For some black communities, food shortage is not a passing crisis. Some say food sovereignty could offer relief, real security.
As America faces a food shortage, some predominantly black neighborhoods have been classified as food deserts for decades, worsening health disparities and making families more vulnerable to food insecurity.
Food deserts are communities where access to affordable, healthy food has been limited, due to a lack of government resources in low-income, majority-minority communities, which some would call food apartheid. However, black farmers and food justice leaders say the solution lies in securing food sovereignty.
They said black people could live healthier lives and be more self-sufficient if they created and secured their own food sources.
“I think it’s extremely important that we reinvent [food sources] for ourselves because we had it before integration,” John Boyd Jr. of the National Black Farmers’ Association told Atlanta Black Star. “We had the corner store. We had the local markets and the blacks were buying from each other. And that’s how we survived.
From a global pandemic to the Russian-Ukrainian war, food prices soared in early 2022. Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations shows signs of recovery as prices remain high.
The Food price index averaged 138 points in August, down 2.7% from June, marking the fifth consecutive monthly decline. Still, it was 7.9% higher than its value in August 2021.
Food prices influence people’s purchasing and consumption decisions, according to the National Library of Medicine. Choices are even more limited in food deserts. About 13.5 million people in America have low access to healthier foods, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Black households experienced 19.1% higher rates of food insecurity than white households at 7.9%.
Brookings Institution researchers combathowever, people may leave their neighborhoods or use delivery services to buy food and the underlying barrier is financial security.
Community gardens and farmers have helped alleviate food insecurity. Malcolm Shabazz Hoover and his wife, Mirabai Collins, run Black Futures Farm in Portland, Oregon. The community farm covers 1.15 acres with 17 different fruit trees, vegetables, flowers and medicinal and culinary herbs. Each week, they drop off food at local community organizations around Portland. They also host pop-ups, where people can enter and choose products.
“Most people, especially most black people, don’t have access to the kind of quality produce that we grow. We grow very expensive, very high-quality produce that you usually only find in really exclusive grocery stores,” Hoover told Atlanta Black Star. “If you were to come here and walk around the farm, you would walk away with a bag of produce worth between $60 and $80.”
Starting the farm was part of a personal journey for Hoover, who said it started as an outlet to help recover from addiction. His wife, Mira, recently acquired another piece of land, where she created a healing space. Hoover, who grew up in East Palo Alto, a community with strong Pan-African influence, nicknamed Nairobi after Kenya’s capital, said community farming is tied to his ancestral roots.
“I think it’s important because it’s our heritage. We are Africans. Enslaved Africans were brought to the Americas because we were so good at growing things,” Hoover said. “So most of us are now in urban centers and are completely divorced from what it means to grow your own food and have access to it and don’t know the quality of that food.”
Boyd, who heads the Black Farmers’ Association, said he would give food in US supermarkets an “F” grade because there are no labels to identify genetically modified products.
“If you have kids and you’re a mom at the grocery store, you need to know what products or certain items in the grocery store have cob or genetically modified chemicals in them and things that have been added to those products,” said Boyd said. “You, as a mother and a consumer, should be able to choose whether to put this item in your shopping cart or otherwise, and you can’t at this time.”
While genetically modified plants can resist disease and weather and have longer shelves, they can introduce toxins into the body and cause allergic reactions or cancers, according to Medical News Today.
Black Futures Farm does not use pesticides, chemicals or genetically modified seeds for its crops.
Since starting the farm in 2019, Hoover, 52, said he has never felt better physically and mentally. The health outcomes for black people in America may seem grim. Blacks have shorter life expectancies than whites and are at higher risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer, among other health problems, according to the Kaiser Franklin Foundation.
“It’s not a factory-farmed, chemically injected thing that we’re rushing to market. It is something we lovingly care for, with the intention of giving it to our own people. And then it’s a gift,” Hoover said. “Being able to get this gift and receive this gift is a wonderful interaction. Anyone can have access to it.”