The United States’ food supply chains prioritize efficiency over stability. Which wasn’t an issue, until the COVID-19 pandemic squashed efficiency.
In 2018, there were about 150,000 food-insecure people in Alameda County. Today, local agencies are floundering in feeding hundreds of thousands of hungry mouths because of a decentralized and overwhelmed food infrastructure.
Feeding its campus has been a long-term issue for UC Berkeley — in 2018, 39% of undergraduates reported food insecurity. However, campus has layers of resources that students are knowledgeable about and readily access, as indicated by the absorbable increase in requests since the pandemic began. In addition to the student CalFresh program, the campus community has the UC Berkeley Food Pantry, the Gill Tract Community Farm, the Food Assistance Program, the Bear Pantry, the Food Justice Project and the Berkeley Student Food Collective.
The same cannot be said, however, for the 1 in 5 Berkeley residents who are food insecure. Governmental food programs are all managed at the county level, making it difficult for the local government to directly serve residents. Although California’s and Alameda County’s CalFresh programs do a lot of good alongside Alameda’s four food banks, CalFresh has an intimidating application process, and the food banks are overrun and only operate three times a week. The city is hungry, and it needs help.
Thankfully, a variety of nonprofits operate in Berkeley, including the Berkeley Food Pantry and the Berkeley Food and Housing Project. The Berkeley Food Network in particular has seen a marked rise in people served — 5,000 a week, up from 1,600 pre-pandemic. However, organizers noted that only a quarter of the 24,000 food-insecure residents pursue alimentary support.
The city of Berkeley faces a problem within a problem: Not only are there few existing city-run programs, but those that do exist are not reaching the residents in need. As a result, the city must take stock of its programs — governmental and nonprofit — and re-strategize how it plans to feed its population.
The city must more broadly publicize its available resources. Although compiling food programs amid the COVID-19 pandemic is a good step, it must ensure that all residents are aware of its services and how to reliably access them.
Working more directly with nonprofits and local farms may expand the saliency of resources available to the community. Moreover, removing any registration requirements for programs, at least during this pandemic, would eliminate bureaucratic barriers that may have previously deterred residents from pursuing aid.
Further, the city of Berkeley — and the United States — needs a concrete, long-term food security plan. As the climate changes and unforeseen disasters strike our city and country, the “greatest country in the world” must be able to feed its population. Food is a basic need, one that cannot be denied to Americans and Berkeley residents any longer.