Winston-Salem’s Food Insecurity Dilemma

Melissa Farley
Apr 26, 2017 · 4 min read
Winston-Salem, North Carolina


Picture a desert: barren land, absent of life and lacking of hope. Now, picture a community filled with thousands of people lacking access to healthy food….

Documentary exposing Winston-Salem’s Food Epidemic

On Saturday, April 22nd, the 10th annual Reynolda Film Festival debuted at Wake Forest University. The film that unexpectedly claimed first prize was a documentary titled “Deserted.” The documentary delved into the unbeknownst topic of food deserts and exposed Winston-Salem’s alarming food insecurity dilemma.

What are food deserts? How did they come to exist in Winston-Salem? What are their ramifications? And what can we do to help?

What is a food desert?

Food deserts are parts of the country absent of fresh produce and other healthful whole foods. The area suffers from a lack of grocery stores, healthy food providers (such as farmers markets), and a lack of transportation among citizens. Unsurprisingly, food deserts are found in impoverished neighborhoods.

2016 Map of Winston-Salem’s Food Deserts

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as a low-income census tract in which at least 33 percent live more than 1 mile from a supermarket or grocery store in an urban area or more than 10 miles in a rural area.

Winston-Salem has 21 food deserts. East-Winston, a predominately black neighborhood, is the largest sufferer from food insecurity. For an updated view of Winston-Salem’s food deserts, click here.

Racial Segregation and Food Deserts

Prior to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited racial discrimination in the sale of property, Winston-Salem took numerous measures to maintain racial norms. Use the timeline below to view Winston-Salem’s history of racial segregation.

These efforts to preserve racial homogeneity in neighborhoods have left permanent divides throughout the city. In 1974, Winston-Salem was nominated the second most segregated city. The situation has barely improved, which is evident by the polarization today.

2013 racial map (The Cooper Center)

The image to the left is a visual representation of segregation in Winston-Salem. The green dots represent African-Americans, yellow dots are Hispanics and the blue dots are Whites. The physical divide between the races is evident.

These residential patterns were a pivotal factor in the creation of food deserts. The areas historically designated for black residents are currently the most impoverished.

These neighborhoods non-coincidentally are also food deserts. Look below at a comparison at a 1937 redlining map and a 2016 food desert map. (For an overlay of these two maps, click here.)

Comparison of Winston-Salem’s current food deserts to 1937 segregation

The socioeconomic ties to food deserts are due to the lack of social mobility in these areas. Profit-conscious businesses (such as grocery stores) are wary to invest in poor neighborhoods. The issue is compounded by the fact that these impoverished residents cannot afford a vehicle to travel to a food source.

The Health Implications

Studies show that food deserts are a true health risk to residents. Food desert residents are forced to an endure a very limited diet with a lack of nutritious options.

Comparison of price of healthy and non-healthy options

They are often forced to complete an entire month’s food shopping in a single outing. Or, they opt to shop at the local gas station for overpriced, unhealthy items (such as sodas, chips, and candies).

Subsequently, these individuals are prone to numerous health complications. Duane Perry, founder of The Food Trust, stated in a NPR podcast:

“…parts of the city without good supermarkets also were home to people who suffered from high rates of illnesses related to poor diet, such as obesity and diabetes.”

Listen to the entire podcast here:

How To Help

Winston-Salem is a clear microcosm for a myriad of issues. Due to these circumstances, numerous resources have arisen in Winston-Salem aimed to aid those suffering.

Below is an interactive map of resources aimed to help mediate food disparity.

Unfortunately, these resources are not a permanent solution. In order to completely rectify a food desert there must be: an influx of business to the area, subsequent social mobility for citizens and health education for the community.

To learn more, visit:

Melissa Farley

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