New York has redefined the image of what we understand as ‘Hunger’.
Hunger in the land of the plenty, can be found in the back of the line at MacDonald’s, in grocery bags stuffed with Lays crisps and monotone stocked cupboards filled by pasta, rice and white bread rolls. To be ‘hungry’, is beyond just the physical rumble of an empty stomach, but a lack of food that is more than just a filling ‘substance’.
As the flows of food through our cities become tangled by neoliberal histories and politics of inequality, the option for a nourishing meal for many New Yorkers, is off the menu (Swyngedouw and Heynen 2003: 906).
Hunger has a postcode
In New York today, over 1.09 million people are labelled as ‘food insecure’, a statistic 12% higher than any other state, the Big Apple has become Americas biggest problem (Johnson, 2019). To be food insecure, means that putting a meal on the table, is not a weekly chore, but a calculated question of if you can afford to feed yourself, your children, or pay the months’ water bill. As the cost of living in New York has risen by $1000 a month in the space of two years (Berg, 2019), the cities modern food system is shrinking both the portions and pockets’ of low-income households.
The uneven flows of food through New York are caught in the loops of racial injustice and segregation, set by the socio-political conflicts in the city itself (Gandy, 2004). Trends of food insecurity and poverty are concentrated in the neighbourhoods of minority communities; over 17% of residents in Fordham-Bronx, Pelham-Throgs Neck and South Bronx classified as food insecure, where over 21% of the residents are reported having no access to fruit and vegetables (Johnson, 2019).
Various environmental metaphors have been used to describe these new patterns of starvation; New Yorks’ urban landscape comprising of ‘food deserts’ and ‘food swamps’. Much like the arid habitat itself, food deserts are areas baron of access to healthy food; so that for a 1/3 of the population, a grocery store means a long walk or bus journey of over half a mile (Economic Research Service, 2020). Food Swamps, however, are a dense forest of fast food chains, convenience stores where the closest image to a vegetable can be found on a packet of French fries.
For areas like the Bronx, finding healthy food options may mean doing your grocery shopping in a completely different district. But, for a low-income families reliant on public transport, juggling long arduous jobs and childcare, filling the cupboards is a battle of geography and time (Johnson, 2019). While 128 minutes are lost to food shopping, travel and preparation, the comparative 34 minutes to grab the next meal from a fast food chain in the Bronx makes this choice a necessity. Being able to spend a Sunday making a perfectly arranged meal prep is not a sign of perfect organisation, but of time and resource privilege.
How did we get here?
The stark inequity of food distribution in New York, is a landscape which sits above a long history of social and political powers driving both commercialisation and new Yorks’ land zoning; two fundamental elements which have determined urban food justice (Heynen, Kurtz and Trauger, 2012).
As the 1940s core of New York saw ‘white flight’ out to the suburbs, subsidised by the neoliberal government, this was met with a withdrawal of supermarkets, chasing areas of best financial return. Meanwhile, fragmented by histories of 1930s Red Lining policies, a systematic denial of housing in ‘affluent’ neighbourhoods for ethnic minorities have created a combined geography of nutritional spatial exclusion known as ‘supermarket redlining’.
The correlations between poor diet and ethnicity, is not a coincidence, but a consequence.
Continued Part 2.
Word Count: 625
Berg, J., 2019. The Affordability Crisis And Hunger. New York City Hunger Report. [online] New York. Available at: <https://www.hungerfreeamerica.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/2019%20NY%20Hunger%20Report.pdf> [Accessed 6 November 2020].
Cooksey-Stowers, K., Schwartz, M. and Brownell, K., 2017. Food Swamps Predict Obesity Rates Better Than Food Deserts in the United States. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(11), p.1366.
Gandy, M., 2004. Rethinking urban metabolism: water, space and the modern city. City, 8(3), pp.363-379.
Heynen, N., Kurtz, H. and Trauger, A., 2012. Food Justice, Hunger and the City. Geography Compass, 6(5), pp.304-311.
Heynen, N., Kaika, M. and Swyngedouw, E., 2005. In The Nature Of Cities. London: Routledge.
Johnson, C., 2019. GROWING FOOD EQUITY IN NEW YORK CITY: A City Council Agenda. [online] New York: NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL. Available at: <http://council.nyc.gov/data/wp-content/uploads/sites/73/2019/08/growing-food-equity-1.pdf> [Accessed 6 November 2020].
Levinton, D., 2019. Food Deserts in New York City. [Blog] storymaps.arcgis, Available at: <https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/c6696d73c28c4f7aa8a840c5fdc8949b> [Accessed 6 November 2020].
USDA. 2020. Economic Research Service. [online] Available at: <https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas/documentation/#changes> [Accessed 6 November 2020].