It’s a Battle: Food Availability in an Urban Environment


By Amanda Brancato

Boston houses over 645,000 people and stretches across 90 miles of Eastern Massachusetts. We live in a polished portion of the city, where poverty and public health problems seem irrelevant. But leave the BU Bubble and you’ll find that food inequality is an all-too-real and active issue in Boston.

Food security represents economic and health inequalities, and the disparities are vast within urban-populations. With a widening gap between nourishment and starvation, there is an increasing level of chronic disease amongst the urban poor. We must tackle the battle between food justice and urban-living in Boston, the city many of us call home.

Boston University’s Community Service Center is home to Student Food Rescue (SFR), which fights for food justice in Boston. By delivering food to shelters or prepping healthy meals in a local soup kitchen, SFR strives to offer everyone in Boston, despite barriers, an opportunity to share in love and nourishment. It’s a privilege too often taken for granted.

As a Boston-based program, SFR can target malnourishment problems in the city itself. Food access is tethered to our surroundings, and an urban environment can prevent large populations from accessing fresh food. With an increasing amount of food deserts (areas without grocery stores or food vendors) in low-income communities, it’s difficult to create a space for equity.

With more people living in urban settings, food access has become an ever-expanding problem.

According to Tiffany Guan, SFR Co-Coordinator, “More food is transported into the city from agricultural areas in order to feed the urban population, but there has been a development of food deserts. You would think that the public transportation system in the cities would make it easier to access grocery stores and markets, but the high price of living in the city has driven them out of the city.”

While food is still available in low-income areas, the variety is limited and must be purchased at a corner-store or through fast-food restaurants. Because fast-food restaurants offer limited and often unhealthy options, fast-food contributes to the inequity between high-income and low-income spaces.

Taylor Whitman, SFR Co-Coordinator, said, “With the lack of transit infrastructure in low-income areas, the everyday grocery shopping that many BU students are accustomed to is just not feasible in these communities.”

Access to food outlets follows a general city gradient, where urbanized areas – those with higher population density (usually in the city’s center) – are more likely to have stores and restaurants.

According to Taylor, who has lived in Boston for 3 years, “In urban communities, some of the highest property values are centered around shopping and transit areas. Fenway, an area with one of the highest property prices, has the new City Target & Shaws grocery store. This leaves the people who need Shaw’s low prices out in the cold.”

SFR redistributes food to the communities that need it. “While SFR does not facilitate the movement of food into the city, we provide transport through the city. By bringing excess food from one part of Boston to those who need it,  we alleviate food waste and make food more accessible across the city,” says Tiffany.

Would you rather volunteer in meal prepping with local organizations in Boston? SFR has opportunities for you! SFR partners with The Daily Table in Dorchester, a store that provides their community with low-cost, nutritious food. “Healthy food is part of the lifestyle change that these communities need to be able to access and embrace,” Taylor said.

Join SFR today!


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