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Scientific paper

Food access in crisis: Food security and COVID-19

Sabine O'Hara, Etienne C. Toussaint

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Scientific paper

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Ecological Economics


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Disparities in food access and the resulting inequities in food security are persistent problems in cities across the United States. The nation's capital is no exception. The District of Columbia's 's geography of food insecurity reveals a history of uneven food access that has only been amplified by the vulnerability of food supply chains during the COVID-19 pandemic. This paper examines the history of food insecurity in Washington, D.C., and explores new opportunities presented by advances in urban agriculture. Innovations in food production can offer urban communities sustainable alternatives to food access that simultaneously address local food security and green infrastructure needs. They also bring persistent sociopolitical barriers into greater focus. The current COVID-19 pandemic and its imposed social isolation exacerbates these barriers, rendering conventional food access solutions inadequate to deliver on their well-intentioned aims. The ability to order groceries and home goods on mobile devices, for example, may seem fortuitous. Yet, it also exposes the deep disadvantages of marginalized populations and the isolating nature of structural racism. Contrary to the market-centered focus of traditional food access policies, such as public-private partnerships, this paper highlights community-centered strategies that help dismantle existing sociopolitical barriers in an age of crisis and help shift the food justice discourse from food access to the broader goal of community empowerment.

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