Disparities in food access and resulting food insecurities are a persistent problem in cities across the United States. The nation’s capital is no exception. Of the approximately 520 businesses that self-identify as food retailers, 88 percent do not offer any fresh unprocessed food and only 12 percent offer an adequate variety of fresh food to support a healthy diet. These factors translate into a phenomenon called Food Desert neighborhoods that experience two types of food insecurity: lack of food, and inferior quality of food. Both result in food related illnesses like diabetes and hypertension that translate into pre-existing health conditions and increased vulnerability to health related shocks like exposure to the corona virus. These pre-existing illnesses, however, are not evenly distributed. They follow instead socio-economic and racial lines that have associate suburban with White, middle class, ample living space, and healthy lifestyles, and urban with African American, low-income, cramped living conditions, and drug addiction.
Washington DC’s food desert neighborhoods are located east of the Anacostia River which forms the socio-economic and racial demarcation line of the city. In a post COVID-19 world these same demarcation lines also translate in increased susceptibility to the coronavirus for those who live in food desert neighborhoods. The ability to order groceries on mobile devices may seem fortuitous in light of the threats posed by the virus. Yet the new virtual normal is as unevenly distributed as the long-standing food insecurities that increase vulnerability to the virus. The same neighborhoods that suffer from food insecurity also provide the majority of the new so-called essential workforce that fills the supply chain of our highly centralized food system. And while food supply chains have grown longer as additional hand-off points are added to ensure food delivery in times of social distancing and stay at home orders, the essential workers who fill them literally put their bodies on the line in low paying high risk jobs. As feminist ecological economists and social psychologists have argued, women, the poor, black and brown people, and people in the global south have always carried the burden of overused and undervalued labor, communities and ecosystems. This paper traces the history of these disparities in the capital of the United States and cautions against a new virtual normal that provides safety and participation for some while exacting risk and exclusion from others.
Panelists: Sabine O’Hara and Benson Cooke
Moderator: Melchor Hall
Date, Time & Location: Thu, July 16, 2020. 11:15 – 12:30 pm (PT) — Room 3