Posts tagged with "op-ed"

Op-Ed: Solutions to Address Food Insecurity Facing Black Seniors

Food insecurity for Black elders is an escalating crisis with untold costs to individuals and society at large. It’s time to demand a more dignified path for this often invisible group.

I met Henrietta, a retired Washington, D.C. resident in her 60s in a meeting of the Client Leadership Council at the Capital Area Food Bank. I was there doing research for the University of the District of Columbia and I was struck by her continued advocacy around ensuring her neighbors have access to adequate and nutritious food and the infrastructure they need to create a resilient community.

Henrietta (not her real name) has a bright presence and speaks often of “opportunity,” even though she, her family, and her community are living through some of the darkest times in terms of not having the resources they needs from day to day.

She is diabetic and has been advised by her doctor to seek out vegetables, healthy proteins, and whole grains—but given her limited income, she struggles to afford those foods. Instead, she has resorted to buying Nestlé Boost, a drink designed to help her control her glucose intake. She buys a case every month and relies on it to fill the nutrition gaps in her diet. “A lot of stuff that I need to eat, like vegetables and stuff, I don’t get it. So, at night, when I get ready to go to bed, to keep my sugar from dropping too low, I drink a Boost,” Henrietta told me.

“It really makes me feel bad because I’m used to buying what I need,” she added. Now, when she goes to the store, the prices of gas and food are so high that she finds herself putting back a number of basic items—Spam, bread, eggs, milk­—because they’re just not in her budget. Grocery prices have gone up and Henrietta only receives a limited amount of federal support; even with the increased support during the pandemic, she continued to face challenges accessing a balanced diet.

“A lot of time when I didn’t have any meat, I would get me a couple of eggs, and eat them [instead], but now they’re almost always what I put down,” she said.

Henrietta is just one of many Black seniors in urban areas facing similar struggles. In the kaleidoscope of modern America, where supermarkets overflow with abundance and food trends flash across social media, a disquieting truth lingers in the shadows: An alarming number of seniors can’t secure sufficient and nutritious meals.

The latest State of Senior Hunger report from the nonprofit Feeding America revealed that 5.5 million seniors (60 and up) and 3.8 million older adults (50-59) experienced food insecurity in 2021. At that time, Black seniors and older adults were 3.8 times and 2.5 times more likely to experience food insecurity compared to their white counterparts, respectively.

This isn’t just about hunger; it’s a systemic problem rooted in socioeconomic disparities, geographic limitations, and ingrained barriers. The pervasive nature of food insecurity among Black seniors demands our attention and collective action, as it underscores the depth of inequality embedded within urban landscapes. Many Black seniors find themselves trapped in food deserts with limited transportation options.

Predominantly Black neighborhoods have fewer supermarkets, leading to restricted options for fresh and nutritious foods. The consequence is a reliance on convenience stores and fast-food outlets, perpetuating a cycle of poor nutrition and health disparities. Socioeconomic factors compound the problem. Limited financial resources mean that Black seniors are often forced to choose between paying for life-saving medications and nutritious meals.

And while many of these seniors and older adults may not be visible to people outside their communities, it’s our responsibility to change the structure that allows these patterns to continue. Often, it’s easy to overlook the disparities that exist in our backyard. Here in Washington, D.C., I’ve heard from a number of seniors who don’t have cars and must travel outside Wards 7 and 8 to get decent groceries. If they don’t have friends and family members close by to assist them, getting enough healthy food can feel nearly impossible.

It’s time to break the chains of food insecurity and demand a more dignified path toward support for Black seniors. In the wake of a fast-moving world, we must take a step back to unpack the current crises to create impactful opportunities for change and other critical developments.

Larger Implications of Food Insecurity for Black Seniors

The impact of food insecurity on the health and well-being of Black seniors is profound. Inadequate nutrition is intrinsically linked to an increased susceptibility to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Black older adults experience those illnesses—and the lower life expectancies that go along with them—at a significantly higher rate than their white counterparts.

According to the American Geriatrics Society’s Health in Aging website, the most frequent causes of death for older Black women are heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. The vicious cycle of poor health further exacerbates these women’s struggles, creating a scenario where the most vulnerable continue to experience a web of preventable health issues. Uncertainty about where the next meal will come from also has an emotional and mental toll that we cannot underestimate for seniors, often leading to anxiety and depression.

The repercussions of this crisis extend beyond individuals to permeate the fabric of society. Reduced productivity and elevated healthcare costs become the collateral damage of a population struggling to meet basic nutritional needs. The impact is not only felt in the health of our citizens but also in the economic burden borne by taxpayers. When diet-related illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity escalate, people often end up in emergency rooms and hospitals.

