Over the past half century, West Oakland, just across the Bay from San Francisco, has faced the economic decline that has plagued many of America’s urban centers since World War II. As populations and shopping have moved farther from urban centers, day-to-day survival in these areas have become more challenging and more costly. Today, many refer to West Oakland as a “food desert,” a place that is better known for its liquor and convenience stores than its supermarkets.
A 2008 study conducted by the Alameda County Public Health Department tells the story of decline. In 1950 there were 140 traditional food stores, but by 2000, there were just a handful residents. Some of this perhaps was due to population decline, but much of it was due to economic decline.
How did a place that was once home to one of the nation’s largest middle-class African American communities and a bustling hub for San Francisco’s jazz and blues scene end up here? What are the factors that have contributed to West Oakland’s decline, particularly the decline of its food economy? And what are West Oakland residents doing today to increase their food access, against the odds?