens, mustard greens, peas, beans, squash, radishes, turnips, and chamomile are among the crops on the 2-acre farm. In the near future, when funding allows, CSA boxes will be available on a sliding price scale, if not free of charge.

Swanson Family Farm

Wayne Swanson, also known as Farmer Wayne, runs Swanson Family Farm in Hampton, Georgia. He, his wife, and his son raise cows, sheep, goats, and pigs on their farm. They also run a buyers club that connects directly with consumers.

“I was always outdoorsy,” Swanson says. “I love the woods, and I spent summers with my grandparents on their farm. My farm has been a hobby for 14 years and a business for 5 to 6 years.”

The farm has a wide consumer base, with people who come from all over Georgia and even out of state to get their meat.

Farmer Wayne has always been determined to run a sustainable farm. He credits his ability to remain strong during the COVID-19 pandemic to his farm having better conditions than the big businesses where workers are in small spaces and more susceptible to contracting the virus.

As those businesses shut down, people turned to local farmers.

“The animals are my staff. I started with chickens, then cows, then sheep and pigs. The system we have here mimics how the animals want to live. They want to move, graze, access ponds, and access clean water,” says Swanson. “The neighbors must have thought it was ridiculous, but I would stand in the field with cows, watching them to see what they want.”

Swanson Family Farm’s best seller is ground beef. But along with livestock, they also raise bees for honey. The success of this small business is in its simplicity and attention to the natural ecosystem.

“Really, we’re grass farmers, and animals help with that, and the byproduct is honey,” he says. “It’s about the ecosystem, being very sensitive and in tune to that.”

The Swansons plan to open another farm in New Jersey at the end of the summer in 2020.

Farms to Grow, Inc.

Promote, document, and improve: These are the stated goals of Farms to Grow, Inc., a farm in Oakland, California, that was co-founded by Dr. Gail P. Myers and Gordon Reed in 2004.

Its focus is on preserving the local environment while helping Black and underserved farmers create and maintain their own farms to grow food for their communities.

Projects include the Freedom Farmers Market, hands-on in-school programs, after-school cooking classes, and connecting people to farmers within their communities. Its CSA program also encourages farmers to donate 10 percent of crops for meals for unhoused people.

Soul Fire Farm

The driving force of Soul Fire Farm — a Black-owned farm in Petersburg, New York — is to uproot racism in the food system through justice, ecology, and healing. They see the environmental impact of unsustainable practices that disproportionately affect Black people, as well as the potential for reconnecting with the land to heal communities.

One of the ways they hope to do that in 2020 is by building at least six urban gardens for the Capital District, which is the metropolitan region surrounding Albany, New York. They also aim to train at least 130 new farmer-activists through 1-week programs.

Mother’s Finest Family Farm

Samantha Foxx owns 2.5 acres in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is leasing more land to expand production of Mother’s Finest Family Farm. She started the farm after deciding to be what she never saw as a child: a Black farmer wearing lipstick.

Foxx includes her crops in 14-week CSA boxes, along with products such as honey, shea honey butter, healing salves, and elderberry syrup. The farm includes bees, mushrooms, worms, and a variety of produce.

Foxx is a beekeeper and has a certification from 4-H, a program originally started by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to teach kids life skills like farming and animal care. Mother’s Finest also offers beekeeping classes for those interested in it as a business or hobby.

Foxx often teaches classes herself. And she’s involved all of her children in the business, including her 6-year-old son, who goes along with Foxx when she checks on her beehives.

Through her work, Foxx is reclaiming the land and encouraging other Black people to renew connections to the earth, transforming the narrative from one of slavery to one of community building.

Gangstas to Growers

In Atlanta, Georgia, community organizer Abiodun Henderson has been running an agribusiness training program for at-risk and formerly incarcerated youth for 4 years. It’s called Gangstas to Growers.

In a 3-month program, trainees participate in yoga classes, attend seminars, and work on a cooperative farm. The program integrates life skills with sessions ranging from financial literacy to cooking.

Participants earn wages and gain skills in production and business management. They not only grow and harvest peppers themselves, but transform them into a retail product. Sweet Sol hot sauce, named by program participants in a marketing class, is sold to help the project become self-sufficient.

Upon completion of the program, participants find job opportunities in the food business with Henderson’s assistance. The goal is to reach and assist 500 young people by 2025, giving them an alternative to the limited prospects often facing Black youth.

