Food distribution and access

Climate Implications – Food Distribution and Access

A household is considered food insecure when it lacks consistent access to enough food to comprise an adequate diet. About one in nine Americans are considered food insecure, making food insecurity a national issue.

Much food insecurity results from living in food deserts, which are areas where it is difficult to find and purchase fresh and affordable fruits, vegetables, and other nourishing foods. For example, in Chicago, 500,000 residents live in areas where there are no grocery stores within a mile of their residence. Food deserts are also an issue in rural communities, where residents generally live even further from grocery stores. In both urban and rural communities, food deserts disproportionately affect lower-income households, which often do not have access to reliable transportation.

The issue of food insecurity is made worse by climate change, and changing weather patterns are already starting to impact global and local food supplies. Increased spring precipitation and humidity are causing fungal outbreaks in agriculture to be more widespread, frequent, and impactful. Diseases such as Bacterial Spot, Anthracnose, and Southern Rust may become more common in the Midwest, causing food crop yield losses and negatively impacting food security. Increased disease prevalence, combined with other threats that crops face such as drought, flooding, and heat stress, could increase crop failures, endanger food security, and raise food prices. At a local level, floods can shut down grocery stores for months at a time and ruin crop yields at nearby farms.

Climate change can also impact transportation infrastructure, which supports the distribution of food supplies. Increased temperatures, frequency of freeze-thaw events, and floods damage roadways, potentially affecting the ability of large trucks to travel and delaying the distribution of food. Any impact on food distribution amplifies food supply issues and makes access to healthy food more challenging, especially for low-income households.