Eating By Location

By Veronica Chavez

Photo courtesy of Travis Modisette.

There is a hidden world in every family’s house. The quality of the house or the neighborhood that it is located in may give an idea of some of the characteristics of the people inside, but for the most part, these aspects remain a mystery.

This gap between what we assume about American families and their actual realities may be the reason so many American citizens feel surprised to hear that there is such a huge hunger and food insecurity problem right in their own backyard.

According to Feeding America, the United States’ largest domestic hunger-relief organization, 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households in 2013. Of these households, those headed by single women, single men, Black non-Hispanics, and Hispanics had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average.

These demographics directly correlate to their poverty statistics. And in general, as one might assume, poverty-stricken areas tend to live in food deserts where high-quality, nutritional food is hard to come by and usually not valued as greatly as their unhealthy and more filling alternatives.

Other characteristics that tend to plague food insecure areas are high rates of obesity and high rates of diabetes. As documented by City Harvest, an organization that helps feed over a million hungry New Yorkers each year, some of the neighborhoods most affected are Washington Heights, the South Bronx, and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

All three of these neighborhoods do not have reliable access to affordable and nutritious food, and often opt for the option of fast food or quick snacks. Because of this, each neighborhood has a respective obesity rate of 19.8 percent, 33.4 percent, and 36.6 percent.

Thankfully, the rise in obesity and food insecurity rates has also spurned a rise in food education programs. One of the first programs to arise began at New York University. Their Food Studies Masters Program “prepares students to analyze the current American food system, its global connections, and local alternatives.” Additionally, the program examines the underlying political, cultural and economic schemas that often determine the food insecurity status of an area.

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future has also made strides in addressing the domestic hunger problem within the US by conducting analyses on the sustainability of industrial food production as well as civilians’ relationships with food on a community level.

One of their projects is the Eat Right, Live Well Campaign, a grocery-centric endeavor that puts emphasis on pointing out products that are low in fat, low in sugar, and low in salt.

As Anne Palmer, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, explains “we identify a healthier alternative for people and make them aware of it. We also do taste tests and give consumers easy recipes to use these [healthy] products at home.”

Palmer reiterates that some families in food-insecure areas rely on fatty but filling foods to get through the week. By stepping in and identifying a healthier and equally affordable option, the center is able to stop some of the actions that only keep food-insecure areas in the same position. The Center also works with grocery stores directly to put healthy items on sale more often to sway customers.

When asked about whether America’s food waste problem may also play a role in creating food-insecure areas, Palmer shares that food-insecure areas actually tend to show the lowest numbers when it comes to food waste.

“Families in food-insecure areas tend to know how much food lasts them a week and make a point to not overbuy groceries,” Palmer says.

Hopefully with more food education programs both in low-income neighborhoods to further families’ education with food and health, as well as with more privileged families to avoid food waste, as a country we will begin to use our food more sustainably and efficiently.