Last week, we released a report on food insecurity and food deserts entitled Hungry at the Banquet: Food Insecurity in Louisiana 2018. The report reminds us that, in a state which celebrates rich and varied food traditions that are famous worldwide, there are many people without enough to eat. The condition is known as “food insecurity,” and Louisiana has the second highest rate of food insecurity in the United States.
Authored by Kathleen J. Fitzgerald, Ph.D., the report helps us to understand the scope of food insecurity, its causes and its cures, the realities of food deserts, and the nature of food justice. Some key findings follow:
Louisiana has the second highest rate of food insecurity in the nation and it is rising faster than in the rest of the country.
- Here, 783,400 people—258,630 of whom are children—struggle with hunger, according to Feeding America.One in six children—17.9 percent—live in households without consistent access to adequate food.
- Forty-six of the sixty-four parishes have food insecurity rates of 15% or higher, and some as high as 34.4%. The national average in 2017 was 11.8%.
- Food insecurity rates are higher in small towns and rural areas than in cities, as they are nationally.
- Research links food deserts to poor health; and Louisiana is one of the least healthy states, with one of the highest rates of adult obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.
- Nationwide, the prevalence of food deserts increases in low-income zip codes and in racial minority communities. Food deserts are disproportionately found in the American south
- Louisiana’s poverty and racial demographics make it ripe for the prevalence of food deserts and much of the state qualifies as such.
- Two metropolitan areas—New Orleans-Metairie and Baton Rouge—land in the top ten Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the nation struggling with food insecurity.
- One in four Louisiana families rely on SNAP to meet their monthly food needs; two-thirds of SNAP recipients are children.
- Thousands of food-insecure residents are not eligible for the SNAP program and, for those that are, more than 90% of benefits are used by the third week of the month.
- Food banks, including mobile food pantries, are helping meet the needs of the food-insecure population in some areas of the state
- Food activism proliferated in New Orleans in the post-Katrina era, in the form of urban farms and farmers markets; yet the white, middle-class food movement largely failed to connect with the low-income communities of color facing the highest rates of food insecurity.
- The right to food tops the list of specific human rights in Catholic social teaching because hunger is a fundamental assault on human life itself—and so widespread.
- It is impossible to address food justice separately from economic and racial justice.
- The state needs to make food policy a higher priority, including offering incentives for grocery stores to open in underserved communities