Inflation Makes Grocery Shopping Precarious for Black Families in Food Deserts

As inflation pushes the price of food up around the country, Black families in food deserts face compounded challenges.

Mother with four children shops in a Los Angles corner store
Photo: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

One stroll through your local supermarket, and it wouldn't take long to see how much food prices have increased due to rising inflation. Food is more expensive to grow and ship, which increases costs wherever it is sold.

The US Department of Agriculture forecasts that food-at-home prices will increase by 4% by the end of 2022. Data from the Consumer Price Index shows grocery prices were 7.9% higher than last year. The cost of meat, poultry, fish, and eggs is 13% higher, fresh fruit is up 10.6%, vegetables increased 4.3%, and pre-packaged cereals and baked goods have increased 7.7%.

"Due to inflation, I've seen most food items I shop for increase at least 20%," says Natara Rice, an entrepreneur and mother. "I now find myself cooking more at home instead of eating out. I save money by being able to use food for a few meals, not just one. Dining out is expensive; I could easily spend $100 eating out for one meal. I can take that same $100 and buy groceries that would make five meals."

Rising inflation has increased food prices for the homeless, children, and lower-income families, and one area affected the most by inflation is food deserts. A food desert is an area where res­i­dents have few to no options to purchase afford­able and healthy foods, and often those residents are Black or people of color.

Skyrocketing prices in food deserts are leaving Black families scrambling, trying to figure out how they can afford the rising cost of everything, and facing more food insecurity.

Racial Segregation Creates Food Deserts

Accord­ing to a study from Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty, Black com­mu­ni­ties are dis­pro­por­tion­ately left with food deserts as their only option.

The data shows racial segregation has pushed people of color into impoverished neighborhoods, which aren't appealing for grocery chains and fresh stores to build within. As neighborhood poverty has increased, grocery store availability has decreased.

Food deserts lack healthy options such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, peas, beans, meat, and fish. They usually are smaller stories with more pre-packaged, highly processed food. This means Black families have fewer healthy food options.

Food deserts have also been called "food apartheid" and are a byproduct of hundreds of years of systemic inequality. Now, inflation is causing prices to increase at places that are the only options Black families have, despite those options not being good.

"Food prices have caused my family to take an even more comprehensive and holistic look at what we're consuming and what we can do to offset the cost of things we use often," says David Yarde, an entrepreneur and father.

"Our family is doing more gardening, better meal planning, and a more conscious focus. A pleasant surprise is a family that's also closer and more avenues to pass on skills to our child in the process," says Yarde.

Systematic Inequality Makes Food Insecurity More Challenging

A lack of institutional support for hundreds of years affects a Black family's ability to afford food and access healthier options. It can be challenging for low-income families to access the transportation needed to travel to grocery stores that may be an hour or more away.

Small stores in food deserts have offered cheaper availability and more accessible options for lower-income people. Now with the increasing inflation, many are left wondering what to do.

Unlike others, many Black families have not had avenues they can turn to for support. The systems in the US weren't designed to support Black people from their inception. Black families can protest and lobby local politicians, but those efforts couldn't force more grocers to build stories in areas they won't.

"We've noticed the cost of buying food to help our college-age daughter has increased about 20% from last year," says Vernon Ross, an entrepreneur and father of two.

"My wife and I are strategically buying groceries that will last longer so that money's not wasted on more perishable things. Also, growing more food and shopping at more farmers' markets to reduce the cost of fresh produce" he says.

No Real End In Sight

There are initiatives across the country, such as the African Heritage Food Co-Op working to create affordable, healthy food options accessible for Black families in food deserts, but more needs to be done.

Black families have had to battle systemic inequality, environmental racism, and many other struggles that exacerbate generations of trauma. Struggling to find and be able to afford healthy food should not be added to the list, especially not for American citizens.

"I have a teenage son, but I'm also one of the many people who've had pandemic babies," says Winnie Thompson, an entrepreneur, and mother of two."And with the formula shortage and an increase in our family size, it's been tough pushing through inflation. It's caused my partner and me to increase our workload and find ways to find more affordable food options while also remaining healthy."

Black families deserve more healthy food options where they live. Food deserts shouldn't be the only choices, but people have to do their best with what they've got. More must be done to help Black families battle inflation in food deserts (and everywhere) and afford the ever-rising cost of living.

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