By Anissa Durham | Word In Black
(WIB) – For Black families who celebrate it, Thanksgiving is typically a day to give thanks and feast over a large meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and yams. But, during this holiday season, rates of food insecurity have hit the Black community especially hard.
Before and during the COVID-19 pandemic Black households experienced higher rates of food insecurity when compared to other groups in the United States. And, in 2021, nearly 20% of Black individuals and 22% of Black children lived in a home that was food insecure. Black children are also three times as likely to experience hunger than white children.
A recent survey by IRi found that the average cost for turkey, pie filling, potatoes, and butter increased between 10% to 34% this November.
At the same time, there’s also the uncanny aftermath of a large meal unfinished: leftovers. Every year, about 200 million pounds of turkey meat is discarded after Thanksgiving Day. And, 48 million pounds of sweet potatoes, 40 million pounds of mashed potatoes, and 38 million pounds of stuffing are wasted every year, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
With an increase in food insecurity and the irony of food waste, three Black women who are working to end food insecurity share what they are doing during this holiday season.
Ami McReynolds, Chief Equity Officer for Feeding America
Ami McReynolds has spent the last three years as the chief equity officer for Feeding America, one of the largest nonprofit organizations working to end hunger. With a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks, the months of November and December are some of the busiest times for the organization.
Across their network of food banks, partners, and the community, there is an increase during this time of year — something that the organization regularly prepares for. McReynolds says she understands families want to be able to enjoy large gatherings with food at the center and with people they love — but that can be difficult with inflation causing folks to make tough financial decisions.
“I think there is also a piece around being able to spend time and community connected with our family and friends is restorative, even if there are daily pressures around being able to put food on the table,” she says.
Coming out of the pandemic, the rates of food insecurity have stayed pretty level and have continued to disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities. But something McReynolds has noticed is how our community comes together during the holiday season, like having folks sign up for different dishes so the meal is not left to the burden of one person.
The pressure of the holiday season can be a challenge for Black families on a budget, many of who are already working to make ends meet but also want to partake in a large feast with their loved ones. McReynolds says Feeding America continues to provide food distribution and increase access to popular food items during the holiday season.
Last year the organization launched the food security equity impact fund, with nearly $10 million in grants, the money is distributed to 25 organizations, food banks, and their partners who are primarily serving or led by people of color.
“In the Black community as a Black woman, what I also know is that even if folks are struggling, they want to support others,” she says. “Thinking about ways to connect into volunteer, to advocate for policies that can make a difference in the lives of people who are struggling with food insecurity, are actions we can all take to address this need.”
Heather Taylor, Managing Director of Bread for the World
Heather Taylor, managing director of Bread for the World the global Christian advocacy organization has spent the last year working to end food insecurity. Regardless of the holiday season, Taylor says Black households are struggling with higher rates of food insecurity.
Nearly 25% of Millennials and Gen X consumers of Thanksgiving meals are worried about inflation making them unable to afford the usual holiday staples. In a survey of 821 participants by Iri, more than 50% of Gen Z and Millennials are taking on the responsibility of preparing and hosting Thanksgiving dinners.
When households are expected to prepare for large feasts and meals during the holidays, Taylor says other expenses usually suffer, like rent and basic medical supplies. For Black households living paycheck to paycheck, these winter months when people are feeding more than the usual amount of people can pose an even greater challenge of having less money left over to care for basic needs.
One of the things Bread is focused on is the continued advocacy of the child tax credit, which offer hundreds of dollars in payments to families — studies show the program significantly reduced child hunger and poverty. But Congress failed to renew the program for the 2022 tax year, leaving many families of color, who primarily benefited from the program without additional assistance.
“This had a tremendous impact on communities of color,” she says. “When it expired in 2021, food insecurity increased again, and child poverty increased again.”
Taylor is working to get the program renewed for Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous families who used the Child Tax Credit to cover food expenses.
Bread is also advocating for Child Nutrition Reauthorization; a process used to fund and structure child nutrition programs. Congress has not passed the legislation since 2010, but Taylor says if the legislation is passed it would help Black households and other communities of color.
Natacha Chavez, Activist
Natacha Chavez, an Arizona resident who is active in political Democratic campaigns, says after recently losing her run for the State House, she’s been reflecting on how food insecurity is hitting her community.
When comparing the prices of popular food items for Thanksgiving dinner between last year and this year, Chavez says the prices have notably risen. After becoming unemployed in November, deciding what foods are necessary and where her family can cut back has been on her mind.
In the western part of Maricopa County, Chavez says the area is made up of mostly Black and Latino families. The area also happens to be a food desert — an area with limited access to affordable and nutritious foods. Living in a food desert has been found to have a significant impact on communities of color, where food insecurity tends to be more profound.
“We need to ensure that families can find ways to make that budget stretch and with nutritious foods on top of that,” she says.
Chavez says she is looking to run for office again in the near future, but part of her exasperation over food insecurity in her area is the lack of Black political representation. Many Black households are left out of the conversation when it comes to accessible and affordable food.
“A lot of times, folks are just living in the shadows… their stories aren’t being brought up to the forefront because we don’t have enough people advocating for them,” she says.
Asking for help can also be difficult for Black folks, Chavez says, who may be too prideful to acknowledge their need for food — that sense of pride is something she has dealt with. But, lacking adequate resources and having the education of knowing where to go is something she says society can work on.
“One way I was trying to help is by ensuring that we have folks that are elected actually care about the issue of Black families as a whole, but also food insecurity,” she says. “I would love to make more of a direct impact … I think this is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed and not just during the holidays.”