Supporting Black-owned agriculture

You can support Black-owned farms and CSAs by subscribing to their product boxes, encouraging your favorite restaurants to source food from them, and donating to their programs.

For Hannah Wilson from Black Farmers Collective, there are clear links between sustenance, land ownership, and liberation for Black people who farm.

“For the Black community to find liberation, we need to access more land and control growth of our own food — not rely on the same system that has oppressed us. We need to figure out what food sovereignty means, grow culturally relevant food, and cut the supply chain shorter and shorter,” she says. “It’s important for community to have places to gather and build trust. I have personally found healing working with the land, and I want this to be available to the entire community.”

Supporting Black-owned farms and CSAs shifts power and attends to the needs of their communities, one veggie at a time.

  Alicia A. Wallace is a queer Black feminist, women’s human rights defender, and writer. She is passionate about social justice and community building. She enjoys cooking, baking, gardening, traveling, and talking to everyone and no one at the same time on Twitter.

Nutrition

8 Empowered Ecofeminists Fighting for Justice

By Alicia A. Wallace

Climate change is a pressing issue worldwide and disproportionately affects the most vulnerable people among us.

Extreme weather conditions and superstorms are some of the effects we see, but droughts, food insecurity, economic instability, and displacement are what vulnerable populations experience on a consistent basis.

We’ve long been warned about the consequences of fossil fuel extraction, but climate change affects not just the environment but also the lives of People of Color, young people, residents of small island nations, women, LGBTQIA+ people, and people experiencing poverty.

Many climate activists are taking an intersectional approach to their work, considering the identities of the people whose lives are disrupted by climate disaster.

In particular, ecofeminists are dedicated not only to raising awareness and demanding action on the climate crisis but also to ensuring that the response is equitable, centering the most vulnerable.

Here are 8 ecofeminists doing radical work to bring about equity and environmental justice.

1. Irene Vázquez

Irene Vázquez is a Black Mexican American poet, journalist, and editor from Houston, Texas, who writes about Black feminist ecopoetics, placemaking, and futures. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in:

  • F(r)iction
  • the Texas Observer
  • Sargasso: A Journal of Caribbean Literature and Culture

Through her reporting, Vázquez amplifies the stories of climate justice organizers and hopes to inspire people to act for change.

“Poetry helps me break down overwhelming topics like climate change or carcinogenic pollution and deal with them on an intimate, person-to-person level,” she says.

“My writing also helps me imagine new ways of being in right relation with the natural world outside of ways that have been forced upon us by colonization and white supremacy.”

Vázquez sees climate change as a result of industrialization and colonization that’s connected to the dehumanization of Black people and continued settler occupation of Indigenous land.

“When colonizers don’t treat Black people as human, Black communities are displaced after climate disaster. When Indigenous land is occupied by settler governments, the natural world is commodified and exploited, and communities’ health is intentionally neglected,” she says.

Vázquez adds, “Anyone working or writing about climate change should center the needs of these communities as they seek to build a more just future, lest the world we seek to build continue to perpetuate the problems of this one.”

2. Jhannel Tomlinson

Jhannel Tomlinson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography and Geology at University of the West Indies, Jamaica, whose research interweaves community-based adaptation to climate change, environmental justice, and vulnerable groups.

Her accomplishments and awards include:

  • co-founder of GirlsCARE (Climate Action for Resilience and Empowerment)
  • co-founder of Young People for Action on Climate Change (YPACC) Jamaica
  • Caribbean Advisor for the Next Generation Climate Board
  • recipient of the Prime Minister’s Youth Award for Environmental Protection in Jamaica (2019)
  • named of one of 50Next’s Trailblazing Activists

A scholar and activist, she believes that academia should prompt exploration and understanding of experiences and that scholars’ findings should empower and educate communities.

“Grassroots movements are championing action toward climate justice, and academics should use their platforms and networks to foster communication, collaboration, and cohesion,” she says.

Tomlinson notes that funding for climate change initiatives in developing nations has been and remains a challenge, even in the face of emerging entities such as the Green Climate Fund and Global Environmental Facility.

“While countries in the Global South are the ones contributing the least to climate change, we are among the most vulnerable, and access to the resources to facilitate local adaptation isn’t easily accessible,” she says.

She identifies the red tape involved in gaining access to funding from international donors as a justice issue.

