The U.S. has widespread racial and income disparities in terms of who has access to food, and to healthy food in particular. One issue commonly discussed is that of “food deserts” – neighborhoods where there is access to fast food or packaged food, but little to no access to sources of fresh, healthy food. More recently, there has been a push to replace that term with “food apartheid“, in recognition of the fact that these areas are often vibrant, lively communities that are cut off from the food system in systematic ways. When comparing communities with similar poverty rates, majority-white neighborhoods still have more grocery options than Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Similarly, food insecurity, defined as “limited or uncertain access to adequate food”, is highly correlated with race. While this is highly correlated with income, “some evidence suggests that the higher risk of food insecurity among people of color continues even when these other social and economic factors are removed“.
In researching this topic with a specific focus on Tompkins County, we looked for local data around grocery store access, food insecurity, food pantry utilization, and childhood nutrition. However, we discovered significant difficulty locating data sources that both provided a high enough level of detail on Tompkins County (many large data sets are only useful at a regional, state, or national level) AND included race as a variable. We also encountered difficulty accessing data that we feel should be available to the public, such as our local WIC supplemental nutrition program statistics. Our issues with finding data reflect one of our underlying issues as a society and with the idea of “colorblindness”: when we do not collect data on race, we keep disparities invisible and allow them to be perpetuated.
We urge our local non-profits (including food pantries and other nutrition services), governments, school districts, researchers, and anyone collecting nutrition-related data to both collect data on race and to make it available for all to access and review.
Plans for the future of this section are to continue to pursue collecting locally-oriented data, to examine agricultural systems (e.g. the low percentage of local farmers/agricultural producers who are people of color), and to collect stories of lived experiences around nutrition and food. If you have data or stories you would like to share, or you would like to assist with developing this section, please contact us.