'Food deserts': Nearly 900 neighborhoods across Bay Area have limited access to food

A food desert means at least 1/3 of the area's population lives more than a half-mile from the closest supermarket.
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Ahead of the holidays, the ABC7 News I-Team found hundreds of neighborhoods across the Bay Area where food access is low.

"It's tiring," said Natasha Hardman. "I have to walk miles to get to the grocery store."

Hardman lives off 14th St. in Oakland, which is one of the 600 neighborhoods in the San Francisco metro area that are considered low food access, otherwise known as a food desert. That term doesn't mean there aren't any grocery stores in the area, but that at least one-third of the area's population is living more than a half-mile away from the closest supermarket or large grocery store.

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In the San Jose metro area, 289 neighborhoods are considered low food access.

Unemployed from the pandemic, Hardman is struggling to get by. On a good day, her walk is a mile to St. Vincent De Paul. But when the shelter is closed on Sunday and Monday, the nearest grocery store is a couple miles away.

At the time of the interview, she said her last meal was a couple of days ago. The area where she lives is not just a food desert, but is also low-income as well. While 65 percent of neighborhoods in the two local metro areas are considered food deserts, only 18 percent of the two metro areas are considered low-income and also food deserts.

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ABC7's data analysis found there are 171 low-income neighborhoods in the San Francisco metro area that also have low food access. The San Jose metro area has 79 of these neighborhoods. That's about 17 percent of neighborhoods in the San Francisco area and about 21 percent of neighborhoods in the San Jose metro area.

Bay Area Food Deserts

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For Sarah Jordan, distance isn't the problem -- it's the price.

"California's price on food is up that food stamps, $250 per month don't last," Jordan said.

The $250 stipend used to be enough to support her for a month, but she says now with inflation it only lasts a couple weeks.
"When food prices go up it hits lower income households particularly hard," said James Wilcox, a U.C. Berkeley Graduate School Professor of Economics. "Lower-income households spent more than twice as large a fraction of their income on food as higher-income households do."

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest increase in food nationally during the past 12-months is the index for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs, which increased 10.5 percent.

"The need that our communities are seeing is still really high," said Reggie Young, the Executive Director of the Alameda County Community Food Bank. "Our clients aren't seeing a lot of normalcy that other people within the community may be seeing coming out of the pandemic."

The organization has worked with hundreds of non-profits distributing food to struggling areas throughout the pandemic. Hardman hopes her neighborhood is next in line.

"I just pray," she said in tears. "It's been a tough couple years."

Look at the map below for various food access options:

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