“Countries have to jump through hoops to be considered, and then — even when this is done — it takes some time for approval to be granted,” Tomlinson notes.

“These countries need to be given some consideration based on their existing socioeconomic challenges. Efforts need to be made to allow for easier access to these funds.”

3. Bernard Ferguson

Bernard Ferguson is a Bahamian poet, essayist, and educator. Although they say that it’s by great luck that they’re the recipient of numerous prizes and awards, their work makes it clear that these achievements are by merit.

Ferguson’s awards include:

  • the 2019 Hurston/Wright College Writers Award
  • the 2019 92Y Discovery Contest

In addition, their writing has been featured, published, or is forthcoming in:

  • the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas
  • The New York Times Magazine
  • The New Yorker
  • The Paris Review

Among Ferguson’s work is the article they wrote about Hurricane Dorian’s effects on the Bahamas, declaring that the devastation was — and continues to be — an issue of climate injustice.

For Cave Canem and Lambda Literary, Ferguson wrote “why make promises at all,” a poem they have also shared on their Instagram account. It begins:

why make promises at all if, when the erosion
erodes, there will be nothing left of the roots?

“I think our promises don’t matter unless we’re held accountable for them,” Ferguson says.

They claim that Western capitalist societies are more interested in exploitation than accountability — in opposition to traditional belief systems that emphasize responsibility for one’s community and environment.

“A long time ago, deep down in the truest parts of us, our oldest and wisest selves made a promise to take care of one another, to take care of this planet and the kaleidoscope of life,” they say.

Ferguson wants to see us return to our better selves, take responsibility for our actions, and recognize our interdependence with each other and the earth. These qualities are necessary if we are to survive the climate crisis, and they require mutual care.

“How can we make promises at all if that most basic promise, that most human duty, doesn’t seem to matter any more?” Ferguson asks.

Ferguson calls on people in developed countries to hold their governments accountable for the global climate crisis.

4. Erica Cirino

Erica Cirino, who splits her time between the shores of Long Island and Connecticut, is a science writer and artist who explores the intersection of the human and nonhuman worlds.

Her photojournalistic work is widely published, depicting connections between people and nature. Cirino’s recent book, “Thicker Than Water,” explains the plastic crisis through primarily Black, brown, Indigenous, and rural communities, along with scientists and activists.

“It presents readers with stories revealing the troubling history and vast range of consequences of plastic production, use, and disposal,” she says.

Cirino focuses on Communities of Color because they’re disproportionately affected by environmental injustice. “Ultimately, I hope readers complete the book considering what they need to live and what they can live without — on personal and societal levels,” she says.

These days, Cirino is working on an exciting new project to bring climate solutions and frontline communities — which face the biggest challenges and are making the most radical changes — to a wider audience in a way most media platforms have not yet done.

She explains, “We hope that creating a space for such stories will help amplify and expand the amazing efforts to combat the climate crisis that are now underway.”

5. Dominique Palmer

Dominique Palmer is a climate justice activist and organizer with Fridays for Future International and Climate Live. She participates in various international actions and campaigns using music and other creative means to reach and mobilize people.

She has been featured in:

  • Forbes 100 U.K. Leading Environmentalists (2020)
  • the Guardian
  • Refinery29
  • VICE
  • Bustle

Palmer is a public speaker on environmental and social justice, as well as a student of political science and international relations at the University of Birmingham.

For her, fighting for climate justice that benefits people and the planet is crucial, and she campaigns for bold action from global leaders. For example, she’s an organizer of the ongoing climate strike (which is now primarily in the digital space).

“We have the solutions, the finances, and pathways laid out by the… [2021] IPCC report,” she says, referring to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “What is missing is political will, a desire to prioritize the well-being of the planet over profit, and serious urgency.”

She calls on governments to halt fossil fuel extraction, address social inequalities regarding clean air, and provide climate education and climate reparations.

She also makes the connection between climate justice and racial justice, noting that People of Color are disproportionately affected by — and leading the discussion on — climate change.

“They — particularly Women of Color — are agents of change in both mitigation and adaptation,” says Palmer. “They must be heard, [including] in decision spaces.”

Palmer is one of many young people to recognize that they’ll inherit the climate emergency and shouldn’t have to juggle urgent activism with their studies.

