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Food Inequities in Durham County

Ever since I can remember, my mother and I had a tradition of going grocery shopping together. Escaping the chaos at home, it was the grand excursion of the week -- we drove twenty minutes or so and spent time picking out my favorite fruits and veggies. The produce section at this particular supermarket was vast and my mother taught me exactly what to look for when picking out a particular fruit. Because of my early relationship with grocery shopping my mother insisted, I was able to gain a greater appreciation for healthy eating overall.

However, if you look inside our community of Durham, North Carolina, healthy food is difficult to access. Low-income communities of color, like mine, don’t tend to have these produce-rich filled grocery stores. Around my block, there are two tobacco stores, one gas station, and three fast-food restaurants. This visible separation is what we call food apartheid. Essentially, food apartheid is the separation of healthy and affordable food in communities of color -- considering the history of the United States. Food apartheid intersects with the issues of inadequate access to health care, mass incarceration and systemic racism. The issue of food inequity is not unique to my community; according to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are approximately 6,500 food apartheid areas across the United States.

Durham does host a weekly Farmer’s Market, which not only has the greatest selection of healthy food options -- the food is transported from local farms making it the most sustainable choice for consumption. Upon visiting this market there was a stark realization that my mother and I made. Walking past the booths the price tags listed $3.50, $5.00, $7.00...the market was full of food, just with nothing that we could afford. It’s not that people living in food apartheid areas do not want healthy, affordable options -- it’s that these options are out of our reach. Driving twenty minutes to the nearest affordable grocery store was considered convenient compared to the stores in my community.

Unlike other counties across North Carolina, Durham is in a unique position to combat food apartheid. We have an extremely diverse landscape -- from Downtown Durham to farms on the outskirts of town. By partnering local farmers with our most marginalized communities, we could expand farm sales whilst providing our most vulnerable with fresh and affordable food. This critical partnership could eliminate food apartheid in Durham.

Food equity and affordable nutrition play a defining role in health for all. There must be a local effort to ensure that our most vulnerable communities receive accessible, healthy food and that starts with who represents us in office. It takes an intersectional lens of race, socioeconomic status, and sustainability to equitably improve our community.

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