A photo of a boarded up out of business grocery store at dusk taken by Wendell and Carolyn via Canva.
Advocacy & News

The Right To Thrive: Eliminating Food Insecurity

We’re living in very contradictory times when it comes to food and it’s accessibility, especially here in the United States. Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world; America has approximately nineteen million people living in food deserts, with many others residing in areas known as food swamps; both of which deliver a severe and detrimental impact on health and wellness.

Food deserts represent areas with multifaceted barriers that restrict access to (healthy) food, specifically nutritious fruits and vegetables. Frequently referred to in geographical terms; food deserts are commonly understood to mean locations that have no grocery outlets within reasonable distance and/or places only served by convenience stores that have a limited food selection. But there is more to it than mere physicality.

Background Image: A photo of a boarded up out of business grocery store at dusk taken by Wendell and Carolyn via Canva. Foreground Text in large black font reads, ‘The Right To Thrive: Eliminating Food Insecurity’.

Typically found in populations with significant levels of financial insecurity, food deserts are often exacerbated by a practice known as supermarket redlining; big grocery chains closing their stores in low-income areas to relocate in profitable suburbs and/or refusing to build in low-income areas. With a disproportionate impact on Black, Indigenous and Communities of Colour who have seen decades of structural divestment and isolation — fueled by racist practices — the term ‘food desert’ becomes a sanitized misnomer that distracts from its generational devastation.

They are [food deserts] the result of systematic racism and oppression in the form of zoning codes, lending practices, and other discriminatory policies rooted in white supremacy. Using the term desert implies that the lack of healthy and affordable food is somehow naturally occurring and obscures that it is the direct result of racially discriminatory policies and systematic disinvestment in these communities. | NRDC – Food Apartheid: Racialized Access to Healthy Affordable Food

Living in a food desert or under ‘food apartheid’ (a phrase that’s becoming more prominent) means residents have to rely on small corner stores or gas stations for access to wholesome foods. These establishments may stock fresh produce but their range/buying power is limited; with prices often being much more expensive than the full service supermarkets that are not so easily reached. Local fast food and convenience retailers subsequently become the most attainable options in terms of accessible distance and financial affordability. This effectively restricts a persons ability to reliably gather the foods they require to fortify their wellness which can contribute to diet-related health conditions.

Food swamps are another version of desertification that limit the availability of nutritious produce within specific neighbourhoods. Despite the presence of supermarkets that provide affordable fresh fruits and vegetables; food swamps have an overabundance of convenience/junk and fast food outlets that vastly outnumber healthy options within the area. Where I live, for example, the one grocery store in my locality (within a two-mile radius) is surrounded by more than twenty fast-food restaurants. And while there are more supermarkets a car ride away; for many people living with financial insecurity, owning/operating a car can be an expense that potentially establishes another barrier.

Being able to manage nourishment and physical well-being should be an equitable right extended to everyone regardless of income, locality and race/ethnicity. Barriers that prevent choice and accessibility to healthful and/or culturally appropriate foods need to be eliminated.

So what can you do to help fight against food insecurity?

  • Find out what supplies your local food bank needs and donate what you can
  • Support your local community food gardens and farms
  • Petition/contact your local government or state officials to remove any barriers that restrict community-based action and initiatives such as:
    1. zoning law/permit changes to allow for fresh fruit and vegetable street vending
    2. zoning law/permit changes to allow for pop-up affordable farmers markets in areas of need
    3. policies to end supermarket redlining including tax incentives for major chain food outlets if they build/set up in food deserts
    4. enhanced and subsidized public transportation options to/from full service grocery stores
    5. funding for local fresh food programs in low-income communities

Even though this article focuses on the United States; food insecurity remains a global issue that needs addressing. No matter where you are reading this from there is likely population areas experiencing the effects of food deserts and/or swamps where you live. I hope this serves as a call to action to achieve what you can locally/further afield; to make sure access to food is boldly protected and fueled by equality.

What initiatives do you support that work to eliminate food insecurity? What community-based food initiatives have you seen in your local area? Do you think supermarket redlining should be made illegal?


Further Info:

Beyond ‘Food Deserts’: America Needs A New Approach To Mapping Food Insecurity – Brookings

What Are Food Deserts? All You need To Know – HealthLine

If you enjoy reading Transatlantic Notes and would like to show your support for the work being done, please consider making a small donation. Thank you.

67 thoughts on “The Right To Thrive: Eliminating Food Insecurity”

      1. It’s a shame that for what some of us take for granted, some people struggle to get. This shouldn’t be happening in this age.

