According to recent data compiled by Feeding America, one in 14 residents in Wisconsin are facing food insecurity, with some urban areas in the state experiencing a particularly high rate when it comes to this issue, creating what are known as “food deserts.”
It’s estimated that 415,400 people in Wisconsin are dealing with hunger, with 160,890 of them being children. According to Feeding America, one in eight children in the state don’t have enough to eat.
Madison and Milwaukee are just two parts of the state that have an especially high rate of food insecurity, due to a combination of lacking grocery store access, high prices, and the practice of redlining, which withholds investment and development in poorer black and brown neighborhoods, depriving them of economic opportunities.
“Fundamentally, what we see when we identify food deserts is that it’s often related to commercial retail disinvestment and high-poverty neighborhoods, which often are neighborhoods that experience high degrees of racial segregation,” Dr. Scott W. Allard, Daniel J. Evans Endowed Professor of Social Policy, said.
He noted that higher wages, transparent scheduling, and pro-employee regulations were all important factors that should be addressed in order to solve this issue.
“Having access to a grocery store and healthy food options is important, but it’s not sufficient – it’s necessary, but not sufficient,” Allard said.
In Dane County, where 11.8 percent of residents are facing food insecurity, low access to grocery stores, particularly in Milwaukee, is just one of the factors contributing to this issue.
In Madison, things are largely the same story, with the dual pressure of high prices and wages affecting low income communities in particular, according to Rep. Francesca Hong (D, Madison).
Hong highlighted that universal school meals were an important necessity that would mitigate food insecurity, at least for the most vulnerable part of the hungry population in Wisconsin – children and students.
“When you have healthy meals available in our public schools, students do better and their families will be less burdened to have to provide those healthy meals,” Hong said.
It’s a problem that extends to higher education too, where 20 percent of students are facing food insecurity in Wisconsin, with the numbers markedly higher for first-generation and/or students of color.
The problem of food insecurity has led to some creative mitigative strategies, such as the mobile markets that appear in Southwest Madison and other food deserts.
Though these mobile markets are able to provide much-need produce and food items to communities in need, these endeavors are often relatively short-lived, as these operations tend to be financially-costly and need to be sponsored to stay afloat.
Speaking on mobile markets, Allard noted that “they’re a great idea, and I think more of those kinds of opportunities that are accessible to lower-income communities and communities of color are really exciting possibilities.”