December 7, 2022

Acquanyc

Health's Like Heaven.

One in six people in Sacramento CA area are food insecure

3 min read

About 16% of people in the Sacramento region say they have low food security or very low food security, according to a new poll published Monday by Valley Vision and Capital Public Radio.

Researchers found that people are struggling to find and purchase healthy food at a higher rate than the national average, with disparities in access along racial and economic lines and among age groups. The poll, reflecting responses from nearly 900 residents from across the six-county capital region in late July and early August, was administered by Sacramento State’s Institute for Social Research.

“The idea of our region as the farm-to-fork capital is very aspirational,” said Valley Vision CEO Evan Schmidt said. “But how are we delivering on that in people’s everyday lives?”

The poll throws into sharp relief the food security crisis across the Sacramento region that has worsened during the pandemic. About one in eight Sacramento County residents struggled with food insecurity in 2019, according to a recent Bee analysis of data from the Chicago-based nonprofit Feeding America.

About a quarter of people polled use some kind of food assistance program, and about 38% said they had their income reduced during the pandemic. Federal stimulus checks during the pandemic were an important lifeline for residents to stave off hunger: Just under half of people polled reported they used stimulus checks to buy groceries or food that they could not otherwise afford.

“All those things point to a real critical issue in food security that we need to address,” Schmidt said.

About one in eight respondents said they use food banks or pantries, with Black, Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander respondents more likely than their white counterparts to obtain food there.

As the coronavirus pandemic wrecked the economy and left thousands jobless and scrambling for family care, food banks and pantries have seen an explosion in popularity. The Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services and its partner agencies went from serving about 150,000 people per month to 300,000 people monthly during the pandemic.

Inequitable access to healthy food was also highlighted in the poll. People who use food assistance programs are more likely to have to travel more than 15 minutes to their food outlet of choice compared to people who don’t use food assistance programs, the poll found. And about 18% of people with low or very low food security say they have no access to the variety of produce they need at their grocery store.

Schmidt said there are several actionable ideas that could be gleaned from the poll’s results. For example, about half of respondents said that community gardens in neighborhoods are important.

But communities of color and people who use food assistance programs were significantly more likely to agree with the sentiment, with about 76% of Black respondents and 71% of food assistance users saying community gardens in neighborhoods are important.

Though urban farms and home gardens are not necessarily a cure-all for food insecurity, research has found that they can make meaningful impacts on the health and wellbeing of residents at the neighborhood level.

“We need to prioritize community gardens in underserved neighborhoods,” Schmidt said. “That was a clear call to action for me. What are the ways we’re able to prioritize urban gardens and connect people to their food?”

Notably, more than 80% of participants said they were somewhat or very concerned about the impacts of climate change — drought, flood, extreme heat, and poor air quality — on growing food. And about half said they would support paying at least $5 through their garbage or utility bill to fund food recovery programs, which reduce hunger and food waste by collecting edible food that would otherwise go to waste and redistributing it to feed people in need.

Those results suggest that many people in the Sacramento region are receptive to policies that prioritize climate justice and food security.

“Food security and access need to be urgently acted on,” Schmidt said. “With the number being as high as they are, and knowing the impact that the pandemic had, it’s important to advance right away.”

Profile Image of Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers equity issues in the Sacramento region. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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