Key Area(s): Healthy, variety, accessible, close proximity, growing and gardening
We all need to eat to live. That is a universal experience. The act of eating is part of a large food system. Our food is grown in one place, possibly processed in another, and then distributed to other places. Some communities end up with many places to buy affordable food and others end up with few options if they have any at all.
Housing is directly related to food access. Some of the region’s residents live in neighborhoods with few, if any, healthy options. The South Hilltop is an example of such a food desert. At the same time, other residents live in areas that are food oases with several stores that have healthy food options. The East Liberty area is an example of this food bounty. As housing prices rise in areas with access to more healthy food options, low-income and low-wealth residents may be pushed out and end up in areas with far less access to healthy food.
Many of the region’s residents work in the food industry in some capacity, including many low-wage service workers. Amidst COVID-19, employees are on the frontline. They are exposed to viral risk, violence from non-compliant consumers, and emotional health challenges.
What we eat affects our health. Unfortunately, less healthy food is often cheaper and easier to get than healthy food. That means that not everyone can afford a healthy diet.
Some people grow their own food on their porch, in their yard, or in a community garden. Because of years of bad air pollution, there are unhealthy heavy metals in the soil in many parts of our region. The people growing their food in the ground have to make sure their soil is safe for growing vegetables. Spraying pesticides on gardens and in the habitats of other important insects, such as bees, can be dangerous for the health of our food system.
Our children need healthy food to grow and learn. They often depend on the consistent distribution of healthy food options that they receive at school for two of the three standard meals of the day. The quality of these meals can be questionable. COVID-19 and school closures substantially disrupted many students’ access to food.
Public transit provides rides to and from the grocery store, an important service for those without cars or who are unable to drive. Buses and the T also shuttle many food service employees to their jobs and back home, early in the morning and late at night.
As the climate in Pennsylvania and the rest of the world continues to warm, some food will likely not be able to be grown in places where it once was. In result, regions dependent on certain crops or food products for their economy will have to find new activities. Locally, a warmer, wetter climate means that some of the local produce that we love may not be able to be grown here or to the same scale that it has been. Crop-damaging insects may be able to survive the warmer winters as well, posing an additional threat to our region’s food security.