Hidden Face of Hunger in San Francisco

Paul Ash
SF Chronicle–Thursday, June 3, 2004

It may be hard to fathom, but the face of hunger in San Francisco isn’t just a homeless man on Sixth Street. It is Anh, a single mother who lives in the Sunset and works at an insurance company. Because she makes too much to qualify for food stamps, she often skips meals so her son can eat. She is just one of 150,000 people in San Francisco who live with the threat of hunger every day.

It is also Ivan, a 77-year-old Ukrainian immigrant and former journalist who visits a Western Addition pantry to receive his weekly bag of free groceries. “I come here for bread. We didn’t know that in America bread would be so expensive,” he says.

Yet another face of hunger in San Francisco is Linda, who lives in low- income housing in Potrero Hill and is training to be a chef. She pays her rent first, then buys food, clothes and medicine. Food stamps help, but they aren’t enough. She often runs out of food before the end of the month.

Most people are saddened, but not surprised, to hear that 1 in 3 people in Bayview-Hunters Point and half of the people living in the Tenderloin are in need of food assistance. What they are astonished to discover is the prevalence of hunger in virtually every neighborhood of San Francisco, particularly among children and seniors. In the Sunset, for example, 1 in 8 people, including 1,665 children, and in the Richmond, 1 in 7 people, including 2,523 seniors, face the threat of hunger.

It’s not just San Francisco. Urban areas all over the country (NE is particularly bad) have been hit by rising housing costs, the abandonment of commitments to provide affordable housing, and stagnant wages. The gap grows larger and every time it does, new decisions have to be made: Food or rent? Food or medicine? Because the truth is the rents are what they are and the medicine costs what it costs and the only flexibility a lot of us have is in how much we spend on food because it’s the only unfixed cost of living.

I’ve had people tell me that there’s no hunger in America because all the so-called ‘poor people’ are fat. And a lot of us are. It’s called a ‘high starch diet’: potatoes, noodles, and the simpler forms of pasta (spaghetti, tortellini, macaroni) are the cheapest and most filling things on the shelves. It’s what you have to buy, usually in bulk, if you want to get through the month with as little starvation as possible. Eating a lot of starches adds more weight than eating sugar, and it’s harder to burn off, so we gain weight. But it’s hardly healthy.

Vegetables provided by agro-conglomerate corporations have become both less healthy and more expensive–around here, a medium-sized tomato can cost a dollar, a bunch of broccoli good for one meal about the same, a small container of fresh mushrooms is almost $3, a head of lettuce is $1.25 or more–I could go on. The point is you can buy a few veggies or a mass of starch for the same money. If you don’t want to starve, good nutrition goes out the window.

I don’t know anybody in my circle who isn’t hungry at least a couple of days a month and many who are hungry regularly. I don’t know anybody who’s starving all the time but nobody eats right or as often as they should, including me. Depending on how much work there is and whether or not I can get to it when it’s around, I’ve been without food the last day before a paycheck 5 weeks out of six for over a year. The last few months I’ve started to train myself to eat once a day most of the week. That’s how I get by so there aren’t whole days when there’s nothing but the last three slices of leftover bread and a lot of water.

This is the price we pay so corporations can increase their share prices on Wall Street and convince their stockholders that they’re ‘lean and mean’.

You don’t have to convince us.

(Click the title to read the rest of the article, as usual. Thanks to Martha Bridegam’s Demisemiblog for the link)

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