        Like

  1. This is such an informative post. I’ve never heard of these terms or knew that there was so much food inequality there. So sad to see. I’m sure your post can bring some awareness to people to help make a change.

    Like

    1. I think a lot of people have not heard of these terms too so you are not alone. Food deserts, food swamps and food insecurity are prevalent here in the U.S. and in many other places, again, probably more so than people know. I hope this post encourages anybody reading to look into this within their own area and see what they can do. Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  2. I imagine many people aren’t aware that this is happening. Thank you for bringing awareness to people and also giving tips on how to fight against it. There is a lot of food wastage where I’m from and it makes me so angry as there are also people who can’t afford food on a daily basis.

    Like

    1. I agree — I think a lot of people do not know that this is an issue, and one that they can help solve. There is certainly so much food waste while others struggle to nourish themselves, it’s just not right. We can demand so much more from our governments to ensure everyone has equitable access to food. Community-based action is remarkable and needs to be supported (no matter where we are in the world). Thank you so much for reading!

      Like

  3. Honestly, I have never thought of it this way, probably because I do not see it anywhere near me. I had only tgought about how much food is usually wasted and thrown away in rich countries while there are people sturving elsewhere.
    Food and nutrition food like fruits and vegetables should be available to everyone. Fast food is cheap alright but not even one grossery store to exist in walkind distance to me seems crazy. This means what? that only those who afford it will be able to eat healthy? You definitely raised lots of things for me to consider. Thank you!

    Like

    1. The amount of food waste we produced, when others are starving or malnourished is shameful. It shouldn’t be this way so I hope people get behind community-based programs that make sure their populations have equity when it comes to food access. There is no justice if people don’t have the right to choose their health. Eating junk food is okay, I do it, but not if it ultimately means it’s most likely the most affordable and reachable option. Thank you so much for reading and being open to learning more.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As a Public Health Nurse, I have seen many families suffer from food insecurity. This includes refugee populations who have access to food banks but have no idea how to prepare these foreign foods. Thankfully this has been recognized and cooking lessons have become part of the program. I have given monthly to our local food banks for many years now. Great post!

    Like

    1. Thank you for the reminder about how difficult it can be for refugees to access food, it’s good to hear that educational programs are being made more available like cooking lessons for the new food they will encounter. Food insecurity is much more prevalent than many people realize, especially the practices that are designed to keep people from accessing healthy food. Thank you also for the work you do, I am sure the difference you make is appreciated.

      Like

    1. I’m hopeful that community farms and gardens become more prevalent so that people living in food deserts, etc have easy access to what they need. It would be great if local government made doing this easier too. Thanks so much for stopping by!

      Like

  5. My son introduced me to this problem a few years ago when he did a summer program in inner-city Philadelphia. Like many urban issues, it’s not easy to fix, especially when large retailers look only at the bottom line.
    My son now works for a non-profit whose purpose is helping companies to prioritize ethical treatment of of both workers and consumers.

    Like

    1. I hope that local governments work together with communities in food deserts to solve the problem (like better assisting street vendors who sell fresh, healthy produce, etc). It’s a big problem to solve but we definitely have the know how, but as you pointed out, the biggest obstacle to overcome is the bottom line. If grocery chains can strangle competition and make themselves even richer doing so then they are less inclined to help those who are food insecure. I am glad to hear that your son is knowledgeable about this and is educating those around him. It sounds like the work he is doing can really make a difference.

      Like

  6. This is such an important topic that deserves FAR more attention. I have heard of food deserts before but the term ‘food swamps’ was new to me. That being said, reading through your explanation, I can definitely see how it can be so dangerous for those living in that area. It’s time that we really focus on doing what’s best for EVERYONE, regardless of their income, religion, class, ethnic background, etc. True equality…

    Like

    1. I agree — as a society, we have the know how to end food insecurity we just need to get those in power who can make sure grocery stores stop wasting food and build in areas that need them. Access to fresh fruit and vegetable should be made easier not harder. Thanks so much for reading!

      Like

  7. Okay. this was quite informative. I didn’t know what food desert was. Even the term food swamp though I’m more familiar with that. Where I live food is wastes as if it rains freely on us. There’s too much wastage in the world even in food wasting festivals like those of tomatoes and potatoes that its a big shame. The collective effort should be from top to bottom where there can be bigger controls. Great article xx
    Isa A.
    https://www.lifestyleprism.com/

    Like

    1. Food insecurity comes in many forms and it’s just so disheartening to know that the endless amounts of food that gets wasted could in fact feed those in food deserts and swamps, etc. I hope we’re headed for true systemic change to eliminate food inequality.

