Bringing Life to a Food Desert

Photo courtesy of People's Grocery

Photo courtesy of People’s Grocery

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.

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?

Continue reading in Trends in Social Innovation . . . 

What Does It Take to Feed America?

Photo courtesy of People's Grocery

Photo courtesy of People’s Grocery

In a recently popular documentary, Rosie, a 5th-grader from a small town in Colorado, describes how she often goes to bed with an empty pit in her stomach. Sometimes the hunger is so bad that she can’t concentrate in school. Her mother works at a diner, making sometimes as little as $120 every two weeks. They survive, partly on the generosity of their church and a local food bank. Still, it’s tight.

The documentary—A Place at the Table­­­brings to the fore the issue of hunger in America. According to the USDA, 47 million Americans are recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. The USDA classifies these folks as “food insecure.” Translated: 47 million Americans don’t necessarily know where their next meal is coming from.[1] The film’s solution to this problem? The American people should petition Congress to allocate more taxpayer dollars toward improving the school lunch program.

In 1969, almost 3 million Americans qualified to receive SNAP benefits, costing the US government around $250 million. In 2012, the government spent nearly $80 billion to feed 47 million. But despite all this spending, we find that Americans are perhaps poorer, fatter, and sicker than ever.

Continue reading in Trends in Social Innovation . . .