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Food insecurity is a very prevalent issue that disproportionately affects low-income and minority communities. Many people have the misconception that all food insecure individuals are starving children living on another continent, however, the people in your very own community with uncertain access to adequate food may be food insecure. The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities defines food and nutrition security as, “consistent access, availability, and affordability of foods and beverages that promote well-being, prevent disease, and, if needed, treat disease” (“Food Accessibility, Insecurity, and Health Outcomes”). When these conditions are not met, a person experiences food insecurity. Food insecurity can be caused or exacerbated by a number of socioeconomic factors such as poverty, race, and health education. Here in North Carolina, an estimated 1.5 million people face food insecurity (Inter-Faith Food Shuttle). Several individuals interviewed in NC through UNC’s Southern Oral History project describe their experiences with food insecurity and how it has impacted their health and the health of their community. Recent studies in conjunction with personal narratives highlight the fact that food insecurity can be linked to the onset or progression of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, atherosclerosis, and obesity.

A study done by The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that food insecurity increases one’s chances of developing diet-related chronic diseases (Coleman-Jensen and Gregory). Finances and race play an extremely influential role in determining one’s food security. Unfortunately, fast-food is incredibly convenient and accessible in low-come communities compared to high-quality, nutrient-dense foods. After noticing that a health disparity in obesity and obesity-related diseases existed in black and low-income communities, a group of Harvard researchers set out to discover the reason why. To investigate this disparity, researchers analyzed the average distances of fast-food chains to different communities along with the community’s percentages of black residents and individuals living below the poverty line. The study found that black communities had higher access to fast-food than other Census block groups and that the relationship between race and fast-food access increased with poverty level (James, Peter, et al.). Oftentimes, fast-food is the only option for many families due to its affordability and convenience. Fast-foods are generally high in calories, sodium, cholesterol, and fat. Long-term and frequent consumption of unhealthy foods with these characteristics directly contribute to the development of diet-related chronic illnesses like obesity, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Andrea Williams-Morales is a Mexican-American woman from Dunn, North Carolina. The majority of Dunn residents are people of color and nearly one out of five live below the poverty line (“Dunn, NC Demographics”). Andrea talks about her community’s struggle with diabetes, obesity, and cholesterol in her oral history interview, stating, “they’re living paycheck to paycheck, so if you go to McDonald’s and you grab a McChicken sandwich for a dollar, you’re going to eat that, right? Versus going to the store and getting a four-dollar bag of grapes. And I know it’s a comparison that people make all the time, but it’s the honest truth. You see it here” (Williams-Morales 00:32:46 – 00:33:04). She explains that unhealthy food is cheaper than healthier food, so those who are poverty-stricken purchase that. It is also the more convenient option out of the two. This results in many health issues within her community.

Susan Villnave, a woman who is also from Dunn, explains how impoverished people within in her community have a higher rate of uncontrolled diabetes because they are eating what they can afford, which is unhealthy food. She remarks, “I think you definitely see a higher rate of uncontrolled diabetes when you have that lower class, the lower-income individuals where they don’t follow the right diet and they eat what they can” (Villnave 00:08:47 – 00:09:08). Susan reinforces Andrea’s observation of lower-income individuals’ inaccessibility to healthy food in their community. Furthermore, she directly attributes unhealthy eating habits to diabetes, a diet-related chronic illness.

An additional barrier to food security is the lack of nutritional education. Some people are not even aware of the negative effects fast-food and the positive effects healthy foods have on their overall health. When people are used to following a certain diet their whole lives, it is very difficult to change their eating patterns in adulthood. It is critical that people learn how to incorporate a balanced diet into their lifestyle from a young age. This way, detrimental long-term effects of unhealthy eating don’t set in, and good eating practices become ingrained habits. In Andrea Williams-Morales’ interview, she comments, “I think we could do more for the people of rural America to educate them on healthier options, but I think it’s a lot of cultural ties to how you were brought up, the types of food that you eat. It’s very hard to change people in their outlooks on life, and especially something, like I said, that they’ve been taught from a very young age” (Williams-Morales 00:31:49 – 00:32:58). Andrea was raised in a Mexican household, where food is an integral part of her culture. It would be unreasonable and culturally insensitive to ask Andreas’ family to give up certain traditional foods they love and trade them in for a healthy American dish. An important aspect of health education in ethnic communities is teaching people how to modify cultural dishes to maximize their nutritional benefits without compromising their cultural essence and significance.

Food insecurity is an immense problem in North Carolina and across the nation. To remediate this issue, monumental changes must be made. Nutritional education programs are a great way to start. Informing food-insecure communities about the importance of a healthy diet can help minimize their risk of developing chronic diet-related diseases. A statewide or national program that incentivizes families to choose healthy food options instead of junk food while simultaneously making healthy meals more accessible will also help downtrend food insecurity and its detrimental effects. Access to adequate food should be a human right and not a privilege, but unfortunately, this is not the case. Hopefully, through public health education efforts and governmental program implementation, every American can have guaranteed food security in the future.


Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, and Christian A Gregory. “Food Insecurity, Chronic Disease, and Health among Working-Age Adults.” USDA Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, July 2017,

James, Peter et al. “Do minority and poor neighborhoods have higher access to fast-food restaurants in the United States?.” Health & place vol. 29 (2014): 10-7. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2014.04.011

Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. “Hunger in NC.” Food Shuttle, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle,

National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. “Food Accessibility, Insecurity, and Health Outcomes.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 16 Dec. 2019,

North Carolina Demographics. “Dunn, NC Demographics.” North Carolina Demographics, 2021,

Villnave, Susan. Interview with Madelaine Katz. 07 July 2019 (Y-0134). Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007), Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Williams-Morales, Andrea. Interview with Madelaine Katz. 23 July 2019 (Y-0137). Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007), Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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