On Jan. 9, Frederick Lewis posted a clip in which he drives through two communities while highlighting the disparity in the number of grocery stores between the two. At the beginning of the TikTok, Lewis drives through what he claims is a predominately African American section of Harris County.
“Hello, I wanna show y’all environmental racism firsthand because people think it’s a myth,” he says in the video. “Right now, I’m in Harris County, which is a county in Houston, Texas. It also happens to be one of, if not, the most highly populated African American counties in the country.”
He then names all the places he drives by.
“Gas station / liquor store,” he says. “Fast food, fast food, fast food, fast food. Another fast food. Fast food connected to a gas station / liquor store. Daquari Shak connected to a gas station / liquor store. And, finally, after driving a couple of miles, a grocery store.”
Lewis then drives back to his “neck of the woods,” which he says is about 25 minutes away from where he just was. Calling it the suburbs, he says the second location’s main demographic “is definitely not people that look like me.”
The TikToker claims in his clip that he has already passed by two grocery stores before exiting the freeway.
“Gas station, gas station,” he says, pointing out the places he drives by. “Notice how I’m not saying liquor store. A Target over there to buy groceries, a Walmart to buy groceries. You can’t really see the sign, but that says ‘Randalls,’ which is another grocery store.”
By the time Lewis gets home, he ends his TikTok with a thought-provoking message.
“And I’m back home,” he says. “A couple of notes: I drove about the same distance to each location, and it just became legal to sell liquor where I am. The problem should be obvious.”
While the TikToker does not mention the neighborhoods he’s in, 2019 data from the U.S. Census shows that the population in Harris County was 69.6 percent white and 20 percent Black. Still, Lewis raises an important issue: the impact of food deserts on BIPOC communities.
The TikToker’s clip has since been viewed nearly 2 million times, sparking a discussion among fellow users about food insecurity.
“We gotta get rich and build our communities,” one person wrote in response. “They ain’t never gonna help us. That’s the goal.”
“I’ve lived in a food desert my whole life,” another shared. “The closest place to us that’s kinda like a grocery store is a family dollar and dollar general.”
“YES, I live in Harris and its so bad,” a third commented.
In a revealing piece for the nonprofit organization Feeding America, Sabea Evans pointed out that, in 2017, 21.8 percent of African American households and 18 percent of Latinx households reported food insecurity. The problem dates as far back as 1995, when Black and Latinx households reported higher rates of food insecurity than the national average among all households, she further added.
A 2014 report in John Hopkins Magazine additionally confirmed the challenges that many Black and other households of color face in accessing food, noting that Black and Hispanic “have fewer large supermarkets and more small grocery stores than their white counterparts.” In minority neighborhoods where food is readily available, that food might not even be necessarily healthy.
“Bursting with junk-food options, these smaller establishments rarely offer the healthy whole-grain foods, dairy products, or fresh fruits and veggies that a supermarket would provide,” the article said.
As a result, those with limited access to adequate food resources — mostly Black, Latinx and indigenous households — often experience higher rates of obesity, a study in the American Journal of Public Health notes. The problem is further exacerbated by unequal access to healthcare.
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