      Like

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this – food deserts/swamps are also a problem in the UK and this doesn’t get talked about anywhere near enough. I really appreciate the practical ideas you’ve suggested, for helping to make changes.

    Like

    1. 100% — it’s a topic that enough people don’t know about. I am convinced that if the majority of people were aware of this and how it manifests where they live, there would be much more action to change it. I hope the ideas in this post help anyone tackle food insecurity head on. Thank you so much for reading!

      Like

  9. Hi Molly,

    A very informative, but sad, post. It seems incredible that in this day and age these sorts of problems still exist.

    I think that governments should consider taxing food outlets based on the healthiness of the food – fresh fruit and veg is exempt, burger and fries is an extra 25%. And the money raised can be used to help in other ways – perhaps subsidies for farmers producing fresh produce and selling it in areas that are currently deserts.

    Like

    1. You’ve come up with a great solution, which goes to show that we (society/communities/governments, etc) do possess the know-how to solve this problem. It can be done so I hope more and more people become aware of the issues and take action to help. Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  10. There’s so much food wastage it’s really disheartening. It’s also unfortunate that many have no choice turn to junk food because it’s most often a more affordable option than fresh fruits and vegetables. Like you mentioned, there are barriers. I’ve been contributing to my local food bank and they offer free tours, it’s really neat to see how things work from the inside. It gives you perspective. Thanks for sharing this informative and important post.

    Like

    1. Exactly, this is 100% part of the issue. If fast/junk food is the only option that’s within a reasonable distance and/or it’s more affordable (which it often is) then it can be really hard to feed your family something healthy as choices are restricted. There are so many layers to this but I hope sharing the bits of information I did will help people take action and fight for change. Thanks so much for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. It absolutely outrages me that not all people have equal access to healthy nutritious food. We are the United States! Everyone should have the same access to simple things like food that is not only available but affordable.

    Like

    1. It’s disheartening and enraging all at once because this country has the ability to solve this problem. Access to food is a right and it should be an equitable one at that — the fact it isn’t is shameful. There are incredible community-based programs that do amazing work, which is uplifting, so I hope more people get involved to help out. Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  12. This is a truly sad state of affairs that the USA, one of the riches countries in the world, allows areas of certain communities to not have access to fresh fruit and veg. Or to give them the only alternative of fast food, or a gas station as an only option. This is awful!
    Where I’m from in the UK, there was a really poor area about a 10 minute drive away and they had so many super markets, even the really cheap ones like Lidl and Aldi, which is great as this is a low income area. But I find the UK in general is like this. This should not be happening in America. Thanks for raising the issue 🙂

    Like

    1. It does seem that there are more grocery stores in the UK in a diverse range of areas, which is better. I think there are still areas of food swamps to contend with but I do feel there’s at least more willingness to deal with food insecurity that the U.S. (which is still far too prevalent in the UK). Community-based action here is amazing, but it shouldn’t just be these organizations and charities doing this work. Thank you so much for taking the time to read/comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My pleasure 🙂 You’re so right. Although the situation in the UK is better, the food bank situation is horrific. You can’t just turn up to some of them, you need a referral from your doctor??? Which is silly and nothing to do what doctors do for work 😦

        Like

      2. I know! It makes me so mad. Plus when they go to the doctors and get referred, they can only go back like a few times a year. It’s not like they can just turn up. As you said, why would someone come up with these policies in the first place. It’s beyond comprehension.

        Like

  13. This was so informative and disheartening at the same time. When one of the wealthiest country is facing this problem then I cant imagine the state of third world countries. Food and population is a biggest problem mankind will face in near future. Thanks for this very informative blog, I truly learnt a lot!

    Like

    1. This is exactly right — with the climate crisis already here (and getting worse) food availability is going to become more and more difficult. It is (and will continue to be) communities in food desert and food swamp areas that bear the brunt of this. It’s disgusting that more is not being done — especially in one of the richest countries in the world who could literally solve this issue. I am so glad this post was useful — thank you for reading!

      Like

  14. Incredible post. My husband and I live in Milwaukee and this is a big issue in poorer areas of our community. Your post is inspiring me even further to try to find a way to help.

    Like

  15. Food swamps and food deserts are two terms I have never heard, so I learned a lot reading this. It is so sad to think chains will not open in smaller areas because they want to make extra money they do not even need.

