C. Fast Food
In urban areas, fast food has become the most affordable and accessible source of food. According to a study of the fast food industry, African-American communities have 2.4 fast food establishments per square mile, whereas White neighborhoods have only 1.5 per square mile. Additionally, fast food marketing targets youth of color at significantly higher rates than White youth; African-American youth are exposed to 50 percent more fast food advertising than their White peers. As one food scholar described the problem:
A junk food jungle sprouted up from the barren stretches of the fresh food desert throughout poor neighborhoods in post-industrial America, capitalizing on the niche left by the retreat of groceries and supermarkets and a demand for food that was easily accessible, convenient, and cheap, sending the incidence of diabetes and obesity skyrocketing.
1. Government Support for Fast Food
The fast food industry exploits the same market forces that drive healthy food out of urban communities. It also utilizes its massive resources to lobby the government for “subsidies, exemptions, and other perks.” In turn, the government cooperates with the fast food industry by creating artificially low prices, allowing the industry to infiltrate public schools, and distributing misleading health information. Fast food's corporate share is not merely a product of free-market capitalism; the U.S. government heavily subsidizes the industry. The prices are kept artificially low (by three times the actual cost) by using government subsidies for animal feed, sugar, oils, and large farms that produce fast food's crops.
a. The USDA and Fast Food
For over a century the U.S. government has been telling people what they should and should not eat. The history of this advice reflects the most current information on topics including “agriculture, food product development, and international trade, as well as in science and medicine.” Many people assume that the USDA promulgates the food pyramid with the best interests of the American people in mind, but history tells us otherwise. Even when it became apparent that Americans would benefit from eating less of certain types of food, the official recommendations on food intake did not change because “advice to eat less [of certain foods or food categories] . . . runs counter to the interests of food producers.” Contemporary information on healthy eating runs counter to the food industry's interests, and this causes a great deal of confusion about how and what to eat. In fact, “dietary advice issued by the government has never been based purely on considerations of public health.” Clearly, the public's interest in accurate dietary and nutritional advice takes a backseat to the food and agricultural industries' influence on national food policy.
These USDA practices impose disproportionate levels of harm on African-American communities, which are also a common target of fast-food's marketing. The USDA's nutrition guidelines have been accused of being racially biased, as the guidelines place emphasis on meat and dairy products, foods that are leading contributors to diseases commonly found in the African-American community. These foods are also heavily used by the fast food industry.