Equality in Food Access for Marginalized Communities

June 18, 2021 / 5 mins read

This month presents us with two commemorations which offer an occasion to highlight the challenges to food security that can exist for many within our nation and region. One of those commemorations is the newly established federal holiday of Juneteenth, marking the events of June 19, 1865, when the last remaining enslaved Black Americans were freed from bondage by finally receiving the news of the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued more than two years earlier. The other commemoration is the observance of Pride Month, highlighting the presence in communities of those with LGBTQIA sexual orientation. The challenge presented to us as a Food Bank and as a community by the information we highlight here is to strive for standards of equality that promote equal opportunity and equal access to food for communities that still often find themselves marginalized.

Food insecurity data, that is the measurement of one’s ability to self-provide enough food to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle, shows that one’s race and sexual orientation can be determining factors in comparative food security.

For example, according to 2017 estimates from a study by the Williams Institute, a think tank associated with UCLA Law that studies sexual orientation law and gender identity public policy, 27 percent of those identifying as LGBT faced food insecurity compared to the overall national food insecurity rate of 11 percent. This elevated rate of food insecurity within the LGBT community can often further be exacerbated when race is overlaid with sexual orientation, as Non-Hispanics of mixed race from within that community had an estimated 38 percent food insecurity rate, while Non-Hispanic Blacks had a food insecurity rate of 37 percent.

Shifting focus to the role race alone can play in one’s food security still reveals remarkably elevated rates of food insecurity among certain races. While key drivers of food insecurity including unemployment, income shocks, and lower assets are key factors that can potentially impact any household’s ability to afford food and to weather hard times, overall, people of color experience food insecurity and the underlying drivers disproportionately, compared to whites. Particularly for African-Americans, as Juneteenth reminds us, these disparities can be attributed to structural and institutional racism and discrimination, which has created systemic barriers to education, employment, housing opportunities, and more.

Feeding America, in partnership with the Tableau Foundation, just published an updated racial disparity dashboard: Identifying Racism in the Drivers of Food Insecurity. This tool is designed to support Feeding America, the network, and the public in understanding differences in poverty, median income, unemployment, homeownership, and disability among Asian, Black, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, and White individuals. This dashboard allows for analysis at the national, state, food bank service area, and county levels. It shows us that an alarming 22% of African Americans and 18% of Latinos struggle with hunger.

Food insecurity is an economic condition, largely influenced by the five factors analyzed in the dashboard. The disparities evident in those factors stem, in many cases, from historic and even systemic racism and bias. Black Americans experience low homeownership rates, for instance, because of historical redlining in real estate. This dashboard shows how cascading barriers amount to food insecurity today.

Feeding America's primary motivation in creating this dashboard was to better understand the depth of racial disparities in the communities it serves, and how to address them. The FRFB will use this dashboard to inform our direct work in communities, as well as advocacy efforts we may undertake at the local level to push for more resources to build equity. By using this data, we can better hone our approach in fighting hunger, ensuring equitable access to nutritious food for all.

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