(un)Just Sustainabilities online Exhibit

This online exhibit for Professor Heather Bedi’s Environmental and Social Justice class allows Dickinson College students to reflect on environmental injustices and demographic trends in their neighborhood, town, city, or state. In defining just sustainabilities, Agyeman et al. (2003) argue that social and economic inequalities across place exacerbate environmental injustices. They advocate for human equality to be central in sustainability efforts. Students explore (un) just sustainabilities in their place through a paper and a publicly exhibited zero-waste visual or audio project.

Uneven Distribution of Food Access in Washington, DC


This project emphasizes the injustice present in food systems in our society by analyzing food deserts. Food deserts are defined by an area that is further than half a mile from a grocery store, over forty percent of homes in the area do not have vehicle access, and the average income is less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level (DC Policy Center, 2017). In Washington DC, eleven percent of the city’s neighborhoods fall under these criteria, classifying them as food deserts (Smith, 2017). The city is broken down into eight wards, in which resources and accessibility to fresh food vary greatly.

Unfortunately for DC, grocery stores, vehicles access, and income do not seem to be the only factors involved in the making of food deserts. The presence of these deserts perfectly overlaps with areas containing low populations of white residents. In Ward 3, there are zero neighborhoods that qualify as food deserts and the population of white residents in the ward ranks in at the highest in the city at over 81% (DC Health Matters, 2020). However, not all of the wards in DC are the same as Ward 3. Of the neighborhoods that qualify as food deserts, 82% of them are in Wards 7 and 8 (Smith, 2017), both of which have populations of white residents that are below five percent each (DC Health Matters, 2020). The DC wards with high minority populations are then being disproportionately impacted by food deserts in the city and getting locked into a cycle of poor nutrition due this environmental bad being embedded into our society. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that groceries in food deserts are then sold for ten percent more than they would be sold in suburban markets (Hirsch, 2007), making it that much harder for the residents of these neighborhoods to break the cycle and eat healthier. The difficulty involved in eating a healthy diet in Wards 7 and 8 can be directly tied to obesity rates, as obesity in these wards have reached over 72% of residents, the highest rate in the city (DC Health). Food deserts are posing major health risks to the lives of residents in Wards 7 and 8 but sparing the lives of white residents in other parts of the city.

The location of food deserts is disproportionately impacting minority residents and depriving them of a basic human right: equal access to fresh food. When considering the food oases in the majority white wards, the unjust sustainability is unveiled. The disparities in our food system vividly represent an unjust sustainability in which one social group (white populations) are being favored over another (minority populations), proving that sustainability can only be achieved once societal inequalities are solved first.

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