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Letter: Race plays critical role in food deserts, hunger

Kudos to Carol Schmitz-Corken and all collaborating to launch Farm and Food Network Rowan. Feeding hungry people is important work. Changing the system that supports unequal food distribution is key to this effort and important in its own right. Systemic change begins with examining how persistent social problems are defined. If clearly naming a problem is avoided, the problem and the system that sustains it remain.

The Post’s February 21 article on food insecurity (“Network in on effort to ease food insecurity”) defines a “food desert” as being “due to geographic factors.” The term “desert” suggests a natural lack of resources, rather than manmade scarcity. Claiming the cause to be “geographical factors” fails to recognize foundational cultural and economic factors. Failure to examine these factors prevents addressing the actual source not only of food scarcity, but of so many human needs.

Leah Penniman, Fulbright awardee and author of Farming While Black, replaces “food desert” with “food apartheid” to more accurately describe a food system pervaded by injustice. She notes, “If you’re a black child in America, you are twice as likely to go to bed hungry tonight as a white child.” That diet-related illnesses disproportionately afflict black and indigenous people and that land ownership in the U.S. is over 98% white led Penniman to conclude that racism is embedded in our nation’s food system.

Does everything in America come down to race? Let’s take direction from Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill or Wake Forest University and the many institutions apologizing for racist pasts and continuing racial tensions.

Let’s consider Salisbury’s own history of Jim Crow racial terror and the remaining disparity to which our “food deserts” testify. Defining social disparities in terms of systemic racism acknowledges the social, cultural and economic conditions that sustain them. Race equity approaches improve food accessibility and challenge any number of socio-economic disparities, forging the systemic change needed to eliminate them.

— Susan Lee

Salisbury

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