“Why should there be hunger and deprivation in any land, in any city, at any table, when man has the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life?”
- MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
As of 2020, 54 million Americans face food insecurity. This number is projected to grow across the country and globally in response to the pandemic. Black Americans experienced disproportionate rates of food insecurity even before the pandemic. COVID is only rubbing salt in the wound. If we truly want to celebrate MLK, we have to learn and then fight against the structural racism present in the food industry. Black households have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic according to research by the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. Over 35 percent of households said they were food-insecure during that time period, compared to the 18 percent of white households. This number increased to 41% with black households with children.
Financial hardships, unemployment, illness and severe health outcomes from COVID-19 all contribute to the lack of resources, and while these numbers were already disproportionately high for black communities– the pandemic has exacerbated these inequalities.
Black communities in rural and urban areas are more likely to experience food insecurity as markets are redlined – resulting in decreased access to full-service grocery stores.
“Known as a food desert/food swamp, Black communities often have excessive access to dollar stores and liquor stores that provide nutrient-poor, inexpensive shelf-stable items.” - Maya Feller, MS, RN, CDN
In 2019, The Rudd Center along with The Council of Black Health published a report on the disproportionate targeting of junk food advertising and marketing to communities of color. You can read the report here.
In South Los Angeles, alone, neighborhoods with a higher proportion of African American residents had fewer healthy food choices and more fast-food.
If we’re truly going to celebrate MLK’s legacy, we, as a state and as a country, must acknowledge this hard truth: We have a long way to go before we can say Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of racial equality and harmony has been fulfilled.
This Martin Luther King Day, we encourage you to join us in educating yourself on the food system’s role in racial inequality, and take action (open your wallets + your mind)– do good.
In a letter written by Martin Luther King, Jr. from Birmingham jail, he wrote, “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do the right thing.”
- People of Color are at Greater Risk of COVID-19. Systemic Racism in the Food System Plays a Role.
- Food apartheid: the root of the problem with America's groceries
- Determined to Be Nourished
- Chicago’s Forty Acres Fresh Market On Ending ‘Food Apartheid’ In Black Communities
- A Year of Food Insecurity in Los Angeles County During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Racial and Ethnic Minorities Have Been Hardest Hit
The East Oakland Collective (EOC) is a member-based community organizing group invested in serving the communities of deep East Oakland by working towards racial and economic equity. With programming in civic engagement and leadership, economic empowerment, neighborhood and transportation planning, and homeless services and solutions, we help amplify underserved communities from the ground up. We are committed to driving impact in the landscape, politics and economic climate of deep East Oakland.
The Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC) works to ensure food is healthy, affordable, fair and sustainable for all.
By: Monique Johnson