“So many of us feel betrayed and face eco-anxiety,” she says. “We don’t want to hear that we are so inspiring… or that this is ‘up to us.’ No — you made the mess and you’re going to clean it up with us. We must collectively take care of our earth.”

6. Ayesha Constable

Ayesha Constable is the founder of two umbrella organizations for youth-led climate groups: YPACC Jamaica and GirlsCARE.

She currently serves as an advisor for FRIDA (Flexibility Resources Inclusivity Diversity Action) — the Young Feminist Fund — and has been a member of several regional and global youth networks, including:

  • Caribbean Youth Environment Network
  • Commonwealth Youth Climate Network
  • Sustainable Development Solutions Youth Network
  • Global Power Shift of 350.org

Constable has researched and published on gender and climate change as part of her doctoral studies. Her recent academic research has examined the role of young women and girls in climate action in the Caribbean.

She says, “Young people have a high level of awareness of the risks posed by the climate crisis and have taken responsibility for finding and implementing solutions.”

“They have formed strong cross-regional alliances that help to amplify voices and provide the benefit of collective strategizing.”

She notes that in the Caribbean, young women — with strong support from the LGBTQIA+ community — are the face of climate action.

“They’re educating the public, shaping public policy, and ensuring the Caribbean voice is included in the global dialogue on climate change,” she says.

Constable points to the shared challenges across geographic regions, such as inadequate funding and a lack of inclusion, and the varied ways that these issues present in different places.

“Lack of inclusivity in one region may mean lack of inclusion of rural folk, while in another it is exclusion of LGBTQIA+ people,” she says.

She raises the issue of burnout among activists and the danger of prioritizing their cause over personal well-being. “Replenishing ourselves is in itself a form of activism in response to systems that would rather us be too drained to effectively challenge them,” she says.

7. Kayly Ober

Kayly Ober, senior advocate and program manager for the Climate Displacement Program at Refugees International, has more than a decade of experience in climate, migration, and displacement issues. This includes her work as:

  • a policy specialist for the Asian Development Bank
  • a consultant at the World Bank, where she authored the flagship report “Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration”
  • a research associate with TransRe, an organization based at the University of Bonn, for which she explored migration as an adaptation strategy in rural Thailand

Ober notes that climate change is one of the driving factors behind migration. “Climate change supercharges natural hazards and exacerbates existing inequalities in ways that impact those on the edge [who] may need to make the difficult choice to migrate,” she says.

She notes that the effects of climate change are also connected to socioeconomic issues.

“If you are a farmer dependent on rainfall to grow your crops and earn a living, shifting rainfall patterns, recurring floods, or droughts can drastically affect your ability to earn a living,” she says.

“Depending on your ability to adapt, and even of your country to help you weather them, you may decide to migrate or not.”

Ober is calling for varied and nuanced policies to address the complex issue of climate change and migration. She participated in the development of a Refugees International report on climate change and migration released in July 2021.

She emphasizes that policies need to both allow people to stay where they’re from — which requires disaster risk reduction or climate change adaptation — and acknowledge that people may want or need to safely migrate and will need help doing so.

She also points to new guidance from the United Nations that suggests the definition of “refugee” in the 1951 Refugee Convention may apply in the context of climate change and that it’s up to individual countries to make assessments.

She says, “That’s why policies that seek to protect the rights of people moving are equally important, and perhaps even more novel, than policies of prevention [of climate-related disaster].”

8. Adriana Laurent

Adriana Laurent is a queer, mixed-race immigrant from Honduras who is passionate about the intersections of climate change, race, gender, and migration and has been organizing on these issues for 6 years at an institutional and grassroots level.

She lives in Vancouver, Canada (the lands of Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations), and is a digital campaigner with the activist group Leadnow. She has also been:

  • a co-founder and staff member at the Climate Hub at the University of British Columbia
  • a consultant for the City of Vancouver on its Climate Justice Charter
  • an organizer for international mutual aid projects and grassroots youth climate organizing

“I’ve experienced the devastating impacts of climate change on my communities firsthand,” she says. “My community in Honduras has experienced powerful hurricanes that left thousands displaced, and in Vancouver I’ve also lived through a deadly heat wave.”

Laurent notes that these experiences are reminders that climate change worsens existing forms of oppression.

“Addressing the climate crisis also requires addressing deeply rooted systems of oppression,” she adds. “I’m working toward a more just and equitable world for all that sustains the dignity of all people and planet alike.”

