It’s no secret that income inequality in the United States is on the rise, skyrocketing 40% since 1980. This means that the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. For some of the poorest Americans, this might mean making less than $15,000 dollars a year individually, or $30,000 as a household. Doing the math, that means that some individuals or families are bringing in just $1,250 a month to $2,500 a month, BEFORE taxes. While we could make a thousand assumptions about what that would mean for any given family, our minds don’t often run to the grocery store. And this is where the conversation gets particularly dangerous. For people that are in lower income brackets, it’s not just that they are struggling to get by, but that disease becomes an inevitability. How so? This ties back into some of the conversations we've had recently highlighting the corruption of the food industry in the United States and the rise of ultra processed foods, which are ultra toxic for our health.  60-70% of the food supply in America is ultra processed, meaning it’s not real food. Think along the lines of a bag of M&M’s or Lay’s potato chips. These products, in addition to thousands of others, are devoid of any real nutritional value. Most of them have strong correlations with major diseases like cancer, obesity, heart issues, and even Alzheimer’s. This extends far beyond packaged foods, as the unhealth sneaks its way into our meat supply and produce as well. Companies will inject animals with growth hormones and antibiotics to speed up the breeding process, and they’ll also spray our produce with harmful pesticides. This is all dangerous for our health, especially if we eat these kinds of foods continuously over a period of time. So when you step foot into a grocery store, you’ll quickly realize a couple things. These foods – ultra processed and non-organic - are cheap. And the foods that are actually healthy (i.e. organic) are not cheap. What do you do if you’re on a budget? For those of us that are in the middle income bracket, this creates a rather minor inconvenience. It just means that to invest in our health, our food bill is going to go up. Less savings. But for the poor? This literally means that they get priced out of health food entirely, which is what makes disease an inevitability. All that is available to them – and all they can afford – is junk food.  For a struggling family of four, a couple happy meals at McDonald’s goes a long way. This is the reality for roughly 24 million people in the United States, or about 7% of the total population.



Traditionally, lower income brackets live in what is known as “food deserts”, a name that is somewhat misleading. It’s not that they live in a place that does not have access to food at all. Living in a food desert means living in an area that largely doesn’t have access to HEALTHY food.  Since this segment of the population cannot even afford the prices of healthy foods, this means that grocery stores, co-ops and chains that have healthy food don’t even bother coming to town. And for the most part, data shows that food deserts disproportionately affect people of color, further highlighting the underlying racial and economic inequality still extant in the United States.  Irene Lewis, writing for agricultural publication AGDAILY, highlighted this racial disparity in her 2021 piece, "Food Apartheid":  "A study done in Baton Rouge, Louisiana...found that nearly a quarter (23 percent) of East Baton Rouge Parish residents lived in food deserts. These neighborhoods tend to have higher populations of Black people, indigenous people, and people of color." In fact, in the United States 23% of black people are born into poverty, compared to just 8% of white people. Which means that simply by being black, your chances of disease go up by three times. We saw this unfold during the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, as indigenous, Pacific Islander, and black populations in America have faced higher mortality rates during the pandemic than white counterparts, per ADM research lab.



While every country struggles with income inequality to some level, it’s not hard to see why there is such a big racial gap within food deserts in the United States. As you trace back the steps, you go all the way back to the American slave trade. Because of the slavery roots, generationally black people have been marginalized into areas that could be considered food deserts, or segmented into areas of major cities that are downtrodden.  Take New York City, for example. For many, you immediately think of the biggest, most glamorous cities in the entire world.  But the city also includes the South Bronx.  Part of one of the five boroughs, the South Bronx is made up of 39% black people and 60% hispanic. 51% of children live in poverty and families with children pull in just $24,582 a year. Additionally, just 8% of graduating students in the Mott Haven area of the South Bronx are ready for college-level work by the end of four years of high school, compared to 79% in Tribeca, which is the wealthiest neighborhood in Manhattan. Technically, this means that a “food desert” or a place with extreme poverty could exist right down the road from you. In fact, the Mott Haven community in the South Bronx is just 2.5 miles from the entrance of the beautiful Central Park. So how has this problem been addressed? In 2010, the Obama administration launched the Let's Move! campaign as an effort to combat childhood obesity and provide access to healthier school lunch options. As part of then-First Lady Michelle Obama's push for a healthier America, there was a push for 1,500 new grocery stores to be built in underserved communities. However, only 848 of those proposed grocery stores (56% of the original goal) opened. The problem is that grocery stores already operate with very low profit margins (around 2.2%), making them one of the least profitable industries in the country.  Building in an area that cannot sustain them is often looked at as a doomed proposal, leaving those communities instead supplied with low-cost offerings like Dollar Tree or Dollar General, or other convenience stores. A recent assessment from the Food Empowerment Project summed up the situation "People’s choices about what to eat are severely limited by the options available to them and what they can afford—and many food deserts contain an overabundance of fast food chains selling cheap “meat” and dairy-based foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. Processed foods (such as snack cakes, chips and soda) typically sold by corner delis, convenience stores and liquor stores are usually just as unhealthy." A quick Google search will reveal that an area like the South Bronx is infested with fast food joints at every corner. Further deepening the issue is that (unhealthy) food companies often employ marketing tactics that disproportionately prey on minorities that are in food deserts. Knowing that this is all they can eat, they ramp up people’s appetite through advertising. A 2019 study in the University of Connecticut's Rudd Report found that: "companies often target Black and Hispanic consumers with marketing for their least nutritious products, primarily fast-food, candy, sugary drinks, and snacks." We see from reports like this that it's not only an issue of access, but indoctrination. If our mental state and brain wiring has a profound effect on what we eat, we must consider the information being blasted at these communities and how it's warping their perception and driving even more demand for unhealthy food higher and higher.


