What’s at Stake

A Food System in Crisis

The pandemic impacted every sector of the food system, with significant and disproportionate affects on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, low-income communities, food service businesses, and the farms and food producers that supply them. While public health mandates have been retracted due to lowering risks of Covid-19 spread, the long-lasting impacts of stay-at-home orders, ensuing service limitations, and protracted social distancing measures have continued to challenge these communities and businesses.

  • Food insecurity reaches more people than ever before: Food insecurity more than doubled to up to 2.2 million individuals in WA state in 2020 and remains elevated through today. In King County, food insecurity was experienced in 30% of households and of those, 57% had children. Of those surveyed, people of color were 1.5x more likely to be food insecure than their white counterparts, with South Seattle and South King County experiencing a higher prevalence of food insecurity than anywhere else in the county.

  • Restaurants remain in crisis: While the economy continues to reopen more fully, many restaurants are still holding on to accrued debts from two years of closure and limited service, unstable dining traffic, labor and supply shortages as the pandemic risks continue to fluctuate. As of December 2020, over 1,000 restaurants and bars in King County had closed permanently, 90% of those being independent businesses. And since March 2020, the leisure and hospitality industry has accounted for 50.1% of all jobs lost in Washington state. This has particularly hit communities of color, as workers of color represent 46% of the employed restaurant workforce versus 30% of the employed population in Seattle as a whole, including many undocumented workers who were unable to access most relief funding. A June 2020 report found that 41% of Black-owned businesses had ceased operations as of April 2020, compared to 17% of white-owned businesses.

  • Local farmers and suppliers lost revenues: Independent restaurants redistribute an average of $0.79 of every dollar back into local businesses, including farms and food producers. In a January 2021 survey, nearly half of all farms surveyed in WA state (48%) experienced revenue loss in 2020 compared to 2019, with the largest impacts related to closure of restaurants and other market closures.