The Hunger Divide

FOOD INSECURITY: A household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to enough food for an active, healthy life.

HUNGER: An individual-level physical or emotional condition that may result from food insecurity.


Today, 1 in 12 people in Minnesota, including 1 in 8 Minnesota kids, experience food insecurity.

Within that statistic are Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Indigenous Minnesotans who are at least twice as likely as white Minnesotans to experience food insecurity.

Racial disparities like these are what we refer to as the hunger divide.

Experiencing food insecurity might stem from a change in circumstance: a car accident, an unexpected medical bill, a layoff, a divorce. Any number of life events might make it difficult for neighbors to secure the food they find nutritious, comforting, and accessible.

Yet in many cases, the circumstances that lead to food insecurity are much more complicated, pervasive, and deeply rooted: living wages, affordable housing, reliable transportation access, health care access and affordability, racism and discrimination, and more.

With so many factors contributing to food insecurity, it’s clear why so many are struggling today, particularly amidst a pandemic. Yet whether we’re talking about food insecurity, income, homeownership, education, wealth, or any other measurable marker, we’re also talking about stark racial disparities.

To better understand disparities is to better understand the hunger divide. And to understand both, is to bring us one step closer to our mission of ending hunger together and creating a more just and equitable future.

Second Harvest Heartland, as a big and influential player in the hunger-relief network, must play an active role in confronting and addressing both the hunger divide and the root causes of food insecurity. We start here, and we welcome you to join us.

Research: Understanding the hunger divide

Voices and Solutions: Considering the hunger divide from the frontlines

In September 2021, we hosted a conversation on Reckoning with the Racial Hunger Divide, featuring local and national voices in the hunger fight. Watch the roundtable here:

How food banks like Second Harvest Heartland are working to address the hunger divide

We have taken the immediate steps of distributing culturally connected foods, prioritizing our sourcing partnerships with farmers of color, getting food directly to communities of color through to-door distributions and neighborhood food drops, and shoring up our SNAP outreach to put more purchasing power in the hands of our neighbors. In addition:

Boxes of food and Second Harvest Heartland truck at food distribution site

Expanding and deepening our partnerships. Our large network of community partners—food shelves, nonprofits and community organizations—help us determine how to best reach communities of color, and we’re focusing efforts to expand relationships to get food where it’s needed most. Examples include partnerships with City of Minneapolis cultural liaisons, the Du Nord Foundation Community Market and the Lower Sioux Community.

Visitors at a Minnesota Central Kitchen food distribution

Delivering more food directly to communities of color. In the past two years, we’ve delivered more food directly to communities of color. We’ve kept people safe, socially distanced and fed by collaborating with partners to organize emergency grocery pop-ups outdoors and curbside drive-throughs. To-door meal drop-offs have also become a critical delivery mechanism in communities with barriers to transportation or nearby grocery stores. Minnesota Central Kitchen is also getting food where it’s needed most through partnerships with organizations like Hope Youth Center, Pham’s Rice Bowl and Homi Restaurante Mexicano. These new distribution methods also provide greater anonymity for those facing food insecurity.

Volunteer at food distribution holding masa flour

Offering a larger variety of foods. Familiar staples for communities of color means everyone feels welcome at their neighborhood food distribution. We are now offering foods like bean thread noodles, cumin, coconut milk, fish sauce, halal beef, jalapenos, lentils, masa flour, pollock, sardines, white hominy, and more to ensure every family our partners serve can sit down to a meal they know and love. Read more about how Second Harvest Heartland partners VEAP and Minnesota Halal Meats work together to provide culturally connected foods.

Staff member at farm holding parsnip

Supporting farms owned and run by people of color. Farmers have been hard hit by the pandemic, particularly farmers of color, on top of centuries of discrimination and land-grabbing. As a large produce customer, we are positioned to strengthen our agricultural community by purchasing from more BIPOC-owned farms. One step in this work is a three-year project with The Good Acre.

Hominy and sage, MCK meal ingredients

Enabling choice and variety in filling fridges. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is one of the most accessible and equitable tools in fighting hunger, providing nine meals for every one we distribute and helping families access the grocery items of their choosing. Our team of 11 outreach specialists represent the communities they serve both in languages spoken and race or ethnicity. Programs like FOODRx offers culturally connected meals and recipe cards, in multiple languages, and delivers food as medicine in the healthcare setting. And Minnesota Central Kitchen provides free, prepared meals to anyone, particularly those without access to or ability to prepare meals.

Daud, Volunteer Experience Ambassador

Employing a representative workforce. Today, 23 percent of our team members are people of color, and we are working to increase that number. We’ve also recently welcomed a Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to help guide this work.

Allison O'Toole advocating for hunger fighting policy

Advocating for equitable policies and programs. We can’t end hunger through food distributions alone, which is why we advocate for policies and programs that keep our neighbors fed and healthy. Our advocacy work can and will be an important tool in confronting disparities in who is hungry.

Where we must go from here

Second Harvest Heartland is investing $13.2 million to confronting and eliminating racial disparities in hunger, and in doing so commit to the following actions:

  • Applying a racial equity lens to our programs, services and operations
  • Elevating hunger divide work as a strategic priority of our organization
  • Continuing, improving and expanding the work described above
  • Improving community engagement and partnerships with other organizations in fighting the hunger divide
  • Developing and reporting out on effort and progress in this work

Join us in this work

Understand the causes and current-state of the hunger divide. Seek out a range of voices impacted by and engaged in addressing racial disparities in hunger. Hold us accountable to this work and the creation of more equitable communities.

Food Changes Everything.®

Second Harvest Heartland believes everyone should have reliable access to food. We’re committed to advocating, educating, and providing food until everyone in our service area has what they need to thrive.

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