I’ve always known that food is powerful. It can bridge. It can unite. It can heal. When I share a meal with others, there’s an instant and real connection. In these moments, I’ve also come to learn just how deep food inequity runs in our state.
Food inequity is one result of larger systems in our world and communities designed to benefit some at the expense of others. Systemic injustices are built into our food system and most often unfairly affect people in marginalized communities and those who don’t have easy access to grocery stores or the means to afford nourishing food.
Here in Minnesota, we have one of the worst disparities in the country. We live in a place where people of color were prevented from owning homes in certain Twin Cities neighborhoods just decades ago. These rules are still affecting us today.
Your race and your zip code directly impact your access to fresh, affordable food. More people of color are living below the poverty line and the average household income for people of color remains significantly less than that of white families. For many people, a single trip to the grocery store might take two bus rides, if not more. For those in rural communities, the closest affordable grocery store could be miles away.
We cannot accept this. Food is a basic human right. The world produces enough food to feed every human being, yet so many people are going hungry because our food system does not allow access to it.
And now, inflation is pushing food prices to levels we haven’t seen in 40 years. Just this week we learned that inflation reached a new 40-year high of 9.1% nationwide and 9.5% in the Midwest, with food prices among the top categories.
The cost of groceries is up 14% in the Twin Cities from just over a year ago. All of this is once again hurting BIPOC and rural communities and those on limited budgets the most.
At The Food Group, we are working toward a more just and equitable food system for all. Food equity means everyone has the option to grow and eat nutritious, affordable and culturally connected foods. Everyone.
We know racial and economic injustice are major roots of hunger today. Which means the only way to truly end hunger is to end racial injustice.
I know the model we created at The Food Group works. We’re reaching across the food system, from production to distribution, to make it more equitable.
At Big River Farms, we educate and partner with emerging farmers to grow culturally connected food. We bring the Twin Cities Mobile Market (a literal grocery store on a bus) into communities that don’t have easy access to food. And with Fare For All, pop-up grocery stores, we offer fresh food at 40% off retail prices. We are also ensuring our network of anti-hunger partners have the nutritious and culturally connected food people in their local neighborhoods want and need.
We can’t solve food inequity overnight, but I believe if we strengthen our commitment at this pivotal moment, it can one day be possible. We must do this together.
That might mean donating to organizations like ours to help those most in need. It might mean inviting your neighbors over for a meal, since we know food really does have the power to heal. And it might mean taking the time to understand why food injustices exists in the first place.
Only then can we truly achieve food equity.
Sophia Lenarz-Coy is the executive director of The Food Group, a local food equity nonprofit. For more than 45 years The Food Group has worked to provide good foods to those who need it most in 30 counties across Minnesota and Wisconsin.