In recent months, the national dialogue on environmental justice has intensified, with the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, forcing the American public to consider how everything from lead exposure to poor air quality disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color. While environmental justice—which strives to include and involve all people in the institution of environmental protections, regardless of their backgrounds—is finally getting the attention it deserves, this issue extends beyond pollution hazards and exposure to toxic materials to include food environments as well. In particular, it includes the inequitable distribution of healthy food across socioeconomic and racial lines. In predominantly low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, this inequality often leads to food deserts: areas with limited access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.
Over the past century, the nation’s food system radically transformed from one sustained by family farms to an industrialized system dependent on toxic agricultural practices, farm consolidation, food processing operations, and distribution warehouses. Such a system often further elongates the distance between food sources and consumers.
Despite increased food production, there is still a lack of healthy, affordable food in low-income communities and communities of color, as well as varying disparities in rural localities compared with urban ones. An estimated 14 percent of American households were food insecure at some point in 2014, meaning that they lacked access to enough food to encourage an active, healthy life for all household members.