digital illustration of Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Taco Bell with the question Who Has Access? on top

The US and the Growing Food Gap

digital illustration of Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Taco Bell with the question Who Has Access? on top

Illustration by: Jessica Martinez

The food gap between the rich and the poor in American society is growing and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Studies have noted that income inequality has led to a dangerous public health crisis that exponentially affects the poorest groups of people. All across the world, the wealthiest people have access to high-quality, nutritious food while low-income people are increasingly barred from accessing these foods. In the United States, the food gap has a direct correlation to income inequality and it has led to an increase in disease within low-income Americans. Low-income Americans are more likely to suffer from diet-related diseases as seen by the Alternate Healthy Eating Index in 2010. While people in the lower socioeconomic brackets suffer from diet-related issues, obesity is typically least prevalent within the higher socioeconomic brackets. 

This issue is prevalent when comparing food access in two major Los Angeles neighborhoods. In Westwood, Whole Foods, Ralphs, and Trader Joes are among some of the major grocery stores available to consumers in the immediate area. Except for In-N-Out and Chick-fil-A, Westwood is relatively devoid of fast food options. This reflects the demographics that Westwood has. Westwood’s population is 63% white with 20% of households in the area making a median income of upwards of $125,000. Though Westwood has a substantial population of people under the age of 25 (the prime age bracket for McDonald’s customers), the nearest McDonald’s is 1.8 miles away. This is problematic when you take into consideration that the majority of the population under age 25 are students, who do not have access to cars and use walking as their preferred mode of transportation. Compare this to the nearest Whole Foods which is merely 0.8 miles away from the UCLA dorms in Westwood and Ralphs which is 0.6 miles away. Whole Foods and Ralphs are among the most feasible options for grocery stores for students who are walking into the main commercial area of Westwood. 

When compared to South Central only 13 miles away from Westwood, demographics and food access both shift. South Central’s population is 57% Latinx and a majority of its households have a median income of $33,999. In the area surrounding USC, which also has a substantial population of people under the age of 25, fast food places are everywhere with options like a McDonald’s 0.7 miles away and a Jack in the Box 0.5 miles away from the main campus. 

The demographics for the customers of these food options showcase the food gap in society. The average Whole Foods customer is 154% more likely to earn more than $200,000 which is a major drop from McDonald’s 29% of customers who earn an annual income of less than $20,000. Ralphs also shows similar customer demographics to Whole Foods, with the majority of customers being white and making over $125,000 but the average customer age range is slightly older, age 25-44. These demographics show that the food gap within society is one of the major issues that this country faces. 

The issue of food gaps runs deeper than it appears and ultimately comes from economic inequalities that tie into race. It is no surprise that the areas that have demographics with a higher population of POC are more likely to have fast food places as accessible options. The issue of food access inequality highlights the widening gap between the rich and the poor. While the rich can afford to buy high-quality food, the poor have limited options and are surrounded by generally unhealthy selections. As a society, we cannot stand idly while a majority of our population suffers the consequences of the growing food gap. 

image of young children covering their mouths as they flee from oil being spilled on them from plane

How Communities of Color are Affected by Environmental Injustice

On January 15, 2020, Delta Air Lines pilots dumped airplane fuel over Cudahy, an area of Southeast Los Angeles that is home to the sixth largest Latinx population in LA County, and landed across six schools. Sixty students and teachers received medical attention after being drenched in oil by the Delta plane. Many children were outside when the fuel was dropped. 

The Delta plane was en route from LAX to Shanghai when it dropped the oil. In cases of emergency, protocol calls for pilots to dump fuel above 10,000 feet so that the fuel can dissipate before it reaches the ground. Protocol also calls for pilots to dump fuel in unpopulated areas or above the ocean. In this instance, the Delta pilots dumped fuel 2,000 feet above the ground. In this instance, the pilot admitted that dumping the fuel was unnecessary. 

The negligence that impacted the children and teachers at Cudahy is not an isolated incident. Areas in Los Angeles with higher percentages of Latinx people are more likely to be considered environmentally disadvantaged. For example, South LA contains at least 51 active oil wells while nine percent of residents live near a truck route, and the area had one of the highest asthma hospitalization rates in LA County in 2011. Comparatively, the residents of more affluent areas of West LA have lower asthma rates. In 2020, this divide in environmental conditions has not changed. The residents that live between the 110 and 405 freeways, which are predominantly Black and Brown, go largely ignored by health officials.

