Even two years later, the United States is still recovering from the aftermath of the SARS-COVID-19 pandemic. During the immediate lockdowns and government shutdowns, the essentials such as food became scarce, but the burden was unequally distributed. The pandemic deeply exacerbated existing disparities and in 2020, left 20% of low-income adults marginally food insecure, and 44% food insecure, affecting more Hispanic and Black communities than white. Those with low or very low security reported their local stores being more sold out of products pandemic conditions encouraged stockpiling. As supply lines were unable to keep up with rising demand, families without savings and the opportunity to purchase for the future, faced food shortages.
By December 2021, across all income levels, one-third fewer households experienced food insecurity than in December 2020. Still, statistics show that a larger proportion of food insecure households are Black (20%), Hispanic (16%), or sexual minorities (13%) compared to whites (7%) or Asians (4%), highlighting the continuous disparities even as we move out of the pandemic shutdowns. As we address food insecurity nationwide, these disparities cannot be discounted.
These increases have been driven, in part, by rising food costs. As pictured below, January of 2020 exhibited a sharp increase in supermarket prices, nearing 6% within only a month or two. To many families, this is a very significant difference. For example, beef, pork, and chicken prices are respectively 26.2%, 19.2%, and 14.8% higher in October 2021 than January 2020. These changes in prices disproportionately affects families of lower SES significantly more than higher. The average price-per-pound of fresh vegetables shipped increased 19% and fresh fruit was up by 10% from December 2021. This pressure is not limited to consumers, but food banks as well. According to Feeding America’s food network, their food banks have been serving 55 percent more people. Coupled with higher food prices, safety networks have struggled as well.
So how do we move forward? Acts such as the CARES act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act provide direct support, but lack the structural change necessary to face the perpetual problem of hunger in the United States. SNAP offers a safety net and has increased during the pandemic, but with inflation rising and food insecurity remaining higher than 2019, the benefits must continue to reflect this change. For the foreseeable future, this resource’s expansion is vital in supporting food security. While a step in the right direction, we, as a nation, must emphasize change to our food systems and legislation. Combined with the 133 billion pounds of food wasted annually, there must be a better intersection between ending waste and decreasing food insecurity.
By: Victoria Cao