FOOD INSECURITY AND FOOD DESERTS
In 2020, almost 1 in 4 households experienced food insecurity (Silva, 2020), or reduced food intake due to lack of money or other resources (Christian, V.J. et al., 2020). One indicator for families lacking these resources is whether or not they live in a food desert. The definition of food deserts can change whether you’re describing an urban or rural area: in urban areas, a food desert is a residential area that is more than 1 mile away from a supermarket. In rural areas, you must live more than 10 miles from the nearest grocery store to be considered living in a food desert (Silva, 2020). Food deserts are characterized as areas where people live yet food is not easily geographically or economically accessible. Groceries sold in food deserts can cost significantly more, with milk in some food deserts costing about 5% more than average, and some cereal costing as much as 25% more in food deserts (Silva, 2020).
THOSE AFFECTED BY FOOD DESERTS
So who is most likely to live in food deserts? Low-income communities of color often disproportionately feel the burden. According to a press release by the USDA, 20% of people living in a food desert have an income level at or below the federal poverty level for family size (School of Social Work – Tulane University, 2019). Additionally, the median family income in food deserts is at or below 80% of the surrounding areas median income (School of Social Work – Tulane University, 2019). However, even among low-income neighborhoods, those with a higher African American community are more affected. Amongst low-income neighborhoods, those with a higher African American demographic were, on average, 1.1 miles further from the nearest supermarkets than White low-income neighborhoods (AJPH, 2015). Lack of supermarkets and access to fresh fruits and vegetables leaves other venues to fill the void: fast food restaurants and convenience stores. A study across more than 5,000 census blocks in New York City found a higher density of fast food restaurants in African American neighborhoods than White neighborhoods (Hilmers, Hilmers, & Dave, 2012). Studies in L.A., New York, and New Orleans found that unhealthy foods were more intensely promoted in African American communities (Hilmers, Hilmers, & Dave, 2012).
FOOD DESERTS AND COMMUNITY HEALTH
Lack of access to healthy food can have far-reaching effects on communities. Those living in food deserts are 55% less likely to have a good quality diet than people living in areas with more healthy food access (School of Social Work – Tulane University, 2019). Areas where fruits and vegetables cost more show greater increases in children’s weight over time (School of Social Work – Tulane University, 2019). With fruit and vegetables costing more, meat and grains become a larger source of caloric intake, and communities of color tend to have the highest rate of meat consumption. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicates that consumption of chicken as a percentage of total protein in the U.S. is nearly twice as high (14%) in Non-Hispanic Black populations as it is in Non-Hispanic White populations (7.1%). Hispanic populations lead in beef consumption (excluding ground) as a percentage of their total protein intake at 5.5%, with Non-Hispanic White populations consuming it as 4.1% of their total protein intake and Non-Hispanic Black populations consuming it as 4% of their total protein intake. Additionally, cumulative protein consumption of each demographic groups’ top 10 sources of protein accounted for 45.9% of Non-Hispanic Blacks’ total protein intake and 45.7% of Hispanics’ total protein intake, compared to 41% of Whites’ protein intake (Harish, 2012).
As one might expect, poor diet can lead to serious long-term health problems. Four out of the ten leading causes for death in the United States are diseases in which diet is a major factor (AJPH, 2015). Heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity tend to affect members of the African American community the most. Of these diet-related diseases, African Americans have the highest mortality (AJPH, 2015).
Malnutrition can have negative effects on other aspects of life as well. Research indicates that poor nutrition can impact academic performance in a variety of ways, causing delays in vision, fine motor skills, language skills, and social-emotional skills in young children. Older children suffering from malnutrition often suffered from chronic illnesses and had lower academic performance (Chen, 2020). Studies have also shown that people in food insecure households have higher risk of mental illness (Martin et al., 2016, p. 87) It is clear that good nutrition can improve quality of life in areas of physical health, mental health, and academic performance. Something Better Foods believes everyone deserves access to healthy and nutritious food, and we want to create this reality for ALL people.
DEMOCRATIZING FOOD FOR ALL
Something Better Foods, Inc., a producer and distributor of delicious plant-based meat alternatives, would like to tackle these food deserts by democratizing the access to plant-based meals. We know that to understand food deserts and the malnutrition they cause, it is necessary to include and understand factors such as race, space, and class. Food deserts do not exist without the racist and classist institutions that created them. While the causes of food deserts may be complex, the U.S.’s racist histories of redlining and minority displacement have no doubt contributed to communities of color struggling to access fresh and healthy food. To combat malnutrition in food deserts, Something Better Foods is working to implement a five-tiered plan that includes: increasing awareness of food deserts, advocating for these underserved communities in natural and plant-based food spaces, creating entrepreneurial opportunities for the communities most affected, offering food and nutrition education, continuing to develop tasty, culturally appropriate foods people enjoy eating, and distributing those foods at an affordable price.