Syndemics: Exploring Food apartheid and COVID-19 through community-informed praxis in Salt Lake City

Authors: Leah Joyner*, University of Utah Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism, Blanca Yagüe*, University of Utah
Topics: Food Systems, Urban Geography, Environment
Keywords: Food apartheid, Food Sovereignty, Environmental Justice, COVID-19
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 10
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In the United States, food apartheid and COVID-19 are converging as a syndemic threat to public health. This is particularly evident in Salt Lake City’s Westside, home to the majority of the city’s immigrant and refugee communities, including 75% of SLC’s Latinx population (University Neighborhood Partners, 2019). Here, clusters of emission-laden industry such as refineries and rubber companies, drive increased air pollution (Mullen et al, 2020; Salt Lake City Planning Commission, 2014). This same area is termed a ‘food desert’ (USDA, 2018), a designation which overlooks extant resilient community food networks in the Westside (Cachelin et al., 2019) and obfuscates the structures that create food apartheid (Reese, 2019). With food apartheid linked to the same racist determinants of health that exacerbate comorbidities associated with COVID-19 (Nittle, 2020), Latinx and Pacific Islander community members on the Westside are being hospitalized for COVID-19 at much higher rates than White residents in SLC (Tanner, 2020).

In order to understand and disrupt the syndemic nature of food apartheid and COVID-19 in SLC, this study explores intersections of environmental racism, urban agriculture, and food access initiatives and in SLC’s Westside. Utilizing interviews with urban farmers, community members, and food access advocates, we first explore community visions for food security and sovereignty and opportunities for non-profit programs to better align with radical visions. Next, we investigate how urban farmers see their role in this syndemic convergence. The paper culminates by examining scholar-community praxis currently informing policy, university partnerships, and community-driven initiatives for increased food sovereignty.

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