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‘People’s Grocery’ Fights Food Insecurity

‘People’s Grocery’ Fights Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is a term that is thrown around quite a bit these days within organic food and food justice circles.  In many low-income, urban neighborhoods across the country, there is little or no access to fresh, healthy food.  This is called “food insecurity,” and People’s Grocery, a non-profit in Oakland, California, is working to combat it.

In neighborhoods experiencing food insecurity, frequently referred to as “food deserts,” there is often no grocery store within a reasonable distance.  The grocery stores in neighboring towns and cities are likely to be difficult to reach for those relying on public transportation.  Most residents of food deserts must purchase their groceries from corner stores or convenience stores.  The variety of food at these stores is very limited, and what is available is largely processed, packaged food, as opposed to fresh, healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.  Convenience stores tend to be much more expensive than grocery stores, as well.  The Life Sciences Research Office of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology defines food security as:

Access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy
lifestyle that includes at a minimum:  (1 ) the ready availability
of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and (2) the assured ability to
acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (e.g., without
resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, and
other coping strategies.

How Did We Get Here?

A number of historical factors have contributed to the rise of food deserts and food insecurity.  A major factor is the shift in the grocery industry away from small, local grocery stores and toward large, corporate supermarkets.  This shift took place largely in the 1970′s and early 1980′s.

As a result of this shift, grocery stores fled urban neighborhoods in favor of suburban areas, where large tracts of land were plentiful and less expensive and customers were likely to be wealthier.


People’s Grocery

In West Oakland, food insecurity has been a problem since at least the 1960′s.  In 1957, construction of the Cypress Freeway bisected the neighborhood, jeopardizing local businesses and causing many business owners and residents to move from West Oakland to the suburbs.  The construction of BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) over West Oakland’s commercial district during the first half of the 1960′s discouraged commerce and caused many to flee the neighborhood, as well.   The negative impact of the shift toward corporate supermarkets was exacerbated in West Oakland by these preexisting conditions.

How is People’s Grocery addressing food insecurity in West Oakland?  Through a number of programs.  Their Grub Box provides organic food – grown locally at an organic, urban farm behind the California Hotel, and Dig Deep Farms – at a reasonable price to local residents.  They partner with Oakland’s Highland Hospital to provide Grub Boxes and educational resources to underage patients and their families.  And the Growing Justice Institute trains local residents to become business and community leaders and to work to achieve food security in West Oakland.  Around the country, organizations like People’s Grocery are stepping up to make a difference in local food systems.


Read more: Conscious Consumer, Desserts, Environment, Food, Green

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Sarah Cooke

Sarah Cooke is a writer living in California. She is interested in organic food and green living. Sarah holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University, an M.A. in Humanities from NYU, and a B.A. in Political Science from Loyola Marymount University. She has written for a number of publications, and she studied Pastry Arts at the Institute for Culinary Education. Her interests include running, yoga, baking, and poetry. Read more on her blog.


+ add your own
4:38AM PST on Feb 17, 2013

Good for them.

1:05AM PDT on Jul 21, 2012

Thanks for posting.

7:43AM PDT on Jul 6, 2012


12:26PM PDT on Mar 27, 2012

I have lived in “food deserts”, and had just thought it was a Southern problem (due to not supporting/supplying local transportation). I was shocked that to find out from a friend of mine that such areas exist in cities like Chicago, as well.

5:41AM PDT on Mar 22, 2012

Thanks for the article.

7:09PM PDT on Mar 19, 2012

thanks for sharing this, hope the idea catches on

8:07PM PDT on Mar 13, 2012

Thank you.

7:17PM PST on Mar 10, 2012


10:20AM PST on Mar 10, 2012


9:19AM PST on Mar 10, 2012

A comment on your Sept. article about the People's Grocery mentioned food co-ops. Unfortunately the price of food is high. I think of our food co-op as a luxury food store. Did you hear about the folks using buses and shipping containers to provide food stores in cities? What we need are more ideas and more people willing to carry them out.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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