Food Equity

FOOD EQUITY: Everybody has access to healthy, fresh food – the right to quality food. Just because a person is poor doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have access to healthy food.

A Brief, But Necessary Departure From My Regular Themes

Have you been watching and reading the news like I have and feeling helpless and frustrated? Why is this hatred and violence happening now? What can I do to help slow down this out-of-control spiral we’re in? There are so many opinions and perceptions of why this is happening, what we should do about it, who’s right and who’s wrong? I realized that my passion for food and feeding people fits into a very big issue in our communities, Food Equity.

As I began to dig in deeper and deeper I realized it was going to take more than one quick blog post to talk about this issue.  I decided to break it into three installments. In this first installment I’m defining some of the terms that are tossed around that may not be totally understood. Will you read along with me? Low income doesn’t directly CAUSE health issues.  Low income populations are more susceptible because they don’t have access to fresh food. This situation results in higher stress and anxiety related to not being able to afford food.

Healthy Food and Drink Are Not Considered “Luxuries”

Inequality is more than just a political, social or philanthropic issue. The food and drink industry plays a big role in equality in our country and around the world. Access and affordability to healthy food and drink are a major roadblock to lower-income, marginalized people. Compounding the problem is this also puts them at higher risk for food-related health issues, like obesity and diabetes. Parents make choices like whether to pay for food or electricity – food or clothing – food or medical costs – food or bus fare to work. Those of us blessed with an abundance of food choices need to be aware of the people in our communities living on the edge of food insecurity. We have the luxury to consider food issues like “local”, non GMO, organic, natural and clean.

What Does it All Mean?


Along with air, water, and shelter, food is a necessity for life. Access to healthy food is not simply a health issue, it’s also a community development and social equity issue. Because of this, healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food is key to not only a healthy, sustainable local food system, but also a healthy, sustainable community. Another consideration in food access is travel time. Travel time is a strong measurement of food access not only in distance, but also travel time, mode of transportation, and whether the location is urban or rural. The average travel time to the grocery stores is 15 minutes. In low income areas it is 19.5 minutes with less access to reliable transportation.


Food Systems are the processes and activities involved in bringing food to a community.

  • PRODUCTION: Production is the use of natural resources and human resources to grow edible plants and animals in urban, suburban, or rural settings.
  • TRANSFORMATION / PROCESSING: The transformation of raw food materials through processing, manipulating, and packaging to create a usable end product for consumption.
  • DISTRIBUTION:  Distribution is the direct or indirect distribution and transportation of processed and unprocessed foods to wholesalers, warehouses, retailers, and consumers.
  • ACCESS AND CONSUMPTION:  Access and consumption refer to the availability and accessibility of foods and their purchase, preparation, ingestion, and digestion.
  • WASTE / RESOURCE RECOVERY: Waste and resource recovery refer to the disposal of food-related material, waste, and by-products and their subsequent disposal, reuse, or recycling.


Food security is all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. Food that meets their dietary needs and preferences for an active and healthy life.


 A Food Desert is defined by the 2008 USDA Farm Bill as an “area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food. In particular an area composed of predominantly lower income neighborhoods and communities”.  However, this is not a term that is totally embraced. Firstly, some find the term demeaning and having negative connotations portraying communities as being devoid of all assets, food and otherwise. Secondly, some people feel the term is just not accurate. They feel that racial and economic inequalities are more to blame for food access problems and that just the placement of large-scale supermarkets doesn’t solve the problem. The only access to food is corner stores carrying mostly processed food and food products with little or no fresh produce.


Food Swamp is used to refer to geographic areas without access to healthy food retail but an abundance of unhealthy food sources, like fast food restaurants. People living in FOOD DESERTS and FOOD SWAMPS have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many other chronic illnesses than those in neighborhoods were healthy food is accessible.


Food Sovereignty is the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. Food Sovereignty focuses on the importance of being able to make decisions, take control, and grow your own food.


Food Justice addresses the benefits and risks of how food is grown, produced, distributed. Including, the right to grow what you want and have access to healthy food and compensated fairly for it. Also, safe and healthy production and consumption of food.


Marginalization is when something or someone is pushed to the edge of a group and considered less important. For the most part, this is a social phenomenon where a minority or sub-group is excluded and their needs or desires are ignored.

How Food Equity Fits In to Our Current State of Affairs

With our privilege, we need to do additional work to reach people faced with food insecurity where they are and on their terms. When we hear about inner cities and low-income neighborhoods, violence, crime, drugs, and police brutality come to mind. Rarely discussed is the effect of cheap food and access the whole foods. Cheap food in underprivileged areas may keep people from starving but it’s killing them by heart attacks, obesity, dialysis, amputations, learning disabilities and, mental health issues.

The solution isn’t telling people what to eat. It lies in innovation and creating opportunity to participate in the food system. In my next post I’ll explore why Food Equity is important to consider when trying to sort out why we are struggling to find answers. In my final post on this topic we’ll explore what can be done and what is already being done to solve this issue.

Michele Cole