Environmental racism goes beyond Los Angeles and California. Instances of environmental injustice is widespread throughout the United States. Flint still does not have clean water and Louisiana has a district known as Cancer Alley. Environmental injustice affects low-income communities of color throughout the country at a greater rate than more affluent communities. 

Particulate matter is a group of manmade and natural suspensions of liquid and solids that makes up air pollutants. These pollutants are linked to low birth rates, high blood pressure, and asthma. Scientists for the National Center for Environmental Assessment found that Black people are exposed to particulate matter 1.5 times higher than white people while non-black Latinx people are 1.2 times more likely to be exposed.

While actions such as banning plastic straws and reducing the number of plastic bottles used are smaller individual solutions, corporations must be held accountable for the amount of waste they produce. Activists like Greta Thunberg demonstrate the power of standing up against climate change, and local activists such as the Youth for Environmental Justice (YouthEJ) have organized to stand up against environmental injustice in low-income neighborhoods. YouthEJ and other groups spread knowledge about environmental issues in schools such as Huntington Park High School, South Gate High School, and other Los Angeles schools that are largely made up of black and brown students. Other organizations such as the Better Watts Initiative also advocate for better environmental conditions, in this case, the predominantly Black and Brown neighborhood of Watts where life expectancy is 12 years less than that of Brentwood.

Climate change impacts everyone, especially low-income communities of color. The conversation on climate change, especially in the popular media, focuses on what the individual can do on a day-to-day basis rather than hold corporations accountable for the toxic waste and ambient air pollution they produce. The impact of the youths’ voices are felt around the world, and it is up to everyone to hold corporations accountable and protest against environmental issues in our communities. Efforts to improve the environment must take race and class into account, considering that low-income communities of color are more susceptible to deteriorating health due to pollution.

Visual by: Jessica Martinez

Center supports urban youth through self-empowerment and education

Chuco’s Justice Center, on the corner of Redondo and West Blvds., provides outreach and educational programs for Inglewood and South Central LA.

Chuco’s Justice Center, on the corner of Redondo and West Blvds., provides outreach and educational programs for Inglewood and South Central LA.

From the outside, Chuco’s Justice Center (CJC) appears much like the rest of the block: modest and calm.

Once inside, however, a vibrant world filled with graffiti-written quotes reveals a whole different story: several classrooms, some filled with students and some not, a basketball court, a special room where people can do graffiti without getting into any trouble and a busy computer lab with people using the internet.

Serving a proactive role in its community, CJC offers an alternative and perhaps more comfortable setting for students to obtain a GED or high school diploma. Named after community leader, Jesse “Chuco” Becerra, who was gunned down in 2005, CJC offers day and night classes to local youth seeking to finish their high school education.

For these students — the so-called at-risk youth from the South Central and Inglewood area — CJC provides something the public school system struggled to give them: a high school education and adequate preparation to someday attend a university.

Coordinator Kruti Parekh attends students in one of CJC’s classrooms.

CJC strives to reverse the overwhelming number of minority high-school dropouts.
In LA County, one in three African American high school students and one in four Latino high school students dropped out of school, according to In conjunction with large dropout rates, black and Latino enrollment at major universities, like UCLA, are always among the lowest. Last year, the UCLA student body was made up of 4 percent of African American students and 15 percent Latino students.

This is why places like CJC are very important: they have a steadfast commitment to bringing about positive change to their communities. Moreover, without the continued dedication by centers like CJC, minority enrollment in higher education will likely remain low.

Sure, it isn’t like a conventional high school. But considering the overcrowded classes in our public school systems, which struggle to assure the success of every student, this center seems to work best for this group of students.
“I feel more comfortable,” Dawn Spencer, a CJC student, said. “The classes are smaller, so it’s a lot easier to get help.”

In one of the math classes, the student-to-teacher ratio was about 10 to one.
Another important aspect is that students are given the opportunity to instruct the class, which provides the teacher time to answer questions from individuals and allowing the students the experience of being in charge of teaching others.

CJC seeks to reverse the low expectations their students had once grown accustomed to and gives them the opportunity to dream about a different future.

As their fliers say, it helps them “break the school-to-jail track.”