She notes that climate change needs to be connected to communities and issues people care about.

“We need many people across the world with different expertise and experiences working on this issue. We can’t exclusively think about greenhouse gases; we must organize to tangibly improve the lives of people impacted by the climate crisis,” she says.

“This work is ultimately about caring for your community and our collective future.”

The bottom line

Climate justice requires gender equality, LGBTQIA+ rights, and the eradication of poverty.

It is not the responsibility of young people alone, as it requires an intergenerational approach that includes honoring traditions, learning new ways of living and being, and regarding today’s actions as determinants of the future.

Art and scholarship are equally important advocacy tools because they appeal to emotion and intellect. The goal of the movement isn’t to compel decision makers to make more promises but to build accountability and require it from individuals, corporations, and states.

Our human responsibility for each other must play a central role, serving as a beacon for the climate justice movement. In a community, there’s place for everyone as long as they follow through on their commitments to keep one another safe.

These 8 ecofeminists are doing heavy lifting, and they call on you to not only listen and learn but also participate in the process. It takes people with diverse experiences and expertise to create a collective future that’s sustainable, equitable, and just.

Nutrition

What Are Food Deserts? All You Need to Know

By: Amber Charles Alexis

Food deserts are communities that have poor access to healthy, affordable foods (12).

Also known as healthy food priority areas, food deserts are concentrated in low-income and historically marginalized areas throughout the United States (1Trusted Source234).

In food deserts, healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, peas, beans, meat, and fish are often expensive or unobtainable. The lack of access to healthy foods in these communities translates to health disparities and high rates of chronic disease (456).

This article examines the causes, health effects, and potential solutions for food deserts.

Causes of food deserts

The causes of food deserts are multifaceted. Public policy and economic practices that are embedded in systemic racism often play a role. Social, economic, and political conditions have been shown to reduce people’s access to healthy foods.

Contributing factors include food insecurity, social determinants of health, racial residential segregation, and poor access to transportation among low-income and historically marginalized populations (1 789).

Food apartheidApartheid is an enforced form of racial segregation.

“Food apartheid,” however, is an emerging term meant to address the root causes of poor access to healthy, nutrient-dense foods by communities of color and low-income white people.

Food activists like Karen Washington, Malik Yakini, and Dara Cooper believe that this term more accurately represents the systemic racism and health inequities of a corporate-controlled food system.

The term “food desert” is sometimes scrutinized for its misrepresentation of the core issues within these communities.

For instance, the term “desert” suggests a natural, barren landscape and proposes that increasing the number of grocery stores is a quick solution. Furthermore, this term neither resonates with nor is a part of the identities of the individuals who live within these areas.

Instead, “food apartheid” addresses the root causes of poor food environments and health disparities among predominantly low-income communities of color.

Food insecurity

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) estimates that 17.4 million American households were food insecure in 2014 (9).

Food security is the physical and economic access to sufficient nutritious foods by all people at all times. When this access is disrupted or limited, food insecurity occurs (10).

Food insecurity may be temporary — for example, if you run out of food for a day or two — or long-term, as exemplified by persistent poverty and poor access to food (10).

Food insecurity among low-income communities in food deserts is 2.5 times greater than the national average (9).

Social determinants of health

Social determinants of health are factors beyond your control, such as access to healthcare or transportation, that affect your quality of life. These factors play a major role in food deserts (11).

Barriers like income, community infrastructure, and access to supermarkets all influence the availability of healthy foods. Other social determinants of health that may contribute to food deserts include (1 81112 ):

  • education
  • employment and job training
  • socioeconomic status and concentrated poverty
  • access to healthcare
  • access to local food markets and fresh produce
  • access to transportation
  • racial segregation
  • public safety

These factors may lead to health disparities characteristic of food deserts, such as high rates of chronic diseases among historically marginalized and low-income communities (12711).

Racial segregation

Low-income communities have a high proportion of Black and Latino populations who are disproportionately affected by poor food access (179).

Robust evidence shows that racial segregation places historically marginalized populations, particularly Black people, in impoverished neighborhoods (79).

In 2016, compared with the national average, Black households were two times likelier to be food insecure, while Hispanic households had a greater prevalence of food insecurity (9).

Notably, 76% of neighborhoods with a high proportion of Black people were among the most impoverished (7).

