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Food Insecurity For Minorities

Written by Sahaja Danthurthy and Ijeoma Ogbonna

When the word 'revolution' comes to mind, most envision a fight for independence from a tyrannical government or an uprising rebellion against a colonial power. However, the United States has undergone a revolution of its own in the last few weeks. The Black Lives Matter movement that has taken the world by storm has been calling for justice regarding the unjust murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and countless others. The movement calls for legislative action and structural changes in leadership to prevent tragedies like these from happening ever again.

But more than anything, the BLM movement has revived much-needed conversations about the inequalities and injustices people of color face today on a large and small scale. Through these conversations, a silent pandemic that has been ravaging minority communities decades is finally being brought to the forefront: food insecurity. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 22.5% of African American households and 18.5% of Hispanic households are food insecure, both of which are higher than the national average of 12.3%.

Racial inequality exists in many structural levels in our current system. Racial inequity and inequality on issues regarding poverty, government programs, and education are all indirect causes as to why minority populations report higher rates of food insecurity than majority populations. The wage gap in minority populations also contributes to this problem. In 2015, the average US hourly wage for Caucasian males was $21, while Hispanic males earned $14 per hour, and African-Americans earned $15 per hour. The case is the same for women; Caucasian women having an average hourly wage of $17, African-American women making $13 per hour, and Hispanic women earning the lowest hourly wage of $12 per hour. In the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, combating food insecurity in minority populations became difficult as many were forced to stay home without knowing what options they had to feed them and their families.

"Racial inequality is a root cause of hunger," says Megan Bennett, a Communications Specialist at the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository works towards eradicating food insecurity by providing food directly through food pantries and food banks, advocating for legislation, assisting with the SNAP program and Medicaid, and stopping the root cause through job training. The COVID-19 pandemic has left many low-wage workers out of jobs deemed nonessential and has left students without the free or reduced lunches they previously received. Thus, the Greater Chicago Food Depository has seen a 70% increase in the people reaching out for their services.

"People of color already tend to start with a disadvantage, meaning they don't necessarily have access to all the things [those of more privileged backgrounds] tend to take for granted," says Pat Penfold, a Bilingual SNAP Outreach Coordinator at the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

Being a SNAP Outreach Coordinator who communicates with English speaking and Spanish speakers, Penfold expressed that many of the Spanish speakers she has spoken to are workers in the work & service industry (cooks, waiters, cashiers, etc.). The restaurant's closure left many of these workers without many options, as there was no remote alternative for these jobs. "Those who are already marginalized, feel the pinch first. They're already on the margin, so they are impacted most acutely," adds Penfold. She has seen how her job as a SNAP Outreach Coordinator has become even more critical now more than ever to these communities as they struggle to navigate around food security in a system that is already disadvantageous to them.

But the job of diminishing food security, especially amongst these populations, isn't only reserved for those who work in food banks or food depositories. It's a cause that anyone can contribute to and a fight that anyone can fight against.

"It seems kind of cliche to say information is power, but 'information is power.' If you don't know and find out, get information because nobody can take that away from you", Pat says. "And then with information, you educate yourself, and you empower yourself. Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call to a coordinator in your area at a local food bank or depository to help you out."

Many don't know how to combat food insecurity because they're not aware of the available resources, like SNAP, TEFAP, & WIC. Through widespread availability of information on where to go, who to talk to, and programs that can help, we're one step closer towards a world free of food insecurity, inequality, and inequity.

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