The COVID-19 pandemic upended life as we knew it, and its impacts are felt in nearly every aspect of our lives.
As unemployment rose and children were kept out of school, 45 million people and 15 million children experienced food insecurity in 2020, according to Feeding America. Food insecurity, as defined by Feeding America, is the “lack of access to sufficient food because of limited financial resources.”
Though we now have widespread access to vaccines and have learned to navigate the world through the pandemic, it will take time for the levels of food insecurity to lower dramatically. However, Feeding America projects the 2021 numbers are slightly better, with 42 million people and 13 million children experiencing food insecurity.
Tens of millions of people lost their jobs or declined in working hours as a result of the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, the national food insecurity rate had reached its lowest point, according to Feeding America.
“While hunger was already a massive, systemic problem in all 50 states before COVID-19 hit the U.S., domestic hunger surged during the pandemic,” Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, said in a statement to the Philadelphia Inquirer. But, he added, “the nation avoided mass starvation mostly because the federal government stepped in. Given that the pandemic is far from over, we need that aid to continue.”
Food insecurity has taken a particular toll on children during the pandemic. About 15% of households with children were classified as food insecure by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report cited a lack of access to school lunches and closing businesses as part of the reason food security was more severe in 2020.
“The other thing that COVID has done is it’s really affected kids a lot in terms of food insecurity,” Luis Guardia, the president of the Food, Research and Action Center, said to NPR. “One of the things we’ve noticed across the board is that households with children are more food insecure. And we believe that also has to do with school closures. So a lot of kids get their nutrition from school meals, and that’s been disrupted.”
In September 2020, a Brookings Institution study found that only 15% of students who usually got free or reduced-price meals were getting them when schools went virtual. The report, which cited data from June 2020, said that 3 in 10 Black households with children and 1 in 4 Hispanic households with children “did not have sufficient food due to a lack of resources in June 2020.” White households with children had a child food insecurity rate under 10%.
“We know that our most vulnerable folks are children and people of color,” Loree Jones, CEO of Philabundance, a local chapter of Feeding America, said to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The pandemic hit people of color and poor folks hard.”
Feeding America found that there are significant racial disparities in who experiences food insecurity. About 1 in 5, or 21% of, Black individuals experience food insecurity, while only 1 in 9, or 11% of, white individuals do.
One of the key factors in food insecurity is structural racism. It presents itself in many ways: a lack of grocery stores within walking distance in low-income neighborhoods and no transportation to places with grocery stores. In Anacostia, a neighborhood of Washington, DC, an art installation explores food justice and how there is one grocery store that servies 85,000 residents.
“If we want to end hunger, which we certainly can do because we produce enough for everybody to have three healthy meals a day, seven days a week, we have to address structural racism,” Jeremy Everett, Executive Director of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, said to the Houston Chronicle. “We’ll never end hunger if we don’t address structural racism.”