Transportation and proximity to supermarkets

In food deserts, the distance you have to travel to supermarkets is further than in wealthier areas (712).

Plus, predominantly Black and Hispanic communities have fewer supermarkets and local food markets — which often offer affordable and nutritious produce — than white neighborhoods (16791213).

Thus, households in food deserts don’t have equal access to the healthy foods available to white and affluent communities (6).

Furthermore, public transit and vehicle ownership play a role in food access (813).

SUMMARY

Food deserts are attributed to food apartheid and have root causes in food insecurity, racial segregation, proximity to supermarkets, access to a vehicle, and various other social factors.

Locations of and statistics on U.S. food deserts

Because there isn’t an exact definition of food deserts, U.S. government agencies instead characterize communities, states, and populations based on food insecurity, income status, and access to stores and vehicles (14).

In 2014, an estimated 71.4 million American households were food insecure, while in 2016 31.6% of low-income households experienced food insecurity (9).

The Food Environment Atlas, which was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), shows an interactive map that displays information on food insecurity, socioeconomic conditions, and proximity to supermarkets (14).

According to this map, food insecurity rose in 16 states between 2015 and 2017, although only Nevada, New York, and Rhode Island saw a significant increase in the percentage of households with very low food insecurity (14).

“Very low food insecurity” is defined as disrupted eating and reduced food intake due to poor access or economic hardship (9).

In the United States, populations with low access to stores are concentrated in the Southwest, Midwest, Northwest, and Florida, while households without access to a car and low food access are more common in the Northeast and Southeast (14).

As such, food insecurity, poor food access, and potential food deserts exist across the continental United States.

SUMMARY

Food deserts are likely widespread throughout the United States. National statistics characterize geographic areas based on income status, food insecurity, and access to stores and vehicles.

Health effects of food deserts

Diet and nutrition play a major role in chronic disease (1516 ).

Chronic illnesses are the leading cause of death and disability in the United States, with heart disease, diabetes, and cancer being the most common (16).

Among low-income and food-insecure communities, disproportionate access to affordable, healthy foods contributes to poor nutrition and perpetuates health disparities, leading to higher rates of obesity and other chronic ailments (1791315161718).

Notably, Black people — who are likelier to be food insecure — have the highest rates of disease and mortality, largely related to diabetes and high blood pressure (718).

A vicious cycle may develop in which people with chronic diseases in food deserts rely on convenience stores and corner stores, which often sell expensive foods with low nutritional value — further limiting people’s capacity to buy healthy foods (18).

SUMMARY

Food insecurity in low-income, historically marginalized communities is associated with higher rates of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Potential solutions for food deserts

Understanding food deserts as food apartheid not only addresses their root causes but also challenges the quality of solutions that are often presented.

Temporary fixes that continue to perpetuate wealth inequities and health disparities include the placement of more fast-food chains and corner stores within food deserts (11319).

Simply increasing access to cheap food doesn’t lead to equitable access to affordable and healthy foods (13).

At the community level, food distribution, locally run markets, and gardening make great tools for communities to increase food access, reduce food insecurity, and promote healthy diets and lifestyles.

Keep in mind that comprehensive structural and policy changes are necessary to achieve equitable food access. Still, you can get started today on community-run solutions to improve access to affordable healthy foods in food deserts (720).

Government policies need to change

Because food deserts are caused by large structural issues like racism and classism, significant social, political, and legal changes need to occur to give people equal access to food.

Still, small shifts in government policies could immediately alleviate food insecurity and address some of the root causes of food deserts. These include (21):

  • Enlarging the existing food safety net. Current programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) could be expanded by increasing their funding and allowing more families access to their resources.
  • Incentivizing grocery store development in food-insecure areas. Tax breaks and other government incentives could encourage supermarkets to open in areas with high rates of poverty or food insecurity.
  • Antipoverty tax structure. Taxes for the lowest income thresholds could be lowered, and benefits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) could be expanded.
  • Integrate healthcare professionals. Healthcare workers and professionals could be trained to screen for food insecurity and connect families to the resources available.

Community gardens

In addition to creating green spaces and beautifying the neighborhood, community gardens provide fresh, nutritious produce and encourage healthy diets.

They also teach skills and foundational knowledge about environmental concerns, planting know-how, and where foods come from.

Finally, community gardens may help communities invest in their own health.

