Our Best Food Access Stories of 2021 | Civil Eats

Our Best Food Access Stories of 2021

As the pandemic continued to upend the food system and the economy, we continued to report on its impacts—and solutions for access to healthier food for all.

Setting up food distribution at the Phillips Free Store. (Photo credit: Brybry)

Food insecurity is a persistent problem in the United States. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency support has been increased for people in need. When schools closed in 2020, for example, the Biden administration supplied Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) cards to families whose children would have otherwise received free or reduced-price school lunches, enabling them to purchase food on their own. In October, the administration increased the maximum benefit for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by 15 percent, adjusting it for the first time since the 1960s. And the administration increased food assistance for people enrolled in the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).

The government support helped food insecurity rates remain steady overall over the course of the pandemic so far. But the rates increased for Black, non-Hispanic households, especially for Black households in the South, revealing race- and place-based disparities. Food insecurity is a complicated problem within a constellation of complicated problems, including a shortage of jobs that pay living wages and the lack of affordable housing and healthcare. The lack of food security—and nutrition security—also leads to other problems, including diet-related diseases and poor learning outcomes for children. Addressing hunger requires a holistic approach that takes this multitude of factors into account.

This year, Civil Eats increased its reporting on numerous issues related to food access and security, including the effects of federal food assistance programs, efforts to feed children, seniors, and people in rural communities, and various grassroots projects aimed at feeding communities and building food sovereignty. Below, find our best stories explaining the magnitude of the problem, and the many solutions.

This App Aims to Help SNAP Users Make the Most of Their Benefits
Forage aims to make every cent of SNAP count, and partners with grocery chains to list deals and lowest prices.

Montgomery County Public Schools Special Needs Bus Attendant Bhavin Savla helps distribute bags of food donated by Manna Food Center at Quince Orchard High School as part of a program to feed children while schools are closed due to the coronavirus March 20, 2020 in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Millions of children across the country rely on meals they get at school, which are closed in an attempt to suppress transmission of the COVID-19 virus. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)The Pandemic Reveals Racial Gaps in School Meal Access
Researchers are documenting the ways food distribution locations have been out of reach for Black and Latinx families.

College Students Struggle to Enroll in SNAP—but Peer Support Programs Help
As more students face food insecurity during the pandemic, student navigators at the City University of New York help clear SNAP sign-up hurdles.

The People Behind School Meals Are Pushing for Free Access for All
The School Nutrition Association is lobbying Congress this week for free school breakfast and lunch, a previously unthinkable policy proposal made possible by the pandemic.

A kindergarten student eating breakfast at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on January 13, 2021 in New York City.

What New York City Schools Learned Feeding Millions During the Pandemic
As students return to the nation’s largest public school system, advocates praise efforts to provide meals to needy students—and any resident—and identify lessons other districts could learn.

It’s Time to Reinvent Food Banks, Says Expert Katie Martin
In her new book, Martin explores the charitable food system and what it will take to shift its focus to nutritional quality and effective distribution.

Doria Robinson in the fields at Urban Tilth's North Richmond FarmCivil Eats TV: Planting with Purpose at Urban Tilth
How Doria Robinson, the force behind the community-focused urban farm, transformed a ‘food desert’ into verdant farms, gardens, and open spaces in Richmond, California.

Hungry Seniors Need More Than Just Access to Food
As older Americans grapple with health and cognitive declines, restricted mobility, and reduced incomes, solutions remain elusive for addressing the disproportionate rates of food insecurity they face.

A Food Program for Women and Children Is About to Get More Federal Support
Unlike SNAP, WIC has a smaller budget, and less of a spotlight. Now, Congress and the USDA are working to address food insecurity in families head-on by investing in and modernizing the program.

A NYC Reentry Program Offers Formerly Incarcerated People Healing, Dignity Through Meals
The Fortune Society’s food and nutrition program works to address the power and relevance of a good meal for people who have been involved in the justice system.

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Harvesting 'ulu (Photo credit: Hawai'i 'Ulu Cooperative)

Reviving Breadfruit, the Polynesian Staple, Could Nourish People and Fight Climate Change
Promoted as the next superfood, breadfruit just might be the world’s most ecological carbohydrate, and on the verge of a much-needed renaissance in Hawaii and beyond.

How a Year of Mutual Aid Fed Minneapolis
‘The murder of George Floyd has been an impetus for those of us who believe in making healthy, whole foods more accessible in a country that constantly fails BIPOC people in a myriad of ways.’

A Century After the Tulsa Race Massacre, a Grocery Store Opens to Serve the Community
Oasis Fresh Market is a result of many hands working to address food access in a long-overlooked neighborhood.

looking up from an iñupiat ice cellar. Photo courtesy of Qaiyaan Harcharek)

Climate Change Is Melting Arctic Ice Cellars
For generations, Native Alaskans have preserved foods by digging 10 to 20 feet into the permafrost. As the planet warms, more than their food security is at stake.

These Garden Mentors Are Growing Equity
Master gardeners are helping fight food insecurity by supporting home gardening to build healthier communities.

Will the U.S. Finally Take a Holistic Approach to Ending Child Hunger?
Spurred by the pandemic and the Biden administration’s priorities, a new federal paradigm may be emerging to ensure equitable access to healthy meals.

Rose Fraser harvesting potatoes in a garden on the Pine Ridge Reservation. (Photo courtesy of the Oyate Teca Project)

On Pine Ridge Reservation, a Garden Helps Replace an 80-mile Grocery Trip
For the past six years, a garden program has taught residents of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation how to build financial independence and food security through gardening.

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Delta Fresh Foods Is Bringing Food Security to Northern Mississippi
Co-founder Julian D. Miller discusses the importance of young people in food advocacy and the link between food justice and civil rights.

After a Fraught History, Some Tribes Finally Have the Power to Rethink ‘Commodity Foods’
The USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) is both loved and reviled. Now, seven tribes have the opportunity to bring more fresh, local, traditional foods to their communities.

The Inequity of Hunger: An Interview with Priya Fielding-Singh
In her new book, the sociologist talks about how nourishing children has become “an anxiety-provoking and high-stakes endeavor” and positions food access as part of a larger constellation of hardship.

Shopping at the Birch Community Services co-op in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Gosia Wozniacka)

How I Changed My Relationship to Grocery Shopping—and My Financial Future
Birch Community Services, a unique food redistribution program in Portland, Oregon, takes a radical approach to rescuing food, reducing food waste, and helping people manage their money.

Hunger Continues to Plague Americans. Here’s Why—and What to Do About It.
Food insecurity—and our failure to address it—has remains one of our largest challenges. The pandemic allowed researchers to track what programs and interventions actually work.

Fighting Food Apartheid with Louisville’s Black Market Grocery Store
When the city’s West End neighborhood was cut off from its only grocery store, activist Shauntrice Martin galvanized her community—and carved out a new market connecting low-income shoppers with Black farmers.

Since 2009, the Civil Eats editorial team has published award-winning and groundbreaking news and commentary about the American food system, and worked to make complicated, underreported stories—on climate change, the environment, social justice, animal welfare, policy, health, nutrition, and the farm bill— more accessible to a mainstream audience. Read more >

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