Amid growing concerns about living expenses, low incomes and inflation, Bostonians are grappling with rising food prices, insecurity and lack of access.
Nearly 1.8 million Massachusetts residents, 32% of the state’s population, experienced food insecurity in 2021, according to a survey by the Boston Food Bank.
Increased unemployment and rising commodity costs have led to more food insecurity in Massachusetts, said Nick Owen, director of the Food Insecurity Program at Action for Boston Community Development.
“Right now, the rising costs of everything necessary (such as) utilities, fuel and food have put a lot of people in a difficult position to determine where their limited money is going,” Owen said. “(It) has affected low-income people as well as BIPOC or people of colour, especially in residential neighborhoods like Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan.”
The number of people using ABCD food pantries across Boston has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic, said Josh Young, ABCD’s director of field operations and legislative affairs. Young noted that food insecurity has “significantly” affected the lower-income population and is also beginning to affect members of the middle class in Boston.
“Some people who were in the middle class and who, for whatever reason, have lost their income or lost their housing or been significantly affected by rising food prices, have come to our food pantries for the first time,” Young said.
Hae In Kim, deputy director of planning and development at the Boston Office of Food Justice, said neighborhoods in Boston have different rates of food insecurity due to economic and social disparities.
“Food insecurity mostly affects communities of color and low income,” Kim said. “Racism has affected who has access to land (and) who has access to groceries.”
Food insecurity has significantly affected the black, Latino, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in Massachusetts, with all three groups reporting that more than 50% of people experienced food insecurity in 2021, according to a GBFB survey.
Erin McClear, CEO of Project Bread, an organization in Massachusetts that aims to help food insecure individuals, wrote in an email statement that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides 10 times as much food as food banks and is served at more than 5,000 establishments. For retail sale in Massachusetts.
However, many individuals who qualify for SNAP do not enroll in the program due to language barriers in the application process or concerns that they will be judged for using SNAP, McAleer said. The Bread Project found that 659,340 Massachusetts residents eligible for SNAP did not enroll in the program.
“Food insecurity does not exist in a vacuum and … racist structures and policies can create barriers to participation in SNAP,” McAleer wrote.
McClear explained that Project Bread recently partnered with the City of Boston to implement education, training, and research initiatives that help tackle food insecurity.
“The City of Boston’s response to food insecurity across government, society, and the private sector has been amazing,” MacAleer wrote. “It’s clear that Bostonians are committed to uplifting each other.”
Food justice is the confluence of many different social issues including health, community, culture, the environment and resource distribution, Grace McEnery, director of outreach and development at Haley House, a food pantry and soup kitchen in Boston’s South End, wrote in an email statement.
“What makes this system unfair is that, in my understanding, we don’t necessarily have a problem of lack of food, but of an inability to distribute resources appropriately,” McEnery wrote.
Haley House receives most of its food from grocery stores that would otherwise dispose of it, according to McNery.
“Most of the food we serve in our soup kitchen and distribute in our pantry is food salvaged from stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and brought to Haley House by the food rescue organization,” she said. “All food is of high quality, has not expired and would otherwise be waste from these stores.”
Owen said at ABCD that the city of Boston links many food justice and advocacy groups together in the fight against food insecurity.
McEnery writes at Haley House that it will take many different groups of people to address food injustice in Boston.
“It is our hope that continued investment and shared desired outcomes from all of these stakeholders will propel us toward a more just society,” McEnery wrote.