Farmers markets, arabbers, and roadside carts

Community markets promote local food production, as well as cultural foods that both appeal to the population and support a healthy diet.

At farmers markets, you buy directly from growers and support a local, thriving economy.

Arabbers — street vendors who sell fruits and vegetables from horse-drawn carts — and roadside produce carts may also create economic opportunities and improve food access in food deserts.

The USDA’s Community Food Projects (CFP) Competitive Grant program is a potential source of funding to kick-start and nurture such programs (1322).

Surplus food sharing

To balance out food waste from wealthy communities with poor food access in food deserts, food sharing collaborations and alliances may support more efficient food economies.

Food rescue organizations even take produce that would be thrown out at grocery stores due to blemishes or physical deformities — but that’s still perfectly good to eat — and resell it at affordable prices.

Federal resources for low-income people to get healthy foods

  • SNAP gives financial assistance to families in need and provides nutrition benefits.
  • The WIC program provides monthly nutrition packages, incentives for people who are nursing, and benefits for children up to age 5.
  • The National Council on Aging (NCOA) offers assistance to low-income older adults facing hunger.

Nongovernmental food assistance programs

  • Meals on Wheels and other organizations like Moveable Feast provide medically tailored food delivery and nutrition education to establish racial, social, and health equity.
  • Food Not Bombs provides free vegetarian and vegan meals in numerous locations around the globe.
  • Wholesome Wave works with community organizations to eliminate food insecurity and provide nutritious food to people in need.
  • Local food pantries, soup kitchens, and food banks run by religious or community organizations offer food to low-income communities to reduce food insecurity and hunger.

SUMMARY

Community-based solutions to improve access to affordable, healthy foods in food deserts include local markets, community gardens, surplus food sharing programs, federal food assistance programs, and food pantries.

Healthy food guide for people living in food deserts

For immediate food assistance, call the USDA’s National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273), Mondays through Fridays from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. EST.

How to improve your nutrition on a budget

Even if you’re on a tight budget and don’t have high quality, fresh produce available, there are numerous ways that you can enjoy nutritious foods, including (23):

  • Buy canned or frozen goods. Canned or frozen meats, fruits, and vegetables are both nutritious and inexpensive compared with their fresh counterparts — and they last longer. Opt for low salt canned food when possible.
  • Try nonmeat protein sources. Meat accounts for a large portion of many people’s food bills. Dried peas and beans provide just as much protein as meat but are cheaper and longer-lasting.
  • Shop for foods in season. In-season produce is easier to obtain and less expensive than out-of-season fruits and veggies. If they’re available in your area, visit roadside stands or other local markets and buy small amounts of fresh produce to avoid waste.
  • Freeze leftovers. To cut down on costs and food waste, freeze leftovers for reheating later in the week. You can also repurpose leftovers. For instance, plain rice from Sunday lunch can be made into vegetable rice for Monday or Tuesday.

SUMMARY

If you’re on a budget, freezing leftovers, eating more peas and beans, buying canned goods, and looking for in-season produce are a few strategies to save money and eat well. If you’re experiencing hunger, call the USDA’s National Hunger Hotline.

The bottom line

Food deserts — where nutritious food is often expensive or unavailable — usually occur in low-income, historically marginalized communities. They’re marked by high rates of food insecurity, racial and health disparities, and high rates of chronic diseases.

Several federal and nonprofit programs are dedicated to improving food access in food deserts.

Just one thing

If you’re experiencing hunger, call the USDA’s National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273), Mondays through Fridays from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm EST.

If you live in a food desert, you may have access to free or affordable food through government programs, soup kitchens, food pantries, or food banks.

If you don’t live in a food desert but want to help those in need, consider volunteering at your local food bank or with an organization like Wholesome Wave.

HEALTH NEWS

By Bob Curley

Activists are trying to provide more food choices for people in poor communities. They’re also teaching them how to better spend precious “food dollars.”

For more than 30 years, the Hill District neighborhood in Pittsburgh lacked even a single supermarket. That changed with the opening of a Shop ‘n Save in 2013.

A new report from the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, says the store in the former “food desert” has had a positive effect on residents’ health as well as providing an economic boost to the community.

“Food deserts” are communities — usually in low-income areas — lacking grocery stores, farmers markets, and healthy food providers. Some studies suggest that half of all low-income neighborhoods in the United States are food deserts.