What about Amazon? What about food delivery services? Can’t they get healthy food to areas that are deemed food deserts? A recent report from 2022, “found that 90% of people living in low-income, low-access tracts have at least one digital food access option—and the service rate exceeds 95% in food deserts within metropolitan areas. Yet these service maps still leave nearly 4.5 million food desert residents outside of delivery zones—the majority of whom live in rural areas.” We would argue that to fixate on this would be to miss the point entirely. It’s true that when the Obama’s were starting the Let’s Move! campaign, food delivery wasn’t as popular as it is now.  Food delivery options have gone a long way towards fixing the “access” problem of traditional food deserts, meaning that people can now order healthy food to their house. But it does not fix the income disparity. Not to mention that city-dwellers have been able to take public transit to healthy grocery stores for some time now. For instance, those who live in Mott Haven are able to get to Whole Foods in Harlem via a quick subway ride. The problem is that people don’t have the means to pay for healthy food to begin with. For example, a pound of organic beef costs nearly $10 dollars, which is about 66% more than non-organic meat. Additionally, it might cost you four times the amount to eat out at a health chain like Sweetgreen then it would to bring your family to McDonald’s. When you’re on SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps) or are making between $1,250 - $2,500 a month, this matters. You don’t have $250 - $300 dollars to drop in the grocery store every week. Even when it comes to homeless shelters or food banks, what is usually served is the low-quality, low-cost food that is causing so much disease in the United States. You could argue that these budget offerings seem better than nothing, but it’s hardly a step up to serve disease on a platter. This is not moving forward, simply just moving sideways. The reality is that some of us could be caring and loving the poor in radical ways, which is beautiful, but still [unknowingly] find ourselves part of a system that is serving this kind of food.



No matter who you are, or what income bracket you belong to, you should have access to healthy foods that nourish your health. It is a basic human right to have the means to eat food. That said, it’s not an easy problem to solve. The good news is that we don’t need to solve the entire poverty problem, which is complex, to give everyone the means for healthy food. So what can we do?  The following are some suggestions about how we can be involved in the solution personally, in addition to bringing awareness to some of the programs happening on a societal level.

Creating change with your wallet

One of the most practical ways we can be part of the solution is with our wallets. Not just with this problem, but with the food industry in general. We’ve talked about this extensively across our platform (which you should read up on), but the point is relatively simple. The food industry is in need of a massive overhaul.  Spread across income levels and grocery store chains, 60-70% of our shelves should NOT be stocked with ultra processed, ultra unhealthy food. That is an injustice in and of itself. Your advocacy, both for yourselves and those that are in lower income brackets, can start with your wallet. If you’re selective with where you spend your money, and do not allocate it to companies that are spreading disease through your food (i.e. McDonald’s, Pepsi or Coca-Cola, that will speak volumes. When we, as the consumer, do this on a mass scale, companies are forced to make changes. They’re forced to pivot, because they follow the dollar. In-part, this is how the organic market has risen in popularity over the last ten years.

Donating to a food bank

This solution comes with a caveat – it depends what you are donating. What we’ve learned thus far is this issue is not just about providing people with just any food, but healthy foods. If you’re not sure what is qualified as healthy, both for others or yourselves, we invite you to read up on everything else we’ve written on our platform. If all of us used our own dollars to donate organic, whole foods that are minimally processed to food banks, it would improve the overall health of the population groups that are receiving this food. Here's a link to a local food bank finder across America.

Local solutions

One of the more notable programs coming from the government in recent years is the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), which was created to address the root of the issue and incentivize the investment into low-income areas and food deserts. The specific purpose was to provide "financing to grocers or real estate developers seeking to open or expand stores in areas without adequate access to affordable, nutritious foods."  The program has had a generally positive effect, with over $320 million given to community development organizations, $1 billion funneled into private investment and tax credits, and hundreds of food access projects created.  While projects like the HFFI set a precedent for the issue to be addressed at a federal level, various nonprofits, churches, and charities worked behind the scenes at the local level to keep their communities and still continue to do so today. If you have questions about the program, you can contact them via their website.

Government solutions

In some of the bigger cities in the United States, non-profits have also taken a crack at this issue.  Nonprofit/grocery store The Daily Table has three locations throughout the Greater Boston Area, and has served over 43,000 people in the surrounding communities.  Using a unique model that's sustainable for both sides, The Daily Table pairs accessibility with economic incentive. Here's part of their mission statement:  "By partnering with a network of growers, manufacturers, and other suppliers, we source high-quality food at low costs and make it available to everyone in our communities at prices designed for even a SNAP budget."  Their model is designed so that every dollar donated is matched with two dollars of earned revenue. This compounds, making both the donor and shopper participants in a sustainable business model that can spend more time on meeting needs and less time on fundraising efforts.Rescuing Leftover Cuisine is another non-profit that has branches in seven major cities and sources leftovers from restaurants.

But as you can see, this list is not exhaustive – not in the slightest. And as we’ve discussed, most non-profits tackle the food insecurity problem by trying to provide more food, but not necessarily healthy food.  There’s so much more work to be done. Disease should not be an inevitability and the conversation starts with the food industry. If you are serving disease on a platter, which is the case for many food companies, you shouldn’t be allowed to exist. Your food shouldn’t be consumed by anyone, across any income level.  The deeper you go, the more you find that one of the biggest justice issues of our day, due to how many people it affects. The good news is that we can be part of the change, and it starts with our wallets. To learn more about food and nutrition, click here to visit our Nutrition Hub.


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