According to recent studies, the economic cost of treating these illnesses amounts to billions of dollars annually, placing a significant strain on public healthcare systems and taxpayer funds. Addressing the nutritional well-being of our population is not just a matter of individual health; it is a fiscal imperative for the sustainability of our healthcare infrastructure and the economic prosperity of our nation. Lawmakers must recognize the interconnectedness of these issues and respond strategically.

A Path Forward: Solutions and Initiatives

Now is the time to confront and dismantle the barriers that perpetuate food insecurity among Black seniors. We need to advocate for a shift in perspective—from viewing Black seniors as victims of circumstance to recognizing their resilience and agency and naming the racist, capitalist system that has long extracted their labor without meeting their needs. It underscores the urgency not only to address immediate food insecurity but also to rectify the systemic injustices that perpetuate inequities among Black seniors.

There are some successful community-driven programs doing this work. For example, the Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research has created the Healthier Black Elders Center, which is ensuring Black seniors in the region are getting fed and working to reduce health disparities through research and education. There is a low representation of older African American adults in research and the program also aims to increase their participation.

As the echoes of the pandemic linger, the disparities among different populations of seniors are still present, exacerbated by the fact that pandemic-era assistance in now the rearview mirror. Along with rising inflation, the loss of those supports has intensified the economic challenges faced by seniors, particularly those in the Black community.

Notable organizations such as the National Council on Aging, AARP, Justice in Aging, Senior Medicare Patrol, and the Long-Term Care Community Coalition are advocating for policies that support seniors each and every day. They’re calling on lawmakers to recognize the silent struggle of Black seniors and actively engage in solutions.

If we want to ensure that Black seniors have access to the nutritious food they need, the following key actions are critical:

Increase Improvements to Quality Healthcare and Intervention Initiatives

Access to affordable long-term care services is crucial for improving health outcomes and addressing food access challenges among Black seniors. These services, empower Black seniors to maintain independence and give them control over their meals. Critical initiatives such as Food is Medicine programs and produce prescription programs are targeted strategies designed to connect healthcare institutions at the national level that will wider efforts to improve health through food. They have also been shown to improve participants’ quality of life, reduce work in hospitals, and cut healthcare costs, according to experts studying Food is Medicine efforts.

Expand SNAP and Other Federal Nutrition Programs

This would help reach the millions of older adults eligible for SNAP but not enrolled while also helping current recipients maximize the monthly assistance they receive from the program. Only three out of five older adults who are qualified end up enrolling in the SNAP program. Many others receive only the minimum benefit of $23 a month. Recently, the end of the public health emergency triggered a sharp decrease in SNAP support for millions of people. Many saw the assistance they receive drop by $250 per month. Policymakers should focus on the long-overdue adjustment in benefits to increase the minimum monthly amount for older adults on fixed incomes. This would also help alleviate financial burdens related to both healthcare and medical expenses.

Dial in Support for Nutritious Foods

In addition, federal programs should shift the focus from just ensuring food access to ensuring equitable access to nutrient-rich foods. Such an approach could have a profound impact on promoting healthy aging and reducing the prevalence of chronic diseases among Black seniors. In the long run, we need to take the new USDA-defined concept of Nutrition Security much further.

I was raised in a family of resilient Black seniors; in my formative years I witnessed their indomitable spirit amidst profound struggles. Their daily battles with food insecurity—and the moments of quiet dignity—were embedded into the fabric of my childhood, a poignant reminder of the harsh realities faced by many in our community.

These experiences have etched in my heart the imperative to delve deeper into the intricate challenges that contribute to food insecurity among Black seniors. It goes beyond statistics; it’s about the lived experiences of those who many of us hold dear. Let us use our collective empathy and determination to propel us toward meaningful, sustainable solutions.

As a food justice advocate, I want to see today’s Black seniors break the chains of food insecurity—not just for themselves but for every grandparent, aunt, and uncle who has weathered the storm before them. The time for comprehensive, systemic change is now.

Mya Price

Mya Price is a Washington, D.C.-based researcher focusing on racial equity and food justice. Her research has identified socioeconomic determinants contributing to the Black–white                                                        food insecurity gap at state and county levels, and her qualitative studies shed light on the disparities older black adults face in accessing food resources in U.S. metropolitan areas.

Dear White House “Resister”: A Response To The Anonymous NYT Op-Ed Writer

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Here’s a perspective. Like Drake, I’m upset. The timing of this letter is suspect.

Never in the history of modern day America has a White House administration exhibited such disarray and dysfunction endangering the country and the world. The Trump administration isn’t just dysfunctional; it is downright dangerous.

