Congress Heights has long been a community rich in culture and history. However, it has equally served as a community lacking in an adequate food supply for its residents.
Food insecurity continues to dominate the problems facing those who live in the District’s Wards 7 and 8. Currently, Ward 8 has just one grocery store which serves over 80,000 patrons while Ward 7 also has just one store making the resources scarce within the community.
The average number of grocery stores within each D.C. ward, nine, far exceeds the total available in Wards 7 and 8. Meanwhile, the median income for the two wards also remains the lowest among all of the District’s eight wards.
The Anacostia Community Museum recently opened its exhibit on food insecurity in Wards 7 and 8 in April. The theme for the museum for this year was inspired by food insecurity which examines the disparities that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities face in the District and has been curated by Samir Meghelli. The museum highlights community leaders who count as advocates for equity in food resources and who demand change.
“In some ways the most immediate issues are poverty. The question of access to quality and affordable foods. The biggest barrier, the most immediate is poverty. … As long as there is deep-seated poverty, there is going to be food insecurity,” Meghelli said.
The cause of food insecurity stems from many problems that intersect with class and race in the city. According to the Hunger Report 2020, incomes for residents in Wards 7 and 8 range from $10,000 a year to $60,000 a year which is twenty-nine times less than those of people living in Wards 1, 3 and 4. The D.C. Hunger Solutions Grocery Store Report indicates that 26.6 and 34.2 percent of residents fall below the poverty line in Wards 7 and 8, respectively.
As a result of a lack of variety and wholesome food resources, residents in Wards 7 and 8 have to rely on food from the nearest convenience stores due to grocery stores being spread further out in the city. The problem persists, in part, due to grocery store chains not placing their stores in these wards because they do not have the same economic stability as other areas of the city.
“This issue is not a new issue. Black communities, working-class, poor communities and other communities of color have historically and disproportionately not had access to grocery stores. It’s not something new; it’s more deeply rooted in the long history of inequality,” Meghelli said.
The goal of the museum: to take the information collected by the research, document the history of what’s currently occurring and placing it in Smithsonian archives as a resource for both current and future generations. This creates a space for museum visitors to actively be part of the conversation surrounding the issues the exhibits address.
“The idea is to ultimately create an experience where people can learn and be inspired and that’s ultimately what the exhibitions are about,” Meghelli said.
In addition to the work of the exhibitions that the museum provides, they have also partnered with an initiative called “Feed the Fridge” where refrigerators are stocked with fresh meals every day and can be accessed by the public free of charge. There’s one refrigerator on the site of the outdoor exhibition of the Anacostia Community Museum.
The outdoor exhibition counts as an introduction to the topics and it’s more of an artistic expression of the topic of food insecurity. The indoor exhibition will feature a more in-depth examination into the complexity of food insecurity and highlight some of the local food culture which has been threatened because of gentrification. It will also examine the history of grocery stores and supermarkets and their evolution in the D.C. area.
The outdoor exhibition will remain open through September 2022; the indoor exhibit will open to the public on Aug. 6, 2021.