With Thanksgiving and the holidays around the corner, many households in Seattle are busy grocery shopping for the best ingredients to impress their families and guests at the dinner table.
Yet, not every family can afford a festive feast during the holiday. The problem of food insecurity is especially prominent among low-income Asian Pacific Islander (API) families in Seattle.
“Most people who are low income are food insecure which means they may not know where their next meal is coming from,” said Alison Pence, the director of The Food Bank @ St. Mary’s. “More likely they are the people who have to pay rent or mortgages, utilities, medications, etc. and then they don’t have enough money for food at the end of the month, or before the next paycheck.”
Pence said that a majority of the people who line up at St. Mary’s are elders from the API community. Pence said that she and her staff have also noticed more middle aged and younger API members coming to the food bank.
“Because of this, we try very hard to have a variety of food for the different cultures we serve,” Pence said. “Luckily, we do have many of the Asian vegetables available for our clients.”
Pence also said that low income groups are either unaware of basic nutrition or cannot afford to maintain a healthy diet.
“When people are low income, getting anything into their stomachs is what they hope for,” she said. “Much too often the foods that are the most nutritious are also the most expensive. Therefore, when low income people are buying food, they get used to buying the food with high starch, high sodium, high sugar, trans fats, no nutrition with high calorie food that are cheaper than food that is better for them.”
Adam Holdorf, Communications Director at Children’s Alliance said that hunger disproportionately affects children of color and better data is needed to understand its impact.
While some low-income families may struggle to bring fresh produce home, other households may be tossing their food away too casually.
Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) said that a study from 2013 showed that about one-third of the food Seattle residents thrown away was wasted food that could have been eaten.
“We have been told in the past that food would go to waste if we didn’t take it,” said Jesse Swingle, the communications manager of Northwest Harvest. “Many of the items we receive are not the highest grade, saleable in the retail market. If we turned them down, it’s hard for us to track where they may go.”
In fact, wasted food, if not composted, usually ends up in the landfill. Approximately 100,000 tons of food from the Seattle population is sent to landfills to wither every year, according to a Washington Post report in 2014.
“It takes a huge amount of water to grow food,” SPU said. “When we waste food, in addition to wasting large quantity of water, we are also wasting all the chemicals, energy, and land resources that were used to produce, package, and transport food to our plates.”
According to the Department of Agriculture, 80 percent of all the fresh water that the country consumes is used to produce food, yet 40 percent of the food in the United States goes uneaten.
“It takes about 26 gallons of water to grow one pound of tomatoes and 42 gallons to grow one pound of cucumbers,” SPU said.
So when you let your pound of tomatoes sit in the fridge for days and eventually throw them out, you just tossed 26 gallons of freshwater down the gutter.
Pence encourages people who are in need of food to stop by the food bank and she is thankful for all the donations the organization receives. She stressed that the role of the staff at the food bank is to serve, not to judge, and they don’t check people’s ID to verify their needs.
“Nobody stands in these lines because it’s fun,” she said. “We have people lining up as early as 5:00 a.m. on distribution days. I sometimes run into people who should be coming to the food bank and they are ashamed to come. As I said, we don’t judge.”