Five Important Issues Surrounding Black Food Justice This Thanksgiving

Op-Ed: As we gather with friends and family for the holiday, there are things our community at large must still deal with.

Maya Angelou once said, “Eating is so intimate. When you invite someone to sit at your table… you're inviting a person into your life.”

According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly 13 percent of households are experiencing food insecurity. This includes more than 22 percent of Black families and over 33 percent of households led by single mothers. Food justice is about ensuring everyone has fair access to healthy and affordable food by addressing issues related to food deserts, food swamps, and food security. 

As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, there’s no better time to reflect on the barriers that many Black families face to put food on the table – not just during the holidays, but every day. In our quest for Black well-being, here are five areas that frame the impact of food justice in this season of gratitude.

Pepsi Donating $250K To Deal With Food Insecurity At HBCUs

  •  Health and Nutrition for Black Students

There’s a crucial link between food justice and Black school-age youth that goes beyond school meals, illuminating the need for a strategic investment in the overall educational process. It's not just about increasing attendance; healthy food is a catalyst for heightening concentration levels and boosting academic performance. 

When young Black learners consistently have access to nourishing meals, they are empowered to do more than just show up consistently – healthy meals equip them with the focus needed to truly engage and excel. Providing nutritious meals is a deliberate investment in the future brilliance of  Black students. It's high time we implement policies that go beyond grades, recognizing the profound impact of proper nutrition on the holistic well-being of Black youth. Because ensuring they have the sustenance they need isn't just about school; it's about empowering them for success in every facet of life.

  • Black Economic Policy and Housing Stability

Food security goes hand-in-hand with housing stability – without stable housing, it’s nearly impossible to maintain access to nutritious meals. The intersection of homelessness and food justice underscores the urgent need for equitable economic policies. 

To truly address the economic disparities of Black communities, we must recognize the interconnectedness of economic well-being, housing security, and access to adequate nutrition. Our communities have long faced economic suppression – so the solutions should also address our needs long-term. It's time to advocate for policies that not only stimulate the economy but also uplift those on the margins to ensure that economic relief reaches all, regardless of housing status.

  • Black Health and Wellness

Any discussion of food security must also address its correlation with the onset of chronic conditions—a bit like a crystal ball predicting health outcomes. Extensive studies reveal a strong association between food security status and the likelihood of various chronic illnesses, including hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, diabetes, and kidney disease. The impact of these health disparities is especially pronounced within Black communities, adding another layer of urgency to the need for nutritious and affordable food options. 

  • Food Deserts and Black Safety

Sadly, the issue of food justice is about more than just what’s on the shelves, but also about the harsh realities that Black communities face, like the racist massacre at Tops Grocery Store in Buffalo, N.Y., just last year. All victims killed that day were Black – a tragic consequence of the fact that Tops stood as the sole accessible supermarket on the east side of the city, where more than  80 percent of the residents are Black, and the median household income falls below $20,000. A grocery store should never be an easy target for hate-fueled acts of violence, but food deserts contribute to a situation where these kinds of hate crimes are possible.

  • Food Justice and Human Rights 

The issue of food insecurity isn't just about empty stomachs; it's a blatant violation of basic human rights. Without proper nutrition, our bodies can't fight diseases or function at their best. We need food to live, but as Black people, we should have the right to think about more than just staying alive – we should be focused on thriving. To truly champion the right to food and preserve our dignity, we've got to make sure it's not just available but accessible to all. We’re talking about the fundamental right to live a life with dignity, starting with what's on our plates.

Lead Poisoning Among African-American Children on the Rise - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that found that 1 in 38 kids around the U.S. has lead poisoning. But if you are “Black, poor or live in old housing,” your chances of lead poisoning was much higher, wrote Mother Jones. Lead poisoning can negatively impact a child’s mental and physical development and in some cases can cause death.  (Photo: Inti St Clair/Getty Images)

African-American Families More Affected by Food Insecurity

Food justice is deep in the roots of Black culture and has always been at the center of how we care for one another. To this day, Black farmers continue to harvest and reclaim their land, and the legacy continues in urban farms across the country. We have a way of taking care of ourselves, our families, and our community. Every day, but especially around Thanksgiving, local churches feed entire communities with warm meals, turkey drives, and other donations. This kindness and generosity is on display in Black communities every day and sustains us in our most difficult moments. 

But we should not be forced to rely on the strength of our communities to ensure every person has access to food. Our elected leaders have a responsibility to address this crisis, starting with implementing sustainable, actionable strategies that safeguard Black communities from the burden of systems that perpetuate food inequities. As our leaders return home for Thanksgiving, I hope they remember the power they have to make the joy of a warm home-cooked meal a reality for all. 

Idris Robinson is the NAACP Director of Health and Well-being.

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