Food insecurity and Covid-19

Urban Bioethics @ Temple
3 min readOct 3, 2020

by Providenza Loera Rocco, JD, MSW, MBE, HEC-C

Photo credit: Time magazine

Food waste makes up 30–40 percent of the US food supply. In 2018, 88.9 percent of households in the US were food insecure through the year. In North Philadelphia, where I work as an assistant professor at Temple Medicine in the Center for Urban Bioethics, food insecurity greatly impacts families — Over 30% of families are food insecure. And while hunger has decreased generally in the US over the years, it continues to hit Philly families hard. COVID-19 didn’t cause hunger in Philadelphia, but it made it much worse. There always is a great disconnect between having food and getting it to the people who need it most. We saw that vividly during COVID. While we saw mass killings of factory farm animals during the height of the pandemic, millions of families struggled to find adequate food.

The coronavirus made it more difficult for people who are immune-compromised to get out and get food, for caregivers, for new parents, for older adults, for differently-abled folks, for people struggling financially, for people without cars. Mass distribution sites were a bandaid on the food problem, but encouraged groups to gather, sometimes without masks, and those sites often ran out of food or left people standing in line for hours. I witnessed the struggle of having food generally — -in grocery stores, hearing about having an adequate food supply on the news — and yet hearing people’s stories, of struggle, and of empty refrigerators and cabinets. I had a client who did not eat so that he could afford to feed his service dog. I had an elderly client who had not eaten for 2 days. I had a woman list to me what was left in her freezer and cabinets: 2 items.

In North Philadelphia, we live in a food desert, or more accurately, a food swamp. We are overrun with corner stores that sell soda and cigarettes and maybe one brown banana. Nutritious, affordable fresh vegetables are hard to find. Foods high in sodium are everywhere, outmatched only by the corner liquor and beer stores. It is no wonder that only four miles away, near the Liberty Bell, people live an average of 20 years longer than people do in North Philadelphia near Temple Hospital. Physicians can’t just tell someone with uncontrolled blood sugars merely to “eat healthier.” Options, especially options within walking distance, simply do not exist.

This problem extends beyond North Philadelphia in other urban areas where bodegas and markets cater to quick foods and not healthy lifestyles, leaving whole communities at a disadvantage. More than that, we are wasting so much food everyday, when food scarcity, especially in underserved, densely populated urban settings remains a problem.

This pandemic arguably is not over, and it’s likely there will be a second wave. We need to work on keeping all of our communities healthy and nourished with realistic solutions and make sure that food is not wasted, and moreover is not a luxury.

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Urban Bioethics @ Temple

Committed to defining and addressing the ethical challenges of urban health care, public health status, and policy.@CBUHP