those stores failing to notice that there is a population living on the east side of the Anacostia River. Rather, it is a function of the owners recognizing the lack of purchasing power in that population. People living in Wards 7 and 8 do not earn enough income to make it worthwhile for the owners to provide them with the same food system that serves “those of us sitting here.”
During the past several decades, Americans’ share of disposable personal income spent on food has decreased, from about 24 percent in 1930 to about 9.47 percent in 2010, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture data. The implication of this trend, Salvador observed, is that vast increases in productivity and efficiency have created a “very cheap” food supply. He pointed out, however, that the 9.47 percent figure is a ratio, with a numerator and a denominator. At least part of the decreasing trend in share of disposable income spent on food is a function of an increasing denominator and the fact that the average American income has increased tremendously over the past several decades. The absolute cost of food remains high. For those living in poverty, a much higher percentage of income is therefore spent on food. In a comparison across countries with variable average total household expenditures (e.g., $32,051 in the United States and $21,788 in the United Kingdom, compared to $620 in India and $541 in Kenya), the percentage of average total household expenditures spent on food increases as average household expenditures decrease (e.g., 6 percent in the United States and 9 percent in the United Kingdom, compared to 35 percent in India and 45 percent in Kenya).
The fact that food is not “very cheap” for people living in poverty has implications for food insecurity, Salvador implied. In the United States, a map of the percentage of people living in poverty areas overlays fairly well with a map of the percentage of households that are food insecure. For example, Mississippi is among those states with the highest percentage of its population living in poverty (i.e., 30 percent or more). It also has among the highest average rates of food insecurity.
In addition to food security implications, the fact that food is not very cheap for people living in poverty also has implications for health. Not only do U.S. poverty and food insecurity maps overlay, but both maps also overlay a map of adult obesity rates in the United States. This is because limited access to food limits the options available and the choices one can make. “The choices … are not going to be optimal,” Salvador said. This is especially true for children who are too young to make any conscious choices at all. Salvador showed a photograph of two obese children eating a meal at McDonald’s and observed, “They are simply a reflection of the food system that has been built up around them.”
Obesity rates are increasing among wealthier Americans as well, according to Salvador. As with lower income Americans, wealthier Americans also reflect the food environment around them and the choices they