What is Food Apartheid?

About a year ago, I was in a studio art and feminism class called Food Matters. This class opened my eyes to the various ways in which food brings people together regardless of culture, class, and ethnicity. But most importantly, this class taught me the definition of “Food Apartheid”.

“Food Apartheid” is a more encompassing term than “Food Desert” given that apartheid covers the ways in which lack of access to healthy food and how it is systematic. Labeling an area as a Food Desert insinuates that there is not any access at all to food in a neighborhood, which is unlikely to be true since there are always corner stores, or smaller markets that stock the very basic essentials like soft drinks, canned food, and various toiletries and sometimes alcoholic beverages. So while there is food in the area, the food is not healthy, and typically lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables.

Food Apartheid touches upon how grocery stores pick specific locations based off the zip codes and socioeconomic status of a neighborhood. Particularly in Rochester which has very high poverty rates especially amongst minority racial / ethnic populations, most of the grocery stores are in areas where food insecurity is not much of an issue for the community surrounding that grocery store since they have the financial and mobile means to access healthy food. The 19th Ward is a prime example of Food Apartheid at work – various small corner markets, gas stations, some small pharmacies, and a variety of restaurants – but no grocery stores like Wegmans or Tops with a wider selection of fresh food. This means that residents need to rely on their vehicles, or public transportation to get access to food regularly.

Food Apartheid also accounts for public transportation and accessibility. While the bus system in Rochester is well priced at only $1 per ride, it can take a long time to get to a location with many of the busses looping at center city before going out to their destination. For individuals, and especially parents with full time jobs, relying on public transportation is a challenge in and of itself. Potentially taking a few hours to get to the grocery store and then coming back. Thankfully, rideshare services like Lyft and Uber are an option in Rochester and grant higher access and speed up the process of travel, however, those costs can quickly add up over time. In addition, the power of local and state policy can hold potential to increasing access to food for people suffering from Food Apartheid. What do you think, or what are some small things you think can have a big impact on increasing food access? Comment below!


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Photo provided by U.S. Air Force – Airman 1st Class Grace Lee

Guest Post Written by Nic Hesse, Class of 2019, Dining Team Green Marketing Intern

One Reply to “What is Food Apartheid?”

  1. I live in SanFrancisco and we are experiencing the same thing here. I attend classes along this line hoping to discover a way to balance or level the field so that no one is deprived of this need. And since quality food is necessary it should not be so pricey , as it is indeed for our health and our mental stability. Mental health issues are big and I believe that this is because of the kind food we don’t get to have in the poorer communities where they are left to depend on what ever is available in the corner stores and small markets. Alcohol, sugar and fats like soda pop candies chips and fatty luncheon meats is served in poor communities and this need to change.

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