Addressing the Root Causes of Food Insecurity in the U.S. – Disparities and Discrimination

by Sabea Evans Policy & Communication Fellow, Center for Hunger-Free Communities

In 2017, 21.8% of African American households and 18% of Latinx households reported food insecurity, while the national food insecurity rate was 11.8%.

“How are racism and hunger related? Being mistreated at school, on the job, in health care and beyond, translates to lower wages and exclusion from society. When employers discriminate, people of color make lower wages than white people. When health-care providers discriminate, people cannot get the health care they need, and when the courts and the police are biased, they are more likely to put our family members behind bars, which damages their prospects for economic security.”

Sherita Mouzon, a community engagement specialist at Drexel University’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities, wrote this in an op-ed for the Inquirer on the necessity of facing racism and discrimination as key factors in food insecurity in the U.S. Issues of food justice, economic and racial equity, and food sovereignty cannot be solved by our emergency food system. Racism and systemic oppression permeate all of our systems, including those that hold up pretenses of service.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Black and Latinx households have had higher annual rates of food insecurity compared to the national average among all households since 1995. Sherita’s words are part of a conversation that people of color and people living in conditions of poverty have been trying to broadcast for generations and that the Center for Hunger-Free Communities hopes to amplify.

Through examination of our Children’s HealthWatch data from interviewing nearly 700 caregivers of children under the age of four at St. Christopher’s Children’s Hospital between 2015-2017, we found significant associations between reported caregivers’ experiences of discrimination based on racial or ethnic identity and food insecurity status. We asked participants for the number and context of experiences of discrimination they had encountered due to race, ethnicity, or color. To share this data and confront the lack of urgency in addressing the root causes of food insecurity in Philadelphia (and in the wider U.S.), we released a series of reports called “From Disparities to Discrimination: Getting to the Roots of Food Insecurity in America.”

The reports focus on multiple arenas in which experiences of discrimination are associated with food security: in applying for housing, public assistance offices, receiving healthcare, schools, hiring, workplaces, public settings, policing, judicial systems, and within immigrant populations. Caregivers who reported one or more experiences of discrimination were more likely to report food insecurity compared to those who had not experienced discrimination, across the board. Caregivers who were people of color who reported experiences of discrimination were more likely to report food insecurity, while the food insecurity of white caregivers was unimpacted.

Simply providing people with food has proven to be an unviable solution to ending hunger in the U.S. Policymakers, meds & eds, big businesses, non-profits, philanthropists… We all need to acknowledge, address and help people heal from the racism and discrimination in our systems and within ourselves in order to intervene in systemic oppression and reduce food insecurity in the U.S.

April is National Minority Health Month. Learn more about how to effectively work with communities to address and eliminate health disparities.

Sabea is currently the Policy & Communications Fellow at the Center for Hunger-Free Communities. She has a B.A. in Linguistics from Haverford College, where she invested much of her extra/co-curricular work in diversity, access, and engagement. Sabea’s interests also include ethical ethnographic media, language diversity and activism, and ethnolinguistics. She thrives in collaborative spaces and aspires to co-facilitate projects that amplify the voices, knowledge, and creations of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.