Food deserts – areas lacking stores that sell nutritious, affordable groceries – are pervasive across the United States. Food insecurity disproportionately affects lower income and predominantly Black populations, leaving many communities without access to fresh and healthy foods. Individuals living in food deserts experience a higher risk for afflictions like obesity and diabetes, due to the fact that “…most fast-food restaurants are concentrated in the places that are the poorest and most racially segregated.” (Forbes)
The rise of online grocery has helped alleviate stress for some, offering a delivery option for those living far away from supermarkets without reliable vehicle transportation. Last year, the USDA launched a pilot program allowing SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participants to purchase groceries online. The program will run until April of 2021, but is only available in eight states. While these options are a promising start, they’ve only begun to chip away at the crisis.
In spite of growing awareness around food scarcity in underserved communities, the issue remains prevalent. An upswell of grassroots efforts have emerged to combat the crisis – many of which are spearheaded by members of the most affected communities. We’re turning our attention to Black-led organizations that have mobilized to provide groceries for those who have difficulty accessing them. Here are four standout organizations making a big impact:
The Okra Project is a donation-funded collective that provides food security and resources for the Black trans community. The organization started in 2018 with the mission of employing Black trans chefs to cook fresh meals for Black trans folks in their homes, but as the Covid-19 pandemic shifted social interaction, they now focus on providing groceries for Black trans people in need – at no cost to the recipient.
On the Ground Chi operates as a sort of grassroots Instacart, enlisting volunteers in Chicago to deliver free groceries to families who live in food deserts.
Chewbox is a ghost kitchen that delivers fresh, affordable meals to LA county residents. The company especially focuses on teachers, who often struggle to find affordable, quick and nutritious meal options during their lunch breaks. With Chewbox, they have the opportunity to get a healthy lunch without leaving campus. A percentage of profits from every meal is also fed back into the Watts community, where the company’s founders and investors have committed to give back to. It also serves as a platform for local chefs to offer up new recipes.
Riana Lynn founded Journey Foods to “innovate more ways to disrupt the food system, improve supply chains, and increase equal access to high-quality ingredients and foods.” (The Spoon) One endeavor of the company puts the spotlight on the nourishing power of microfoods. Enter Journey Bites: nutrient dense snacks made from fruit purées and fortified with ingredients to increase energy, immunity and metabolism – convenient for those who may lack proper nutrients in their regular diets.
CSA’s like Soul Fire Farms reclaim food sovereignty by growing and sharing farm fresh produce in the Albany, New York area (a recognized food desert). This is one such example of a Black-run farm providing for a community in need, with boxes of fruits and vegetables sold on a sliding scale. Leah Penniman (co-founder, co-director and program manager of Soul Fire Farm) is the author of the book Farming While Black, which “maps out how to find, buy, and make productive, sustainable use of land in accordance with traditions and in a manner that prioritizes healing and dignity” (The Counter).
Food access is one of the many ways that BIPOC communities have been neglected. As more organizations with intimate understanding around the issues emerge, it will be imperative for both companies and consumers to support their efforts and help establish food security for all Americans.