African Americans Hit with Twin Pandemics of COVID-19 and Hunger

By Eric Mitchell | Executive Director | Alliance to End Hunger

In a food-rich nation like the United States, no one should go hungry. Yet more than 35 million Americans live in food insecure households — defined as the inability to obtain adequate nutritious food — and nearly 16 million are some of the most vulnerable, including children and seniors.

The pandemic shone a light on a fact that many of us already knew: Hunger serves as a signal for injustice — often driven by inequities related to race, religion, ethnicity, and gender. Black and Hispanic families are disproportionally more likely to be food insecure. In 2019, food insecurity among Blacks was 19.1 percent and 15.6 percent for Hispanics, compared to 7.9 percent for whites. In other words, one in five Black Americans are at risk of hunger, and more than twice as likely as white adults to report that their household did not get enough to eat[1].

Families that struggle with hunger tend to buy foods that are more affordable, but that are also less nutritious. As a result, these same families struggle with higher obesity rates, high blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic health conditions that put those struggling with COVID-19 at much higher risk of severe complications. That is why addressing hunger and racial inequity is just as important in the COVID-19 response conversation as vaccinations, job creation, and school re-openings.

I am encouraged by the recent efforts in Congress to increase food and nutrition benefits so that an estimated 24 million adults and 12 million children will no longer have to worry about how to put food on the table.[2] These investments will go a long way to address disproportionate food insecurity in the Black community.

What else can the anti-hunger community do to help close food security gaps for African Americans?

· Break down silos. For decades, addressing racism has been seen as the purview of civil rights organizations, but anti-hunger groups have a role to play in achieving racial equity. This starts by understanding the connections between the racial wealth gap and hunger. Another important step is for these organizations to root out racism in their own walls.

Empower communities. Like other nonprofits, most anti-hunger organizations are built around a charitable paradigm that is traditionally focused on “color-blind” solutions. This focus, while well-meaning, has only served to reinforce rather than eliminate racial disparities. Creating racial equity means building power in communities· to address the needs of BIPOC and having organizations whose leadership authentically reflect the communities they serve.

· Promote racially equitable solutions. Systemic racism is enshrined and reinforced through legislation and policy. It’s important to educate elected officials on policies that have exacerbated racial disparities and to promote policies that will improve food security and nutrition in a racially equitable manner.

Addressing racial disparities in hunger is not a one-time temporary fix. We must consider the inequities in every area of life that increase vulnerability to hunger and poverty: criminal justice, education, wages, housing, healthcare, and access to food. These are all factors which lead to disproportionate food insecurity in the Black community. Anti-hunger organizations must take a more prominent role in helping find solutions to hunger — and the racial inequity that causes it.

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[1] https://www.cbpp.org/black-and-latino-households-likelier-to-experience-food-insufficiency-during-pandemic-3

[2]According to Census Pulse data (January 6–18) as reported by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/tracking-the-covid-19-recessions-effects-on-food-housing-and.

The Alliance to End Hunger engages diverse institutions to build the public and political will to end hunger at home and abroad.