Understanding Food Deserts and Food Apartheid

We talk a lot about food waste at Imperfect, but there is another problem with our food system that also needs attention: food deserts.

What is a food desert?

A food desert is an area with no grocery stores nearby, and they’re shockingly widespread. They’re also one of the most glaring examples of how low-income Americans are systematically denied access to basic human rights like healthy food. These issues of food access have only been exacerbated due to COVID-19, as public transportation has become more limited and risky and stores have cut back on hours.

How do race and food deserts intersect?

Food deserts are a prime example of how food justice and racial justice are interconnected. According to the New York Law School Racial Justice Project, 23.5 million people in the U.S. live in low-income neighborhoods located more than one mile from a supermarket. Black communities are half as likely to have access to chain supermarkets and Latinx communities are a third less likely to have access to chain supermarkets.

Since food deserts are more common in Black neighborhoods, they’re an often overlooked form of environmental racism and a significant factor behind why Black communities have disproportionately high rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and strokes.⁣

Food deserts aren’t a natural part of our landscape the way sandy and cactus-covered deserts are. They’re a direct consequence of how people design and invest in cities. This is why many people, like Olympia Auset of SÜPRMARKT, are embracing the term “food apartheid” as more accurate. Simply put, food deserts aren’t an accident — they’re a reflection of who and what our society prioritizes. To eradicate them, we need all communities to prioritize Black health and Black lives by making strides to ensure nutritious food for everyone. Efforts must not just address the lack of healthy food options within a community, but also the underlying causes for the food disparities.

What’s being done to address food deserts?

Nonprofit organizations like Kanbe’s Markets in Kansas City and SÜPRMARKT in Los Angeles are working to end food deserts by creating oases of healthy groceries in areas that need it the most.

Others, like Soul Fire Farm in New York, the Ron Finley Project in Los Angeles, and Appetite for Change in Minneapolis, focus on empowering neighborhoods to grow their own food in community gardens.

Another approach to eradicating food deserts is to bring fresh food directly to the community instead of forcing people to travel long distances. Grocery delivery services like Imperfect can play a role in eliminating food deserts by democratizing access to nutritious groceries. Healthy food is often more expensive in food deserts, so we’re also proud to offer our Reduced Cost Box program, which offers a 20% discount on our groceries to low-income earning customers.

Where can I learn more about food deserts?

Stories, thoughts, and ideas from the team at Imperfect Foods.