In 2017, 870,000 people across the Bay Area were food insecure – more than the entire population of San Francisco. In addition, 1 in 10 Bay Area residents earns too little to cover the cost of living – and 62% of those individuals earn too much to qualify for SNAP benefits. The stories usually told across the Bay Area are stories of the next tech innovation or new high-rise building. Last month, however, the San Francisco Chronicle published a series of articles titled The Hidden Hunger Documents to uncover the largely untold stories of those experiencing food insecurity in the Bay Area. These articles chronicle the common experience of hunger, highlighting the stories of families, seniors, retired teachers, pastors, and those working to provide solutions.
In addition, the articles highlight the work of EatSF founder, Dr. Hilary Seligman, from her experience working with patients at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital who were food insecure to her tireless advocacy and research to find tangible solutions.
The stories of those who experience hidden hunger in the Bay Area often follow a common thread. Whether it be a single immigrant mother or a senior receiving SSI, many food insecure individuals are working to navigate food insecurity amongst other stressors like chronic health problems. “Food insecurity is a very dynamic experience. People are cycling constantly through adequacy and inadequacy,” Dr. Seligman explains, “not knowing is really psychically challenging.” And though food access has improved in many communities, Dr. Seligman notes there is a lack of resources to support those who can’t afford healthy food. In 2015, EatSF was born from this realization and has since reached over 6,500 low-income households in San Francisco.
The hidden stories of those experiencing food insecurity are important to hear. Though these individuals may not appear visibly famished – many of them have housing and jobs – their experiences of hunger are real and impact their well-being. There is a cruel irony at place in the Bay Area. The articles note, “While [individual’s] income doesn’t keep up with the cost of living in the expensive region, the relatively high local minimum wage can make them ineligible for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps.” Even when individuals do qualify for SNAP, the benefit is minimal and only covers a fraction of each meal. “In the recovery of the economy we’ve really left our lowest income population behind,” explains Dr. Seligman, “and the depth and breadth of people who are in food insecurity is worse.” These stories must be told so solutions can be found — EatSF hopes to be a part of the solution.