Black and Latinx communities in Chicago are more likely to be food insecure than predominantly white communities and this follows a national trend. According to USDA Food Security and Nutrition Assistance data, food insecurity rates are highest among single mothers, households with income below the poverty line, and Black and Latinx households.
Across racial households with children that experienced food deficits in Chicago, an estimated 120,084 were Black, 77,000 were Latinx, and 35,775 were white, according to data compiled between June 1 and July 11, by Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research professor, Dr. Diane Schanzenbach.
The USDA defines food insecurity as an inability, at some time throughout the year, to secure adequate food for one or more household members because of a lack of resources. Lack of food can be an aspect of poverty, especially in low-income communities like North Lawndale, East and West Garfield Park, and Englewood.
Grassroots farmers’ markets and food pantries like Grow Greater Englewood, the 40 Acres Fresh Market, Farm on Ogden, Neighbor Space, and the Greater Chicago Food Depository are working to meet community needs.
“The pandemic really highlighted the severe inequities that exist in our society. We’ve really taken a lot of time to reflect on what it would take to truly eliminate hunger,” a spokesperson for the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Man-Yee Lee said. “We’re committed to addressing what we consider the root causes of hunger: poverty, systemic inequity, and structural racism.”
North Lawndale residents mentioned that the reality of living in a food-insecure area is having greater access to convenience stores with chips, snacks, soda, and candy. Some convenience stores sell frozen foods, gallons of milk, and deli meats, yet they do not sell fresh produce or ready-made meals.
“For people who are going through food insecurity, sometimes it can be easier to get that big bag of 99 cents potato chips and a two-liter pop. For $2 that may be lunch,” President of the Leader’s Network, David Cherry said. “Another price we pay with food insecurity is that the cheapest food is often the most unhealthy food and the more healthy food is often more expensive.”
One Mini Market near West 16th and South Ridgeway Avenue sold mostly chips in the store but, like many corner stores, had an entire section dedicated to toiletries, kitchenware, and hygiene essentials like toothpaste, deodorant, and mouthwash. At the corner of West 16th and South Lawndale Avenue, the remains of the shuttered Lawndale Quick Food Mart idled across the street from an empty park.
Food deficits are an issue in food access and get worse at higher levels of poverty. Founder and owner of the 40 Acres Fresh Market, Elizabeth Abunaw, mentioned how lack of food and access are infrastructure issues because even mixed-income communities face food access problems.
“One of the things you will find is in many of the quote-unquote, lower income, black and brown communities are actually mixed-income communities,” Abunaw said.
She went on to talk about how there are different aspects of food access that complicate having a one-size-fits-all solution.
“So for people who are like, ‘I cannot afford food, or I can only afford so much food, I need a supplement to get me through the rest of the month,’ There are things like food, pantries, food giveaways, and food distribution,” Abunaw said. “For people who have the money but there’s nothing nearby, their options are to spend more time trying to transport themselves to get food.”
Residents with cars fare better in areas with lower food access than residents without, because they can drive to grocery stores that aren’t within walking distance.
“Fast food is all there is around here,” Little Village resident, Talia Veney said. “There’s a McDonald’s, Wendy’s, a Popeyes, and tacos a little further, but it’s still accessible. There’s more accessible alcohol than grocery stores.”
Inadequate food access has a lasting impact on childhood development and health outcomes. Families that experience food inequality have the tendency to make health trade-offs like skipping meals and cutting meal sizes to cope with having a lack of food.
“One of the things we know is that parents tend to be protective of kids and so they’ll cut down on their own meals in order for their kids to eat better. Anybody in a household who’s experiencing food insecurity creates stress for that whole household,” senior fellow at the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute, Elizabeth Waxman said. “We know food insecurity is associated with a lot of bad outcomes, like a greater risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension.”
The Chicago Food Depository Hunger Report saw a 2.5% increase in food insecure households from 481,720 in 2019 to 613,680 in 2021. Although, there’s been no significant change in food deficit rates since 2019, according to the 2022 USDA Food Security and Nutrition Assistance data. The USDA only began measuring food deficit rates in 1992, so there’s little data to show the impact of generational food insecurity.