SF Food Bank Hunger Challenge – Living in a Food Desert

By: Victoria Holliday

When I started the San Francisco Food Bank Hunger Challenge, I already had a major advantage going in – I live in a food oasis. I have 2 major grocery stores, a weekly farmer’s market, and two neighborhood markets easily accessible by walking or by Muni. But many on food stamps do not live in food oases like me; they live in food deserts abandoned by major supermarket chains. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a food desert as a low-income census tract where a large number of residents are more than a mile from a grocery store. These food deserts leave residents without access to adequate groceries and fresh food but littered with cheap fast food options.

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What do you buy if you are hungry, impoverished and only have just $4.72 a day to spend on food? You can buy a cheap, delectable (and unhealthy) double-cheeseburger at many fast food restaurants or chips from a local convenience store. This is the reality for many living in poverty and in food deserts.These food deserts coupled with the rising cost of nutritious food have serious implications for many on food stamps, impacting their ability to eat adequately, safely and nutritiously within severe economic restrictions.

The USDA composed a map charting the location of every food desert in America, which you can view here. As you can see from the image, San Francisco has a fairly large food desert located in the Bayview, Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley neighborhoods – some of the poorest in San Francisco.

Food Deserts in San Francisco

Last month, Fresh & Easy opened a chain in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, making it the first grocery store to open in the neighborhood in more than two decades. The store is significant because prior to its opening, Bayview-Hunters Point residents had been living in a food desert with a grocery store gap that had persisted for more than 15 years. While this is a start, one grocery store does not turn a food desert into an oasis.

I was able to make my third night’s Hunger Challenge meal of lentils, sweet potato and spinach (a healthy and filling meal) in large part because I had access to so many groceries stores to comparison shop. If I lived in a food desert like Bayview and Hunters Point, these items would not have been easily accessible to me, and it would have been easy to spend the $1.43 the meal cost me on top ramen or chips instead.

In San Francisco, a staggering 150,000 people – 20% of the city's population – forego food in order to pay their bills. The San Francisco Food Bank helps to provide vital essentials to those in need.

In the last year, food banks in this country have witnessed a 30% increase in the demand for food assistance. Yet, the San Francisco Food Bank is losing $161,000 in federal funding, the equivalent of 483,000 meals this year.

Please consider making a donation to the San Francisco Food Bank to help provide healthy food to those in need. For every $1 you donate, the Food Bank can distribute $6 worth of food! And stay tuned for more updates on the San Francisco Food Bank Challenge this week.


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