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Food, Equity and Economic Development

By Samantha Salmon, LA LISC Program Assistant
3.27.2019

At LISC, transit-oriented development is a recurring topic in our discussions, but have you heard about food-oriented development? This is a concept that was introduced to me during LA Food Policy Council’s Food Leaders Lab program. The Food Leaders Lab is a project of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, in partnership with Social Justice Learning Institute, American Friends Service Committee, Brotherhood Crusade, Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and Community Services Unlimited. I was privileged to be part of the inaugural cohort of students learning and exploring concepts around food justice and food sovereignty. 

Food oriented development is neighborhood development centered around food that generates a host of benefits for low income communities. Let’s explore these benefits. 

This type of development promotes equitable economic development for low income residents and regional producers. Mary Lee (formerly of PolicyLink, current Stanton Fellow and a member of the LA Food Policy Leadership Council) taught this section of the Food Leaders Lab program, which was fitting since she has spoken extensively throughout the country on equitable economic development. This approach dismantles barriers and expands opportunities for low income people and communities of color. 

“Through accountable public action and investment, [equitable economic development] grows quality jobs and increases entrepreneurship, ownership, and wealth. The result is a stronger, more competitive city.”
— Mary Lee, Stanton Fellow and a member of the LA Food Policy Leadership Council

Food oriented development also allows for genuine expressions of the unique cultures found within a given neighborhood or city. We know this to be true with examples of Little Ethiopia where one can experience authentic Ethiopian cuisine; Koreatown, the home of dozens of traditional Korean eateries; Little Tokyo, where one can indulge in traditional Japanese fare, and Los Angeles having the second highest concentration of vegan restaurants in the country. I could list many more examples, but I think you understand the richness this brings to a city. Lastly, food-oriented development has an explicit health promotion lens.

At LISC, we work on the social determinants of health by supporting small business growth and financial and career coaching of residents in our communities and assist in the financing of affordable housing. All of these are vital instruments for building healthy communities. Equally, we need to look at food and the food access in low income communities. This directly affects health and has an indirect impact on our local and national economy. One of the instructors of the Food Leaders Lab, Nicole Steele (Nutrition Education Team Manager at Social Justice Learning Institute) presented us with perturbing statistics illustrating the enormous disparities in food access in Inglewood compared to Santa Monica. According to the 2010 United States Census, Inglewood had a median household income of $43,394, with 22.4% of the population living below the federal poverty line. Conversely, Santa Monica’s median household income is at $82,123. 

The photo below shows that there are four times more fast food restaurants and almost three times more liquor stores in Inglewood compared to Santa Monica. Meanwhile, Santa Monica has five times more grocery stores. Santa Monica has four farmers markets while Inglewood has none. This demonstrates the prevalence of healthy options in higher income communities, and underscores the abundance of deleterious food in places of low income. This can be likened to predatory lending with the exception that instead of increasing wealth inequities, this type of development pattern deepens health inequities.

The types of businesses we decide to put in low income neighborhoods have a significant impact on the health and longevity of residents. We all have a role to play in this endeavor to alter the health landscape of low income communities.

Explore this topic further at the State of the Food Desert: Food, Equity, and Economic Opportunity event hosted by LA Food Policy Council on Thursday, April 18, 2019 at Delicious at the Dunbar Hotel. Our Executive Director, Tunua Thrash-Ntuk will be speaking on the panel. 

Click here to register.