As I child I grew up in the South Bronx, a place that faced extreme poverty during the Crack Epidemic and unfortunately still does. During the early 1990s, my family’s socio-economic status could be classified as upper-middle class, but the environment we lived in was laced with food disparities.
My family wasn’t personally affected by this, but I had classmates who usually attended school hungry and would ask if they could eat some of my food if they didn’t like what was provided for school lunch. Other peers who didn’t come to school hungry would instead arrive with the classic black plastic bag from local bodegas. It would be weighed down with Buttercrunch cookies, Swiss rolls, hero sandwiches and Tropical Fantasy soda that eventually led to weight or nutrition-related health issues a mere years down the line.
In their report of food deserts in metropolitan cities, Refinery29 investigates how families in New York City remain hungry as the Big Apple reigns as one of the leading restaurateur capitals. The subject of their research was Olivia, a twenty-something Ecuadorian-American mother raising three children. Refiner29 reports “Olivia is one of the 13.5 million young adults living in poverty in the United States. That’s one in five 18-to-34-year-olds. She feeds her four-person family with $500 in food stamps each month — roughly $1.40 per meal per person — provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The SNAP funds are meant to supplement additional income, but in Olivia’s case, it’s nearly all the money she has to rely on, leaving her and her family food insecure.”
Despite her financial and food insecurity, Olivia is pursuing a degree in psychology and will become the first in her family to graduate college. As she manages her collegiate career, Olivia tries to earn extra income by being a part-time vendor for HerbaLife. Another option Olivia utilizes is the food pantry in her local neighborhood. Though these options may seem helpful to purchase more food, Olivia admitted to Refinery29, there are many mornings her children don’t eat breakfast and have to wait until they are in school to eat food.
When Olivia’s family does have food in their home, its quality is questionable. Most SNAP recipients purchase food that is high in calories, sugar, and fat. Although Olivia is concerned about the health of her children, she noted the resources provided don’t allow her to buy organic food because of the cost. If she purchases healthier food, there would be less money to pay rent or other basic necessities. Olivia revealed, “I buy anything that’s microwavable, cans. That’s what’s on sale out here. Ten for $10 Chef Boyardee, Hot Pockets, sodas, juices. You can stock those up. I try to avoid those products — I know they’re not healthy — but when I buy healthier foods, I end up running out of money. Real food is expensive. When my son wants a smoothie that’s $8, that could be a [package] of meat, so I can’t get it for him.”
Refinery29 reports the United States Farm Bill is the reason why the price of “junk food” is significantly lower than organic food. The Farm Bill determines what kind of farm products are able to be subsidized. Commodity crop farmers are given subsidies and insurance by the government to produce corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, cornstarch and soy oils. Interestingly, these same subsidies are not applied to farmers who harvest grain, vegetables and fruits. Although some argue families who live in areas with low-quality food should travel to purchase healthier options, only a small number of organic supermarkets accept WIC or other government food programs as forms of payments. These corporations are sending the message that only a certain kind of person can shop at their stores and others cannot and that message is one that’s been received and accepted.
As millennials of color find themselves chasing after the latest restaurant or food-associated day party, it is imperative they voice their concerns about the Farm Bill as the 2016 Presidential Election approaches. It would imply First Lady Michelle Obama is and was not the only person concerned with the obesity and diabetes rates that plague our communities.