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Redlining and Food Justice in America

In the United States, hunger is assumed to be directly related to homelessness. Though homelessness does play a factor in food insecurity, it is one small piece of a much larger puzzle of racial bias and prejudice. The reality is, food security is a social justice issue built on the foundation of discrimination towards black folks, indigenous people and people of color. Hunger is a product of poverty, which can target people of any race, gender, sexuality, etc., but disproportionately affects BIPOC. Most impoverished areas are a product of redlining that creates low-income, minority communities. Redlining leads to lack of resources, little to no community funding and health disparities.


What is redlining? According to the BlackPast non-profit organization, redlining is a discriminatory pattern of disinvestment and obstruction that acts as a barrier for home ownership among African Americans and other people of color.  Banks blatantly refuse to provide loans or mortgages, and in some cases only offer worse rates to would-be homeowners who live in these neighborhoods. Basically, redlining is institutionalized racism intentionally designed to put minority communities at a disadvantage. This process results in neighborhood economic decline, causing lack of basic services like healthcare, banking, fewer job opportunities, means of transportation and limited access to nutritious food to put on the table.


One major consequence of redlining are food deserts. The United States Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as low-income, typically urban communities lacking stores that sell healthy and affordable food. Without access to fresh, good-quality food, impoverished areas are subjected to hunger, poor diets, obesity, and other diet-related illnesses.


According to The United States Department of Agriculture  data, about 23.5 million people live in low-income, food desert areas. This is roughly 8.4 percent of the U.S. population. Also, of all households, 2.3 million people live more than a mile from a supermarket and do not have access to a vehicle. Overall, Feeding America has found that almost half of Americans are below the SNAP poverty threshold.





Food deserts are also connected to “supermarket redlining,” which defined by the National Institutes of Health, is a term used to describe major chain supermarkets’ disinterest in building store locations in inner cities or low-income neighborhoods and usually pulling their existing stores out and relocating them to suburbs. Communities without access to supermarkest chains that provide organic, natural, and pesticide free foods are at a disadvantage because access to nutritious food is disproportionate. Even if these supermarkets were built in low-income areas, unless the neighborhood received more economic and community support, it would lead to mass gentrification. It is all interconnected in this twisted web of institutionalized racism in the food industry and beyond. 


So, how can we make a difference? Donating to food banks is a good start, however, it is a short term solution to a much larger issue. An effective way to take action is continuing to learn about food justice by supporting hunger relief organizations that focus on racial inequality. For example, Planting Justice, National Black Food & Justice Alliance, Black Earth Farms, WhyHunger, and Food Empowerment Project are a handful of amazing organizations that work towards BIPOC food justice. Check out our Take Action and Advocacy pages and see more ways YOU can help!