Racism, Food Insecurity, and Food Injustice

As we have been establishing in our other articles, there are many inequalities when it comes to the food systems of our western society, and ultimately these inequalities promote food insecurity for many individuals. Food insecurity refers to the inability to access culturally acceptable and healthy foods that meet nutritional requirements, thus dictating a well-balanced diet. A byproduct of food insecurity is that of “food deserts,” or geographical areas harbouring “inadequate or nonexistent transportation and limited proximity to grocery stores” (Morales, 2011. pp 150). “[M]any Americans, particularly low-income people and people of colour, are overweight yet malnourished. They face an overwhelming variety of processed foods, but are unable to procure a well-balanced diet from the liquor stores and mini-marts that dominate their neighbourhoods. These groups are food insecure, but furthermore, they are victims of food injustice” (Morales, 2011. pp 149).

It is irrefutable that poor nutrition is responsible for many known illnesses and diseases, and “a risk factor in four of the six leading causes of death in the United States – heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer” (Pollan, 2008) (cited In Morales, 2011. pp 152).  It is also increasingly irrefutable that race and class inequalities contribute to poor nutrition and the consequences of a poor diet. Furthermore, with “four times as many grocery stores in predominantly white neighbourhoods than in predominantly black ones”, and “inner-city supermarkets hav[ing] higher prices and smaller selection[s] of fresh, wholegrain, and nutritious foods [than in suburban markets]” (Sloane 2004) (cited in Morales, 2011. pp 152), limited access to fresh healthy food may not be entirely dependent on income, but a consequence of food deserts. Therefore, the decision for grocery retailers to capitalize on food by, often times, moving to the suburbs, results in urban food deserts that continue to be dictated largely by per capita income (Morales, 2011. pp 152).

Additionally, public health concerns stemming from accessibility to proper nutrition “germinated a new food coalition: the Community Food Security Coalition,” an act that defines community food security as “all persons obtaining at all times a culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through local non-emergency sources” (CFSC, 1994) (as cited in Morales, 2011. pp 152). CFSC revitalizes communities of colour by incorporating environmental and social justice philosophies. Philosophies include “the emphases on culturally acceptable diets and on community responsibility, not individual blame, for food security and healthy eating” (Morales, 2011. pp 153). “The effort to reconstruct the foodscape for people of colour has augmented the discussion of food security with organizing around the concept of food justice. This idea grew from racial inequality in food access and its accompanying public health problems. In the same way that the civil rights movement grew from racial inequalities in housing, voting, transportation, and the like, new voices are naming the racism in food, but they are not alone” (Morales, 2011. pp 155).

Unfortunately, the predominant whiteness of CFSC members prevented adequate examination of racial privilege and frustrated some members. Therefore, these members moved beyond the CFSC framework to form a racially motivated movement that works to dismantle food injustice. “While racially motivated food justice has scant and scattered organizational infrastructure, its current manifestation does have a name and a place of origin: [The Growing Food and Justice for All Initiative (GFJI)]” (Morales, 2011. pp 155-156). “The GFJI works to promote individual and organizational empowerment through training, networking, and creating a supportive community” (Morales, 2011. pp 155). By embracing the CFSC and what they stand for, the GFJI reimagines the food justice movement by “complementing food security, not supplanting it, creating working relationships between organizations, and embracing what [member] Allen calls the dynamic tension between CFSC and the emergent food justice movement” (Morales, 2011. pp 156).

Organizations, like CFSC and GFJI, that are working to reduce food insecurity, food deserts, and food injustices require their local communities to rally behind them and support their initiatives. Governmental overhauls of infrastructure and better urban planning can help to assist in the decrease of food deserts. None of these changes can happen overnight, but small changes in a positive direction towards food justice can help to reduce food insecurities for marginalized individuals.

For further reading, check out these organization’s websites that are promoting food security:

CFSC: http://www.foodsecurity.org/

GFJI: https://www.growingfoodandjustice.org/

FoodShare Toronto: http://foodshare.net/index.htm

The Stop Community Food Centre: http://www.thestop.org/

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