No one should experience hunger, especially in a well-resourced country such as the United States. But, food insecurity exists in every state and county across the U.S., and most severely, among communities of color.
Historically, Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color (BIPOC) in the United States have always experienced food insecurity at higher rates than white individuals— despite representing a lower percentage of the population. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, these disparities have only gotten worse. Latine, Black, and Indigenous households are now twice as likely to report being food insecure than white households, with BIPOC women experiencing the highest rates.
A direct reason for this disparity in food security between racial and ethnic groups is systemic racism. In the United States, many public policies, institutional practices, and other cultural norms were built for white individuals; because of this, they do not equitably serve BIPOC individuals and often cause discrimination against them. BIPOC communities experience poverty, unemployment, as well as poor health, at disproportionately higher rates than white communities because of systemic racism. All of these factors contribute to the ability to keep food on the table.
In our own state of Louisiana, these inequities are clear; BIPOC individuals are less likely to get a college education, live close to an affordable grocery store, and earn a living wage, leading them to experience a higher risk of food insecurity than their white peers. In our state, Latine households are on average 1.3x more likely to experience food insecurity than white households, while Black and Asian households are nearly 2x as likely to experience food insecurity as white households.
Last month, Feeding America released a racial disparity dashboard which provides an analysis of five economic indicators that impact food insecurity, and how they interact with race. These indicators are disability, homeownership, median income, poverty, and unemployment.
According to this data, in Louisiana, people of color experience disproportionately higher rates of disability, poverty, and unemployment, and lower rates of homeownership, all impacting their risk of food insecurity. A low or unstable income is a particularly significant contributing factor to food insecurity; across our state, white individuals earned a median annual income of $60,955. However, Black individuals earned a median income of $30,540, nearly half of the income earned by their white counterparts.
These indicators shed crucial light on the inequities that exist between BIPOC individuals and their white peers. This kind of data can assist us to better understand the factors that contribute to food insecurity amongst the different racial and ethnic communities who access our emergency food system. As food banks work to provide food and resources to those actively struggling to keep food on the table, we must also consider the root causes of this need for food, particularly for our hardest hit communities.
We cannot end hunger for all until we address the specific barriers to food security experienced by communities of color. These include the structural barriers to food access, including transportation and the locations of grocery stores, as well as the economic barriers to food access, including livable wages and affordable food prices. True food security for BIPOC families cannot exist without addressing all of these barriers.
A collective dedication to racial equity is critical to ending hunger in the United States. Applying a racial equity lens to the policies, programs, and structures that affect food security is essential to reaching all communities equitably and effectively.