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“Just think about it, honey. What do we have on this side of town that has healthy food? Only thing we have, we have fried food. We have Kentucky Fried Chicken, Bojangles’, McDonald’s, Hardee’s, and Gardner’s, as far as right in this area” (Burwell 01:54:26 – 01:56:04).

In today’s society, our world is run by fast food. From the greasy, addictive taste of hamburgers to deep-fried chicken, fast food is a staple for the average American. But the decision to eat fast food is more complex than the mere taste of it. The reality of the situation is there is harrowing limited access to diverse, nutritious, and affordable meal options for a significant portion of the U.S. population. Currently, more than 10.2% of the U.S. population is food insecure (USDA 2022). More specifically, a research study in 2021 found that over 1.5 million households in North Carolina face detrimental food insecurity. The complexity of food insecurity goes beyond not having access to meals, as it can exist in a variety of ways. A lack of culture and biodiversity in food, for instance, is a key factor that magnifies food insecurity, especially in underprivileged communities and minority populations.

The cultural diversity of food refers to a variety of culinary traditions that prevail across different cultures, groups, and communities across the world. Cultural diversity in food is not only pivotal to preserving important values, identities, and the cultural heritage that lies in food, but also brings a wide range of nutritional value through the introduction of herbs, plants, spices, vegetables, etc. Food biodiversity involves the genetic diversity within plant and animal species that is essential to ensuring sustainable, nutrition-dense, and resilient food production. As a result, a lack of such culture and biodiversity in food can eliminate or reduce reliance on food systems.

A collection of interviews from the Stories to Save Live Project of the Southern Oral History Program have demonstrated how food insecurity results from limited access to traditional foods, limited availability of nutritious or biodiverse foods, and limited options for dietary restrictions, as well as low-income. Moreover, all of these factors significantly exacerbate socio-economic and racial inequalities. Cultural and biodiversity in food. Various studies have shown how people of color, especially face systematic barriers that prevent them from accessing healthy and affordable food. Nell Burwell, whose remarks were mentioned at the very beginning of the paper, for instance, describes how the environment she was raised in directly correlated to her eating habits. She talks about her area was filled with unhealthy fast-food chains like Bojangles’ or McDonald’s, and how the lack of accessibility to healthier restaurants from an early age made it difficult to change eating habits. In addition, her income status made it hard to resort to healthier options, a common theme for people of color facing food insecurity.  She states “I’m trying to figure out what else, but that’s basically what people in this area basically eating, and then there’s some Chinese places, but there’s no healthy—no food where you can go to a restaurant” (Burwell 01:55:46 – 01:57:02). Additionally, many studies have shown how over “70% of fast food meals” and restaurants are of “poor dietary quality” (Fletcher 2021). This lack of diversity in restaurants and ingredients is also non-inclusive for those with allergy restrictions, intolerances, pre-existing medical conditions, and with religious and cultural-specific dietary restrictions.

Burwell’s experience shows the food inequities including disparities in food access, quality, and availability in communities of color living in areas that lack grocery stores or healthy sources of food. Similarly, Nellene Richardson calls for more diverse restaurants that are inclusive to a multitude of races, as well as a wide array of ingredients offered at grocery stores to be brought into society. Burwell also raises the impact of how racism can influence marketing and availability of healthy food options as companies tend to target less healthy food options to communities of color. Moreover, according to the USDA, it was found that in 2021, nearly 20% of Black individuals lived in food-insecure households and that Black people were also three times as likely to face hunger than White people (Feeding America 2021). Furthermore, according to the study “Breaking the Food Chains: An Investigation of Food Justice Activism” by Alison Alkon and Kari Norgaard, the substandard food access to people the cover built upon institutional racism was revealed. There was a direct relation between “lack of food access” to the communities of color with “elevated rates of diabetes and other diet-related illnesses” that were triggered by food insecurity (Alkon 2009).

