According to a 2013 resolution passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, one in four San Franciscans suffer disproportionately from hunger and food insecurity. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also states that food insecurity is a situation of “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” It affects mostly single parents, minority and low-income households, and households with children.
Food security, on the other hand, is the hypothetical scenario in which all people at all times have access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Established in 2005, the San Francisco Food Security Task Force created a citywide plan for addressing the problem of food insecurity, and students at the University of San Francisco are playing a part. One student, Ayrris Tate, a junior in USF’s nursing program, took initiative by organizing a USF chapter of the nationally operating Food Recovery Network (FRN), a non-profit that donates leftover food to local distribution centers.
Tate heard about FRN from a friend at Brown University who founded the second chapter of the network. Tate then decided to start the USF chapter in the spring 2014 semester. With the help of two other students, she began recovering food from Bon Appétit and donating it to Dore Clinic, an urgent care clinic and social rehabilitation center in SoMa. Dore is not primarily a food program, but the donations help supply healthy, fresh foods for their residential treatment program, which Tate said normally provides frozen, less nutritional meals.
A study by the USDA concluded that 49.1 million people nationwide lived in food insecure households in 2013. According to the Assessment of Food Security, also in 2013, conducted in the same year by the San Francisco Food Security Task Force, meal programs both federal and community-based are not producing enough meals to adequately fight hunger and food insecurity. However, supplemental programs like the Food Recovery Network (FRN) help. Founded in 2011 at the University of Maryland by three students, the nonprofit has grown to include over 130 chapters in 33 states. Students volunteer their time to collect or “recover” leftover food from their college campuses and donate it to local meal distribution organizations. Since the program began in 2011, students have recovered over half a million pounds of food.
“They’re a really great organization,” said Tate. “I think they try and make it as easy as possible to start everything, so that you can just start doing things and recovering food.” Although the USF chapter has very few volunteers and there is not always food to recover, they usually recover and donate twice a week. The process begins when Bon Appétit closes at night, and usually takes about an hour. With the help of the cooks in the cafeteria, one of whom the FRN students have affectionately named “Sweets”because of her friendly and helpful attitude, the students package up leftover food into aluminum pans, weigh it, and use their own cars to ferry the full pans over to Dore Clinic. Since last spring, members of the fraternity Phi Delta Theta have also begun volunteering with the university’s FRN chapter.
Although San Francisco is a largely affluent city, the large gap between the wealthy and the impoverished adds to food insecurity issues. This disparity is supplemented by the extremely high cost of living, and physical and cultural barriers. The 2013 resolution passed by the SF Board of Supervisors states the Food Security Task Force’s commitment to building a food secure and hunger-free San Francisco by 2020. They are now working in conjunction with community-based food programs and government meal programs to combat food insecurity in the city.
Paula Jones,a member of the Food Security Task Force, and also the director of food systems for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. said that a large problem with food security in San Francisco is the high cost of living in the city. Federal nutrition programs are based on income, but they are not adjusted to variations in cost of living. “That makes it harder for people who live here who maybe don’t qualify for food stamps […] but are still possibly dealing with tough choices when it comes to their budgets,” said Jones.
Save-More Liquor and Grocery is located on the corner of Divisadero and McAllister. One of the owners, Sam, admitted that they stock only about five percent fresh food, as he gestured to a wicker basket next to the register filled with oranges and Granny Smith apples. The rest of the grocery portion of the store consisted of boxed, canned and frozen food items. There are neighborhoods in San Francisco that do not have any grocery stores that stock fresh produce. Bernal Heights, for example, has very few grocery store options that sell nutritional items, forcing some to rely on small stores like Save-More.
Denzel Richards, found loading his trunk with shopping bags full of food in the parking lot of Smart & Final, is one San Franciscan who has experienced food insecurity firsthand. He lives in a low-income household in Bernal Heights with his family. They use CalFresh food stamps to help out with meeting their needs, but in his experience the programs are unreliable. “It’s all kind of inconvenient and there’s some limitations. We’re going to go back and try to reapply because it does help, but you need more options,” said Richards. Richards has a wife and two children at home, and often they eat from fast-food restaurants or have meals comprised mostly of filling carbs.
“Food recovery allows the food to be redirected from the waste stream and go to people who are experiencing food insecurity,” said Sara Gassman, Food Recovery Network’s Director of Member Support. “In the cases of food recovery, every pound counts. Every meal makes a difference to someone in the community, food that we’re able to recover, even if it’s only like 6 lbs in the evening, you know, that’s still something.”
Another similar program in San Francisco is Food Runners, which collects leftovers from many local businesses and distributes them to food programs in the city. According to their website, their volunteers collect and distribute over 4,000 meals a day.
Efforts by programs such as these help considerably to reduce waste and help meal programs. “It’s an important supplement for individuals. And I think it’s an important part of the whole food security landscape,” said Jones.
Although programs like these help, the Food Security Task Force still must find ways to expand meal programs further and ensure equal access to all to an adequate supply of safe, nutritious food, regardless of any individual socioeconomic status. By getting people to start taking advantage of already existing federal programs, a dent can be made in food insecurity without having to come up with alternative solutions.
Photo courtesy of Colleen Barrett/Foghorn