BY JACK CORDELL
Despite being known colloquially as the “salad bowl” and feeding many around the world with fruits and vegetables grown locally, Monterey County has a serious underlying struggle with starvation.
According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture economic research service study in 2013, of 429,000 Monterey County residents, 53,000 suffered from food insecurity, meaning about 12 percent of residents were consistently hungry in Monterey County in 2013.
Niaomi Hrepich, director of California’s Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Program, claims that about 20 percent of all residents in Monterey County worry about affording, producing and/or providing enough food for their next meal in 2018, meaning that food insecurity rates have increased about 8 percent in just five years.
“There’s about one in five people that rely on programs to make sure that they have enough food for the day,” Hrepich says. “In our county, we have about 17 percent food insecurity rates. For children, this number is even a little higher at 23 percent.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines food security as “[existing] when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life,” whereas the U.S. prefers a more lenient definition. The USDA refers to food insecurity as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”
These definitions beg the question: How is it possible for somebody to be food insecure within miles of the Salinas Valley, one of the world’s largest agriculture producers?
This food insecurity stems from various problems, some major components being access to food, access to grocery stores, transportation and poverty. The FAO claims that poverty combined with socioeconomic and political problems create the bulk of food insecurity around the globe, including the areas near major agriculture production
The USDA has implemented various programs to combat the high rates of food insecurity in children, one such being the Free and Reduced Meal Applications that households can apply for in order to receive free breakfasts, lunches and even suppers at school. Due to high rates of food insecurity in children who live in Monterey County, various school districts have been employing this program to combat food insecurity.
“A lot of the schools in [Monterey County] can serve free and reduced-price meals,” Hrepich says. “There are a lot of areas within the county that the food service directors have applied where they have such a high food insecurity rate all the time that the whole school is eligible for Free and Reduced Meals. So the whole school can eat for free.”
Hrepich also illustrates an important correlation between kids with food insecurity and kids who are considered homeless, a correlation heightened by the local area’s higher-than-national-average percent of people below the poverty line.
“There are quite a few areas in our school districts with high rates of homeless children,” Hrepich adds. “They are considered homeless because they live with so many people or they don’t have a consistent address. There are areas where kids live in trailers or cars, too. These areas tend to have a higher need for food.”
According to the Monterey Health Department, roughly one in ten Monterey County public school children are considered homeless.
Hrepich notes that there are various pockets within Monterey County that have higher rates than the state of California, which has 23 percent of people suffering from food insecurity.
“There are some higher needs and higher pockets in the East Alisal area of Salinas,” Hrepich explains. “You will also find areas in the North Monterey county areas like Cachagua and Big Sur, as well as the South county areas, which would be Gonzales, Greenfield and King City. In some of these areas, the number [of people struggling with food insecurity] is closer to 25 percent.”