“How the Other Half Eats” re-examines food deserts and food inequality


How the other half eats questions this very premise. It also urges readers to be more empathetic – to stop judging parents for how they feed their children. Instead, Fielding-Singh writes, the more important question is, “How can we as a society ensure that parents – all parents – have the means to feed their children?”

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The book’s subtitle is “The Untold Story of Food Inequality in America,” which I think is a bold statement – that this story has never been told properly. Can you describe how your book differs from the other literature on food inequality in America?

My motivation for writing the book was this plethora of epidemiological research that shows that there are really big differences in diet between classes and races in the United States – the so-called “nutritional gap.” And it’s a void that has been around for a long time. It’s long lasting. It doesn’t close. And it’s fundamental because our diet affects our health, wellbeing, and other overall outcomes.

For the past decade, there has been this prevalent narrative about why we have food inequality in this country – that there are substantial differences in geographical access to healthy food. I want to be very clear: food deserts are real. They exist. There are big differences in access to healthy food. And there are certainly areas where fresh, ripe and tasty fruit and vegetables are difficult to get hold of.

However, what we do know from the increasing research over the past four to six years is that geographic inequalities in access are actually a pretty poor explanation of nutritional inequalities. The best research we have suggests that they account for about 10% of the nutrition gap between rich and poor. In an automotive-centric nation like America, the vast majority of people actually drive to get groceries. In my research, it was mainly the lower-income families who were willing to drive on to get groceries in order to get the best deals. And while the opening of supermarkets increases residents’ perception that they have access to healthy food, it doesn’t change the types of food they buy.

And so my book comes in and says, “Well, okay. If it’s not just – or primarily – access to food, what else happens? What other forces are at play? ”That’s the part we didn’t talk about.

One of those forces that you talk about in the book is how wealth and social class influence people’s choices about food in surprising ways – for example, the way parents treat children who are picky about or how much they allow their children to eat junk food. Can you elaborate on that?

One thing I found with all of the mothers I interviewed was that they all wanted their children to eat healthy, and they shared pretty similar ideas about what that meant. I’ve noticed that higher-income mothers always talked about trying to turn down their children’s junk food requests.


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