Another research paper, “Increasing Access to Healthful Foods: a qualitative study with Residents of low-income communities” by Alexandra Evans and her team of researchers, aims to gather the perspectives and opinions of members part of low-income communities about factors influencing their purchasing choices and effective ways to increase access to healthier foods. The results found that the most pressing barriers that influenced food shopping behaviors involved high prices, “inadequate geographical access,” “poor quality,” and “lack of overall quality of proximate retail stores” (Evans 2015). One of the most common suggestions for potential solutions to inadequate access included building brand-new supermarkets and healthy chains in their communities.

One of the other solutions is bringing farmer’s markets into the picture. One specific interview in the Southern Oral History Database that makes a connection between farmer’s markets and their impact on food insecurity was Annie Martinie’s. She remarks on how they can prove to be very useful, but how often there might be a struggle or imbalance that can also contribute negatively to food insecurity. For instance, she specifically talks about how they are very useful in establishing a healthy, fresh, and nutritious diet while also giving local farmers a source of income. On the other hand, however, she mentions how they aren’t affordable for lower-class individuals and are also hard to find or locate, remarking “they are located at one place, and at one specific time” and also points out difficulties “incentivizing transformation” (Martinie 01:08:22 – 01:10:04). In fact, studies have demonstrated that farmers markets can plan an important role in increasing access to healthy and fresh food, supporting small business and local agriculture, and even promoting community building and education on healthy eating. Alexandra Evans’s study found that many individuals expressed how “Farmers’ markets, with specific stipulations, and community gardens were regarded as beneficial supplementary solutions” to minimize and get rid of their food insecurity (Evans 2015). In contrast, a study conducted at Georgetown University found that the current way farmer’s markets exist in the economy, there is “no significant relationship between farmers’ market access and the rate of food insecurity among SNAP” (supplemental nutrition assistance program) participants (Steigelman 2022). Essentially, the usefulness of farmers markets, especially in relation to alleviating food insecurity issues of low-income populations, is debated upon. However, with some changes in how they’re implemented, there is potential for them to make significant positive contributions to helping food insecurity issues. These changes include gearing them toward areas with the highest rates of food insecurity, offering SNAP benefits and discounts to help with affordability, offering a diverse array of nutritious options, collaborating with local food banks, restaurants, and charities, and better advertising and marketing toward people of color and underprivileged communities.

Food insecurity is indisputably a pressing issue where reforms must be made immediately to address issues of racial and economic inequities and disparities. One of the most effective ways to address this, as evinced by the interviews from the Outhern oral History project as well as the various research studies, is to increase the cultural diversity and food biodiversity being offered at restaurants and grocery stores, especially in impoverished and underprivileged communities. One of the other potential solutions, that must be strategically implemented to bring true success, is for farmer’s markets to self-sustain and offer products at an affordable and accessible price, which can be bright to success with the help of technology and proper marketing. These interviews highlight how detrimentally low-income and POC populations are vulnerable to food insecurity in a wide arrange of ways and how significant strides must be made starting now to bring a healthy future for all.


 Alkon, A.H. et al. (2009) Breaking the food chains: An investigation of food justice activism. Sociological Inquiry, 79(3), 289-305.

Dixon, Ina. Interview with Annie Martinie. 15 February 2019 (Y-0109). Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007), Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Evans, A et al. (2015) . Increasing access to healthful foods: A qualitative study with residents of low-income communities. International Journal of behavioral nutrition and Physical Activity, 12(1), 1-9.

Frey, Lauren. Interview with Nellene Richardson. 5 June 2019 (Y-0122). Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007), Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Frey, Lauren. Interview with Nell Burwell. 19 June 2019 (Y-0089). Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007), Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Steigelman, Chrissy (2022). How Access To Farmers’ Markets Impacts Food Insecurity Among Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participants.

Feeding America. (2021). Hunger in Black America.,than%20children%20of%20other%20races

Fletcher, J. (2020, December 21). Weight Gain on Antipsychotics: Why It Happens and How to Manage It. Healthline. Retrieved from

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