The Geography of Hunger in Chicago

The Chicago neighborhood with the second-lowest per-capita income and the highest hardship score has a food insecurity rate over 50 percent. The city’s wealthiest neighborhood still has one over ten percent.

A sign of the season: a flood of articles about charity, particularly food charities. Megan Cottrell shows how you can donate to the Greater Chicago Food Depository through your smartphone; a chef reflects on hunger; Anthony Todd suggests that Mayor Emanuel take Cory Booker’s food-stamp challenge; and my former colleague Martha Bayne writes about the food world and the hunger problem:

“We don’t have to compost and recycle and do all these charity events,” says chef/owner Paul Kahan, “but it’s the only way I can stomach being in the restaurant business, because it really is a gross business sometimes.”

Mary Ellen Diaz, founder of First Slice—which most Chicagoans encounter through its Pie Cafes in Ravenswood Manor, the Lill Street Art Center and downtown at Water Tower Place—has taken that ethos to its extreme, turning Kahan’s “gross” business on its ear by putting care for the hungry at its core. Through First Slice, Diaz—a former fine-dining chef—provides home-cooked, restaurant-quality meals to about 4,000 hungry men, women and children a month. Much like a CSA, the meals are funded by subscribers to First Slice’s shareholder program, which nets participants a high-quality three-course meal each week. The money from each share subsidizes the very same meal for a person who can’t afford it on their own.

All this talk of food made me do what I usually do when I hear a lot about something: map it. Using 2012 data from the Greater Chicago Food Depository, itself culled from Feeding America’s ongoing food-insecurity project, I built a map of Chicago’s community areas and the percentage of residents in each that faces food insecurity (here’s the formula).

One community area breaks 50 percent, Fuller Park, a tiny central-south-side neighborhood that regularly ranks at the bottom of the city’s community area by almost every economic indicator (it has the highest “hardship score” in the city and the second-lowest per capita income). West Englewood and Riverdale have the second- and third-highest food insecurity rates; they also have the lowest and third-lowest per capita incomes.

The wealthiest communities, by median income (you can find that info here) aren’t the ones with the lowest percentage of food-insecure residents. The Near North Side had the highest per capita income from 2006-2010; it has the 19th-lowest food insecurity. Lincoln Park is number two in income, and has the ninth-lowest food insecurity. Topping the list in food insecurity are North Center and Forest Glen, tied at 7.2 percent and the only community areas with less than eight percent food insecurity; they have the sixth and seventh highest per-capita incomes in the city.

Here’s how the GCFD’s smartphone app works:

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