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Disparities Existing in the Food Industry
Book Review: Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty By Mark Winnie
An agricultural shift has taken place in the last 30 years in the U.S. in the food industry. One that has brought on some changes to system, with efforts to try and eliminate the food gap that exists. The disparities existing between social and economic statuses of individuals in the U.S. and the access to food has become an issue that the national, government, and advocate leaders have been continuously trying to address and create a balance in the food system. Unfortunately, this has become a paradox between the food insecurity, food demands in the food industry and the key issues at hand. Food being at the top of the chain and a vital necessity for human survival and sustainability is for certain. With food being at the top of the chain, one’s socioeconomic status as mentioned plays a role in how individuals can access their food, but there is also the factor of power imbalances and social inequality that stems from having access to fresh foods. The question and argument that underlies is this; what are the efforts in trying to eliminate this issue today? The food gap that persists has become subtle and undeniably a complex issue to tackle in the food industry.
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In the book, Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty, the author Mark Winnie examines the issues at hand in the food industry. He brings forth these issues of hunger and poverty seen in impoverished communities and the food industry that plays a pivotal role in the food politics. Winnie, who became a food activist writes about the food gap that exists and the food insecurities in the industry and how that gap has widened over the years. He becomes an advocate for promoting and having supportive measures and policies set in place in the food industry for communities in the U.S. that are suffering from hunger, living with food insecurity because of poverty, and have limited/inadequate food sources. His need for becoming an avid leader in advocating for the elimination of food insecurity stems from early childhood experiences with fresh foods from local farmlands and markets that later lead him to become a food activist for the Hartford Food System. Winnie explains in his book how he and other advocate members took an approach to work on the economic, environmental, and social issues that encompass food insecurity for many.
There is an interesting paradox that exists between food insecurity in the U.S. and the many different levels that the government and national agencies strive to work on improving. During the 1970’s government agencies created programs that would help reduce hunger for families that were living in poverty and couldn’t afford to buy fresh foods. Any family in the U.S. that would fall under the U.S. federal poverty line would become eligible to participate in programs such as WIC, SNAP benefits, cash assistance, or get free access to food at school like the National School Lunch Program. There were also other resources that became available for individuals who were living in impoverished communities. Today government assistance and food benefits play a big role in food budgets and families that live under the federal poverty line. For instance, in the article, USDA FoodAPS: Providing Insights Into U.S. Food Demand and Food Assistance Programs, researchers found in a survey from the (FoodAPS) that, “Snap benefits accounted for over 60 percent of the average SNAP household food-at-home expenditures” (Todd et al. 1). This makes up a big portion of those who are receiving assistance from the government. These efforts to help those living in impoverished communities became an advantage.
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Nevertheless, there were still other issues at hand that was surrounding food insecurity. Although families living below the federal poverty line are able to participate in these programs, there has been a shift in the demand for food and prices going up in the United States. Mark Winnie re-examines the food gap in the industry as a whole. In chapter five of the book, Winnie brings up an interesting question stating, “Does the availability of food simply stipulate demand, or is demand itself rising?” (75). So as the supply rises, the demand also rises. This brings up a major concern for lower income families that cannot afford to pay for fresh foods that are stamped at a higher price. From an economic standpoint, as the economy goes down, distributors bring up the prices on the production of fresh foods, which then becomes more expensive for those who cannot afford it. As of recent, there has been a growing amount of people in the population who have been becoming more consciously aware of what they eat and what they put in their bodies. The production of organic foods and Non-GMO foods vs. foods that have been genetically modified and have added preservatives.
On one hand, the growing awareness of eating healthier foods is plus, but on the other hand, the downside to this is that the production of organic foods and the demand is becoming expensive. So the question to this would be, who benefits from this? Mark Winnie writes, “Nationwide, not only were the poor paying more for food and selecting from lower-quality products, but the lack of access was beginning to affect their health and their ability to use their food assistance dollars effectively” (89). This mitigates another issue in the food industry and the efforts in attempting to close the existing food gap. As Winnie mentions, the lack of accessible, fresh foods can become a health concern. This goes to show that even if those lower-income families who receive assistance to buy fresh foods, accessibility to those fresh foods become slim because of the hike of prices. In the article, A Disparities Paradox? Food Insecurity and Obesity Among Vulnerable Populations, Bettina M. Beech and Keith C. Norris write, “Several risk factors such as poverty, household size, low educational attainment, and zip code are associated with food insecurity-factors also highly correlated with obesity status” (S1). As we can see, there are many correlates to food insecurity that create many problems in the food industry. The creation of fast-food chain restaurants has become a way in which the food industry has been able to persuade consumers through marketing tactics and advertisement. Fast-food restaurants are known to be cheap, affordable, and convenient. Fast-food chain restaurants become available in lower-income communities where it can become readily accessible.
However, with this comes many health disparities in lower-income communities. With the growth of fast food chains in lower-income areas and the growing consumption of these fast foods, there are health issues that arise from that like obesity and heart diseases and other health concerns. Beech and Norris explain how with food insecurity, there has been a high prevalence rate of obesity. This is a result of the many underlying issues mentioned before like poverty and having access to fresh, nutritious, and affordable foods. Beech and Norris also explain how, “Food insecurity is hypothesized to promote dependence on inexpensive, energy-dense foods” (S1). Consumers that live in impoverished communities with little access to affordable fresh foods turn to fast food chains that are convenient and affordable. There has also been some debate that may attest to this in regards to consumer’s responsibility and healthy eating choices in life. Winnie argues, “Is the responsibility for what one consumes or otherwise does to oneself-whether positive or negative-the person’s responsibility or that of society, culture, advertising, the calculating hand of capitalism…” (119). This brings up a good point, that all contribute to the way we choose to eat, and how external factors can all influence this. This concludes that there much bigger issues at hand that influence the food industry, that being, the power imbalances existing in the society. This then becomes a contributing factor to the food gap. Our social economic status shapes our access to fresh, nutritious foods. The author Mark Winnie explains this through shining a light at some of the key issues that surround impoverished neighborhoods and their access to fresh foods. Although, there have been numerous efforts in attempting to close the food gap that still persists, and although there have been efforts in promoting more awareness of eating healthier foods. There are still some issues at hand that need to be addressed, that is, creating more affordable foods that can become accessible for everyone. Hunger is seen as a rare phenomenon today, but there are still some social and health disparities at play that are still a concern for many.
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