A couple weeks ago, Genie over at the Inadvertent Gardener took the San Francisco Food Bank Hunger Challenge, eating for a week on a budget of $21. She then blogged about the entire experience, from creating a shopping list to making it through the final hours of the challenge, feeling sick of rice, beans, peanut butter, and oatmeal.
Though I don’t write much about it here, I think (and read about) food (in)security issues quite a bit. But reading about Genie’s daily challenges made me think about these issues in different ways. Like Genie, I spend a huge portion of my income on food (really, it’s a bit absurd sometimes). I’m highly aware that most people in Oakland can’t afford to eat out like I do. But there are food luxuries that I don’t think about very much, like my obsession with tea. That was the thing that freaked me out most about Genie’s week – no caffeine and no beverages besides water! I think I could handle subsisting off mostly rice and beans for a week, but I don’t think I could give up tea.
The other thing I hadn’t thought about was the necessity of buying from bulk bins to save money:
Speaking of bulk, I determined that was going to be my saving grace. With just one of me to feed, spending the money on a full-sized container of rice, oatmeal or beans was just not going to let me stretch my purchasing power far enough. My plan? To start off at The Berkeley Bowl, home of possibly the best bulk section in the Bay Area…
“If you want to make it really challenging, you should do all your shopping in West Oakland,” another co-worker had said to me. Don’t think that wasn’t ringing in my ears as I drove from Oakland to Berkeley, where there are grocery stores a-plenty and there’s a whole lot more free-flowing money. But I had to go where the bulk bins resided, and, unfortunately, West Oakland was not the place.
Reading this, I realized that I really do take for granted the kind of food access that I have, money aside. I get the vast majority of my produce from the farmers market down the street. I live within walking distance of several grocery stores, ranging from Safeway to Whole Foods. I never have to resort to buying expensive groceries at the liquor store.
And after grocery shopping, I certainly never feel like this:
By the time I got to the checkout line, I had been shopping for nearly an hour, pacing back and forth in front of shelves that held items I wanted but couldn’t fit into the budget, and trying to find unobtrusive places to stand and calculate my total—a near-impossible task in such a busy store.
By the time I got to the checkout line, I had actually gotten nauseous, so anxiety-ridden by the whole experience that I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I remember what it’s like to do that kind of calculating week after week after week. I swore I’d never do it again, and it makes me sick that people all over this country have to do it every time they go to the store. I’m not talking about just the average person setting a budget and trying hard to stick to it. I’m talking about knowing you only have a set amount of money with you, and if you don’t make that amount, you’re going to have to face humiliation at the checkout counter.
Unfortunately, there are many Oakland residents who face these issues every day. And the problem’s getting worse. Food banks have seen a drop in monetary and food donations, and at the same time they’re having to spend more on gas to transport the food.
Yeah, I know this is all really depressing and scary and probably so overwhelming that it seems like nothing can be done. But I don’t think that’s the case. Especially in West Oakland, there have been some positive developments lately. As Sean Sullivan wrote last month, a new locally owned grocery store opened in West Oakland. And People’s Grocery, though not yet open as a store, is already providing produce to West Oaklanders for extremeley affordable prices that might have even fit into Genie’s budget.
So even though it might depress you a bit, I hope you’ll head over to the Inadvertent Gardener and follow Genie through her $21 food challenge. Start here and then just click through to each of the next posts. Ultimately, we can’t solve the problem of food insecurity until we acknowledge what a problem it is. Thanks to Genie and all the other bloggers who participated in this challenge for doing their part in shedding some light on this issue.