    In my small town we have two chain grocery stores and what feels like at least a dozen fast food joints. Fast food is cheap, so it becomes a choice many people go for.

    We used to have a community grocery store that sourced food from local farms. I miss that most of all, as buying organic from the chains is often hard. I am grateful for our farmer’s market, CSA shares, and that I can donate to our local food banks.
    Thanks for sharing this important article!

    Like

    1. Community grocery stores do such a wonderful job I hope they become more prominent, particularly in areas of most need. Local governments should make running them (and street vendors and pop-up markets) much easier than they do. There are so many things we can do to help eliminate food insecurity where we live (whether that’s in the U.S. or other countries). Thank you so much for reading and sharing the ways in which you help fight this issue.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. This is such an informative post. I haven’t heard of food swamps and food deserts but I’m glad I know what they are now. It’s so sad that not everyone has access to
    good, healthy food. Here, it’s a mixed thing. Some people have access to good food while others don’t and it’s crazy. Food insecurity seems to be on the rise and that’s not a good thing. What’s even more sad is the fact that a lot of people can’t turn down unhealthy junk food because they don’t have access to healthy food and because junk food is way cheaper than healthy food. These days no one wants to open store branches in rural areas because they believe that doing so will not maximize their profit. Those who seem to be enjoying the abundance of good food end up wasting it. I do think we should try as much as possible to contribute to our local food bank, create awareness and do what we can to end this!

    Like

    1. Your point about those who can afford it or are able to enjoy an abundance of food and end up wasting so much of it is exactly right. There is literally no real reason not to be able to end food insecurity. There is more than enough food to go around and there is also enough money to figure something out. I hope that more is done and more people become aware of this issue and going hungry or only having access to food that isn’t healthy becomes a thing of the past.

      Like

  17. No matter who someone is or their circumstances, they should be able to have access to proper food. It really annoys me how much food is wasted all over and there are children starving. I remember hearing about food deserts but not food swamps. This was so so informative.

    Like

    1. There is so much food waste that it is inconceivable to me that a solution to food insecurity cannot be eliminated. It just isn’t right and I hope that people are called to action to help the communities most impacted. Thanks so much for stopping by!

      Like

  18. My first introduction to food deserts was an online video where a person showed what food options (fast food, convenience stores) were available in their area, then drove to a predominantly white and wealthier community where there were a number of grocery stores. It was eye opening. I hadn’t thought of how privileged I was before that video. I truly believe it’s a big problem. One thing I am encouraged to see is how much food waste (or food that is about to be wasted) is now being diverted to organizations for use. While that doesn’t solve the problem of lack of access to stores, hopefully food banks in those areas are benefitting from those donations.

    Like

    1. It’s a privilege that I think many of us don’t realize we have. I live in a food swamp but have access to a car that means I can get to other grocery stores, etc and not everyone can do that (plus public transport here is awful). I hope communities and local governments continue to do more and that we all take action in any way we can to end food deserts, etc. Thank you so much for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Everyone should have access to healthy and affordable food, and it is sad that this is not the case. Thank you for spreading awareness about food insecurity and sharing ways that we can help

    Like

  20. It’s heartbreaking that food isn’t available for everyone. There’s a Trussel Trust charity shop down the road from me which I’m going to have a look at, definitely going to be donating if there isn’t anything x

    Like

    1. Definitely do what you can to help; it’s vital that all communities have access to what they need — it shouldn’t even be an issue we have to question in this day and age. There are too many barriers being created and it’s about time these challenges are ended. Thank you so much for reading!

      Like

  21. Wow, very interesting article! I’d heard of food deserts, but not “food swamps”.

    I know it may be difficult, but another option aside from petitioning local legislature could be growing food in your own backyard. A plethora of ‘yard gardens’ have popped up in my neighborhood – including my own.

    It doesn’t even have to be a full-on garden at first – just one plant in a windowsill could give you the confidence needed to learn how to feed yourself.

    Like

    1. There are some amazing community gardens that have come up as a way to combat food insecurity (often making prices affordable for fresh produce). If someone has a garden then it’s definitely a good idea to have a go at growing your own; it’s just got to be enough to feed families and that is probably why some people may be put off (given the lack of consistency with crop yields, etc). Having access to a grocery store within a reasonable distance should be extended to all neighbourhoods as they also provide non-food products/services that are needed; this lack of equity is truly awful. I’m hopeful communities will continue to work together and that local governments remove all barriers that stop access and equity wherever it arises. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s