Louisville’s low-income black neighborhoods struggle with chronic food insecurity

Published on
July 20, 2018

Every day across Louisville, families are making tough decisions about food.

Do they buy groceries instead of paying a utility bill? Stop at McDonald's on the way home or spend an hour traveling to the grocery store? Cook something with the random items they get from a food pantry or figure out a way to buy food their kids will actually eat?

The decisions are important because, as discussed in a 2017 report from the Louisville Metro Center for Health Equity, food systems are considered a root cause in high infant mortality rates, poor oral health, increased cancer death rates and higher risks for diabetes, arthritis, stroke and heart disease.

The areas most at-risk for these issues are predominantly the same: low-income black neighborhoods where a lack of access to both full-service grocery stores and transportation creates a barrier to healthy foods needed to prevent illness.

The information is startling — but it isn't new.

Since 2007, nonprofit agencies and metro departments have commissioned several reports to study food insecurity in Louisville — specifically in the west and south ends, where African-Americans make up anywhere from 24 to 84 percent of the population. For the most part, the reports have turned up the same facts. Residents living in impoverished areas do not have access to the affordable food and education they need to increase life expectancy, and access to traditional grocery stores is only getting worse.

Metro government has attempted to step in and correct the food access issues in the past, but its initiatives have mostly been deemed failures. And the next budget, approved in June, doesn't show the city trying anything new. In fiscal year 2018, the Metro Council approved spending less money to address hunger than it did to expand the city’s bicycle infrastructure.

Nonprofit agencies like Dare to Care Food Bank and New Roots have been widely recognized as community supporters that have encouraged residents to help find solutions that fit their neighborhoods. But leaders of the nonprofits say they need money to continue the momentum and to completely overhaul Louisville's food system. 

For my 2018 National Fellowship project, I’ll seek to make food insecurity understandable for both the average reader and the people in power. My goals are to create a dialogue on this difficult topic, to suggest policies that could potentially improve food access countywide and to remind people that anyone can have a role in bettering their community.

[Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images]