And this anonymous “resister” wants it all; to not only eat the cake, but to throw it in the faces of the American people by way of being part of forcing one-sided legislation down our throats and help do the bidding for the most prosperous among us who don’t need more wealth in a country losing its middle class to poverty.

Pointing out the president’s “amorality” as the root of America’s problem is equivalent to telling us that water is wet. Was “grab them by the pussy” not enough to “resist” or help thwart his political advances? What about his long documented business practices of cheating hard-working people? Why speak out now when the world is watching us crumble within, fighting amongst ourselves, and showing us to be the fools destined to perish by not coming together like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned during the civil rights movement.

“I would know. I am one of them,” the anonymous “resister” boosts about the sabotaging of an American president as if he or she is a Marvel character in a super hero movie. Unfortunately, this is real life and the attempts to take away healthcare from the common man has real life consequences; giving “historic” tax cuts to the rich by taking more from the poor is the opposite of what a super hero would do; being silent when the president attacks minorities and shows support for racists is complicity in its true form; not writing sooner, you know, like when the president banned Muslims from entering the country, ripping Mexican and Latin American children from their desperate parents’ arms at our southern borders, calling Mexicans rapists, disrespecting the needs of those affected by Hurricane Maria, suggesting that black immigrants are less desirable in America because they come from “shit hole countries,” … I can go on but I think you get why I’m upset.

Your “dear America” letter is disrespect.

If your first duty is to this country, as you put it, why would you want Donald Trump to succeed in his efforts to “Make America Great Again” when all this campaign slogan embodies is a call to revive the atrocious history of a country still working to overcome it; a past that had black people in bondage and living as second class citizens in a country they built through slave labor. The extreme ideological platform you and your fellow “secret resisters” chose to build upon is exactly why America is in the pickle jar. From selecting Sen. Jeff Sessions to lead the Department of Justice despite the warnings of Coretta Scott King, putting Scott Pruitt in charge of protecting the environment when he’s only shown that it’s for sale to the highest polluter, looking to Betsy Devos to lead our nations education system despite her lack of experience or ability to even identity with people who attend public schools or live below the billion dollar income line; blatantly disrespecting long standing federal bidding practices by grossly handing out FEMA contracts to well connected friends with no business managing natural disasters, and handing out pardons like Mardi Gras beads…Thank God Joe Arpaio didn’t have to show us his man boobs.

The list of corrupt behavior is long. How many times has Jared Kushner changed his answers on his security clearance form? Against federal rules, Ivanka Trump’s clothing and jewelry line is being pimped out on television by top advisors like Kelly Anne Conway, and Fox News has turned into a propaganda machine for hate and intolerance, something the president and his enablers feed and supports. The entire family is benefitting financially from the blatant nepotism taking place and costing Americans millions in tax dollars. Let’s not forget, you “top advisors” blessed Kushner, a wealthy out of touch and inexperienced realtor, to be the savior of the Middle East while birthing peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

I’m upset; despite your letter full of regret.

You say the president shows no affinity for conservative ideas as if he hasn’t switched political parties before or shown the world his true colors. Just because you’ve enabled and made excuses for Trump along the way to this pile we’re now sitting on doesn’t mean majority Americans, decent and good hearted people, don’t see him exactly for who and what he is; a pathological liar and an all around terrible human being. Your house of cards is crumbling and like a rat you’re trying to jump a sinking ship. You may have changed your cloth but you’re still the being behind this new resister frock.

The same people that saw fit for then press secretary Sean Spicer demand the American people accept that their eyes were lying to them when he said Trump’s inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. Video and photographic evidence wasn’t enough to stop this perpetual lie; another attempt to cloud truth and blur the boundaries of right and wrong to appease Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States. And let’s not forget, Chief of Staff John Kelly has yet to apologize for lying about statements Rep. Frederica Wilson made about the president’s disastrous phone call with the wife of a fallen soldier and for insulting her using racially insensitive language.

Nonetheless, you want the American people to believe you all are the Space Force Avengers.

The disbelief of senior officials at the president’s words and actions is laughable considering Trump hasn’t changed since becoming president. He’s simply more powerful. And this is exactly what Trump’s base loves about him. “He’s not your typical politician” and “He speaks his mind” they excused no matter what Trump did or said. Even evangelicals found loopholes in their bibles to justify every sin Trump committed and turned a blind eye to every one of his hypocritical moves or ungodly behavior.

The adults in the room colluded with Russia to win an election and made Trump their messiah despite all the warnings and push back from the American people. And now, seeing a steady drop in his approval numbers, they want him returned to sender before the blue wave hits.  Ironically, the adults who stood silent while the president attacked the media as the “enemy of the American people” now turn to it for salvation.