In the Bay Area, the statistics regarding food insecurity are startling. They state that “more than 1 of every 10 people in the Bay Area today are hungry,” “about 870,000 people in the Bay Area are food-insecure,” and “11.5% of the Bay Area is food insecure” (Duggan, 2018).
These statistics are even more haunting when paired with the knowledge that of these 1 in 10 people, 62% of them earn too much to qualify for food stamps (Duggan, 2018). While many Bay Area residents earn an income that does not align with the high cost of living in the region, they earn too much to qualify for the federal Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps (Duggan, 2018).
The effects of food insecurity run far deeper than hunger alone. Food insecurity has been linked to several severe physical and mental impacts such as increased risk of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular disease, and depression (Seligman et al., 2010; Leung et al., 2015). Not only are these health impacts preventable with measures to bolster food security in communities, they’re disproportionately impacting certain communities. According to the San Francisco Food Security Task Force’s 2018 Assessment of Food Security, food insecurity is most prevalent in low-income households with children, immigrants, houseless individuals, residents of single room occupancy hotels, transitional aged youth and college students, seniors, and people with disabilities.
For more information and interviews with people from all walks of life in the Bay Area experiencing food insecurity, visit the San Francisco Chronicle’s series titled Hidden Hunger. The series features interviews with working moms, teachers, seniors, and others who share their experience with food insecurity. In doing so, the series breaks down the stereotypes you might have had about who experiences food insecurity and highlights the extreme contrast in the Bay Area between the food-insecure living minutes away from those with an overabundance of food.
The paradox of the ultra wealthy living next door to people who are not able to afford or otherwise access healthy foods offers the beginnings of a solution that is unique to the Bay Area. In order to supplement valuable resources like food banks, organizations are trying to use the abundance of leftover food from tech company cafeterias and college dining halls that would otherwise go to waste and divert that food to those in need. Santa Clara County alone found that “it had 34 million pounds of edible food going into landfills every year” which had the potential to be diverted as long as there was infrastructure in place to deliver food to those in need (Duggan, 2018).
This realization that food that would otherwise go to landfill or be composted could instead be diverted to address food insecurity gave birth to organizations such as Food Runners which takes untouched leftover trays from tech company lunch buffets and delivers them to shelters and soup kitchens. These lines of distribution are incredibly valuable, especially since food banks in the area are at capacity and the network of food security resources is facing an increasing demand for food and distribution which necessitates increased efficiency of systems. With the pandemic leading to tech company cafeterias and college dining halls closing their doors, these programs illustrate the importance of having multiple solutions instead of relying on one catch-all solution. These programs offer a creative solution to expand and diversify the region’s food security solution portfolio and supplement other food security efforts such as food banks or market matching at farmers’ markets.
Additional recommendations on how to address food insecurity in the Bay Area can be found in the San Francisco Food Security Task Force’s 2018 Assessment of Food Insecurity or the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association’s (SPUR) report titled “Healthy Food Within Reach: Helping Bay Area Residents Find, Afford, and Choose Healthy Food” (2014). These report recommendations include understanding the communities for which food access programs and strategies are for, increasing the purchasing power of low-income residents to improve their economic access to healthy foods, and making high quality, affordable, and healthy foods readily available in all neighborhoods among many other useful recommendations.
Duggan, Tara. “Bay Area developing ambitious new tools to reduce hunger.” San Francisco Chronicle, 18 November 2018, https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Hidden-hungry-Overcoming-obstacles-to-feeding-13379486.php?source=nlp#photo-16515840.
Leung, Cindy W., et al. “Household Food Insecurity Is Positively Associated with Depression among Low-Income Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participants and Income-Eligible Nonparticipants.” The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 145, no. 3, 2015, pp. 622-627, https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.114.199414.
San Francisco Food Security Task Force. “Assessment of Food Insecurity.” 2018. https://www.sfdph.org/dph/files/mtgsGrps/FoodSecTaskFrc/docs/FSTF-2018-Assessment-Of-FoodSecurity.pdf.
Seligman, Hilary K., et al. “Food Insecurity is Associated with Chronic Disease among Low-Income NHANES Participants.” The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 140, no. 2, 2010, pp. 304-310, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2806885/.
Written by Nicole Shimizu, Communications and Outreach Coordinator