What is Food Insecurity in America?
Throughout the United States, access to healthy food is a privilege. Cumulative institutionalized racism is deeply embedded in the foundation of the country throughout historical and present public policies ultimately manifesting injustice within many entities throughout the nation, specifically the food industry (American Civil Liberties Union). This oppressive industry, including the fast food corporations and agricultural components, take advantage of vulnerable, typically minority, and low income populations.
They do so in many ways, some of which include manipulating the market, pushing out the produce selling stores and replacing them with cheaply produced, nutrient lacking fast food businesses in poor communities with support from the government in the form of subsidies. Low income populations, most often people of color, live in food deserts, where access to markets and grocery stores is limited, while convenience stores and fast food chains are densely distributed throughout low income neighborhoods(“Preventing Chronic Disease”).
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Thus, the food industry with government support, acts as an oppressive agent in society by targeting and manipulating these disadvantaged communities.Raced based fast food advertising disproportionately targets these populations as for the industry profit is the only goal. This advertising is most commonly referred to as “Targeted Marketing” throughout much of public health and sociological literature.Ross DPetty, et al.from the Michigan Journal of Race and Law affirms that”…minority exposure to the media and advertising tends to be higher than that of the general population.”
Many studies from various other entities confirm these heightened exposure rates, one of which being the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who also states that “…lower-income groups had greater exposure to fast-food restaurant ads compared to full-service ads”(“African American Collaborative”).
This can also be seen where schools are permitted and encouraged to advertise fast food and consequently, these communities, specifically the youth, are bombarded by these messages. Educational injustices then emerge as children who have poor nutrition are more likely to function poorly in school, missing school days because of “weakened immune systems” and “decreased cognitive function” (American Civil Liberties Union).The health disparities, including a disproportionate number of adverse health outcomes compared to other populations and a lack of accessible food resources, are too often blamed on the individual.
A California Law Review out of the Berkeley School of Law states that “Food oppression is structural because it is not the product of individual acts of discrimination, but stems rather from the institutionalized practices and policies of government and the fast food industry” (Freeman). Discriminatory housing practices, misuse of zoning laws, and the systematic disinvestment in inner cities as well as the practices mentioned before are just a few of the many institutional practices working against populations of color. Therefore, institutions justify poor personal diet choices and the lack of willpower as the sole contribution to negative health outcomes, rather than considering the surrounding environmental implications as well.
However, research and evidence based literature state that diet is the main influencer in health outcomes as an individual or community cannot work to change their diet habits while the social institutions and policies in place constantly work against their achievement of better health.Food insecurity has negative impacts on people’s health, ultimately affecting the individual and the community at same time. Thesenegative consequences can affect both women and children in various ways in regards to their general health and can also economically affect the community.
The impact of food insecurity on women has negative consequences on their health and wellbeing. For instance, obesity affects women more than children and men and their is strong evidence that have been linked to this problem. Women often care more about their children and family, and she will most likelyfeed them first, and end up eating any low nutritious foodin order for family to survive (Hartline-Grafton, 2018).
People who are food insecure and live in low income suburbs often face many challenges and worries about when their next meal is coming and food insecurity can increase the risk for stress and anxiety affecting a person’s mental health. Families who face hunger and have limited resources are often under pressure due to worries and fear from the situation getting bad, as they already have low wage job, and not enough resources to use when the needs exceeded the resources.
This can increase psychological distress and can lead to negative behavior such as committing robbery to get money in order to provide food (frac.org).As for children, families who experience food insecurity often experience negative health consequences. Children who grew up in a house with limited food resources often have problem with their health such as anemia, obesity and behavioral problems as result of not having enough food or consuming food with low nutrition quality due to access issues. Also, they have more frequent visits to the doctor compared with healthy kids.
On the academic side, they are more likely to miss school often and perform low in school as they not concentrating enough. This is because not consuming good amount of nutritious food negatively affects the brain, so they wouldn’t be able to think clearly or pay attention (Black, 2012).Food insecurities not only have impacts on women and children’s health, but also add a huge burden on health care costs and economy too.
Data been used from U.S Department ofAgriculture (USDA) between 2005 and 2015 where they calculated the health care cost by overviewing that the reasons for seeking medical treatment aremostly associated with food insecurity and hunger. This also happens as they take sick days off and miss work as it this adds to cost of healthcare producing an estimated more than $160 billion in 2014 (Grossman, 2015).Access to healthy food is a fundamental building block for a productive life.
While federal food assistance benefits are serious to allowing low-income families to buy food, the lack of access to healthy, fresh food becomes a factor to poor health outcomes and increases the risk of diet-related chronic illness (Fair Food Network). Federal services such as Double up Food Bucks, Food Stamps, WIC, Food Pantries or Food banks and Co-op credit union, all assist the needs of low-income families.
The benefits support individuals by providing them with healthy food choices, vouchers to families, assistance for women and children, providing food to families in need by community members, and financial institutions offering creditable alternatives. These services can eventually shift public policy for future federal nutrition assistance programs so it can simultaneously address health, hunger, and nutrition and support to a more sustainable food and financial system (Fair Food Network).
Double up Food Bucks program uses existing infrastructure, farmers’ markets and the Michigan Bridge card to improve access to and affordability of fresh fruits and vegetables for low-income families (Fair Food Network). SNAP better known as food stamps, offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities (Food and Nutrition Service, 2018).
The programs work with nutritional educator to help ensure that eligibility for dietary assistance. WIC Stands for Women, Infants and Children in which provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women (Food and Nutrition Service, 2018). Many communities have a local food pantry, sometimes called food bank. Most of these community food pantries are promoted by local area churches and/or community alliances.
A community food pantry mission is to directly serve local residents who suffer from hunger and food insecurity within a specified area. Independent community food pantries are self-governing and usually distribute food to their clients on a once-a-month basis. A food bank is the storehouse for millions of pounds of food and other products that go out to the community (Food Bank of the Southern Tier). Co-op assists communities with financial services and their solutions provide everything you may need from in class processing and payment tools to behind the scenes consulting and intelligence.
Food insecurity affects an extensive amount of people throughout the United States. It is no surprise the distribution of the food industry is in need for great change. The negative effects of this system most commonly occur in low income and minority communities, as the privileged and elite profit at their expense. Although, there are federal benefits and organizationscombating this issue, it is not enough. Political action, community organizing and individual advocacy is needed to create change in this oppressive system with support from people of all backgrounds. We must not shy away from the conversation of racism because it still exists in many forms as it continues to disadvantage communities to this day.