High-income communities have far greater access to healthy food than low-income communities, said Lauren Ornelas, founder and director of the Food Empowerment Project, in a recent interview with the Minnesota Public Radio show Marketplace.

“In fact, the high-income areas had 14 times more access to even frozen vegetables. So in communities of color and low-income communities, what you would typically find in the freezer section would be frozen pizzas or ice cream, not necessarily frozen vegetables,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 23 million people, including more than 6 million children, live in food deserts that are more than a mile from a supermarket.

Of these, 11 million live in households with incomes at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. And more than 2 million people live in low-income rural areas that are more than 10 miles from a supermarket.

Results from research

The RAND study, published in the December 2017 issue of the Annals of Epidemiology, found that 12 percent fewer Hill District residents reported facing food insecurity than in the similar Homewood neighborhood, which lacks a food store.

Hill District residents also had 10 percent fewer new cases of high cholesterol a year after the store opened, researchers concluded.

Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) declined by 12 percent in the Hill District compared to Homewood. Other related benefits included new employment opportunities, tax revenues, and increased customer traffic at nearby businesses.

These positive changes occurred despite the fact that RAND researchers found that residents didn’t necessarily buy healthier foods at the supermarket.

“Our findings suggest that locating a new supermarket in a low-income neighborhood may trigger health and economic improvements beyond just having access to healthier and more plentiful food offerings,” said Andrea Richardson, the study’s lead author and policy researcher at RAND. “Policymakers should consider these broad impacts of neighborhood investment that can translate into improved health for residents in underserved neighborhoods.”

The federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative is a public-private program that provides support and funding for efforts to bring new grocery stores, farmers markets, and other sources of fresh food to deprived communities.

Broad support

In a partisan political era, such programs have received “surprisingly bipartisan support, especially because of the economic development factor,” Risa Waldoks, project manager of the National Campaign for Healthy Food Access at the Food Trust, told Healthline.

“These projects create jobs and anchor communities,” she said.

Plus, the issue is broadly relatable.

“Everyone has to eat,” Waldoks noted.

In Virginia, for example, a bill to create a $7 million Virginia Grocery Investment Fund was introduced by a Republican state senator, William Stanley, and has support across the political aisle.

“Some of my conservative friends have asked, ‘Is this a conservative bill?’ and I say yes, because if we are creating healthy choices for children, we’re allowing those children to grow up safe, happy, and healthy, then they are going to be great taxpayers to the Commonwealth, not tax burdens,” said Stanley at a January 11 press conference

Helping drain the ‘food swamps’

Supermarkets offer the greatest variety of healthy food options, but they’re just one way to address the food desert problem.

The Food Trust, a national nonprofit group that works to ensure access to affordable nutritious food, also helps run farmers markets in food desert communities.

In addition, it supports programs that give SNAP recipients more “bang for their buck” when they buy healthy food.

The latter is important, because even when fresh produce is available, it’s typically the most expensive type of food to buy.

The Food Trust also provides education in schools and communities about healthy eating and cooking. As researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research have noted, simply opening a supermarket in a food desert has little or no impact on whether people buy healthier food.

Recently, a related term — “food swamps” — has been applied to communities that are oversaturated with unhealthy dining options, such as fast-food restaurants.

A recent Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity study found that a typical food swamp has four unhealthy eating options for every one healthy option.

Residents of such communities had higher obesity rates than non-swampy areas.

The Food Trust isn’t looking to shut down inner-city Burger King and McDonald’s restaurants, said Waldoks.

“People should have choices,” she said, “but we want to empower people with healthier choices, and not have to choose between a cheap fast-food option and an expensive healthy option.”

Often, communities described as food deserts and food swamps are one and the same.

The Food Trust has worked with groups from Philadelphia to San Francisco that help small markets in food desert communities stock and sell more produce.

Assistance includes everything from developing a business plan and education on how to maintain produce to even donating food racks, shelves, and refrigeration equipment.

A new study of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district found that the Healthy Retail SF initiative has resulted in more stores selling fresh fruit and vegetables than in any other area of the city.

Notably, stores in the neighborhood have increased their overall sales by 25 percent by offering healthier options to shoppers.

“By bringing together local merchants with the community and the city, we have shown that neighborhoods can take charge of their health and well-being, starting with their local stores,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, health officer for the city of San Francisco.

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