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Venice Based Food Security Policy Study for LA

by foodsecurity.org Sunday, Mar. 03, 2002 at 4:18 PM
Venice California

This study, done in 1995 went towards the creation of Los Angeles Hunger Policy Statement. The statement focuses on having healthy, localy grown foods available to all levels of society. The statement also ask us to look at hunger in ways besides calories burned.


A. What is the VACH?
On Thanksgiving eve, 1986 Councilmembers Richard Alatorre and Robert Farrell introduced a motion in response to a community based initiative by Campaign for Life which has led the effort for more than nine years to secure the adoption of a Los Angeles City Food Security and Hunger Policy.

The Volunteer Advisory Council on Hunger (VACH) was established by an act of City Council on August 4, 1989 at the recommendation of the Chairman of the Grants, Housing, and Community Development Committee. Ex-Councilman Robert Farrell and Steve Saltzman, of the Campaign for Life played instrumental roles in the VACH's creation. The action created a nine member council, appointed by the Mayor, the Community Development Department (CDD), and the President of City Council. Its responsibilities include the development, promotion, and coordination of a City Policy on Hunger; establishment of a clearinghouse for information; evaluation of existing resources and progress in solving hunger problems in the City; development of recommendations toward the eradication of hunger; and holding yearly hearings on the state of hunger in the City.

After the appointment of its nine members, the first meeting of the VACH took place in October, 1994, with consulting services provided by Cheryl Cromwell and Associates and Southern California Interfaith Hunger Coalition. CDD's Human Services and Neighborhood Development Division personnel have staffed the process. Since then, the VACH has held meetings on roughly a monthly basis. Its activities have centered around sponsoring six hearings held in the different Community Improvement Planning Areas during March and April, 1995, and the formulation of a hunger and food security policy.

The VACH is composed of nine members. They are:

Bishop Charles Blake, West Angeles Church of God in Christ
Blanca Cintron Scot, City of Hope
Robert Farrell
Irene Gomez
Robert Gottlieb, UCLA Department of Urban Planning
David Kessler
Elizabeth Riley, Interfaith Hunger Coalition
Berta Saavedra, Los Angeles Alliance for a Drug-Free Community
Steven Saltzman, Campaign for Life

B. Hunger/Problem Statement

Hunger incites mental images of babies with swollen bellies and severe nutritional deficiencies. Yet hunger in the context of the United States in the 1990s, is a different phenomenon. While in the Third World, hunger is typically measured in terms of height and weight, in the United States, with the absence of severe conditions, hunger is largely a subjective phenomenon. This subjectivity renders it exceedingly difficult to measure from a traditional scientific perspective. This difficulty has led to a scarcity of data on the prevalence of hunger (now changing with Community Childhood Hunger Identification Project studies) which in turn can be seen as one of the causes of the lack of a federal hunger policy.

This is one of the primary reasons why this report recommends that the City adopt the concept of food security as its framework of analysis. As a goal, food security has been defined as "all people obtaining a culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through local non-emergency channels at all times." Measuring hunger in terms of food security has the marked advantage of being able to identify the necessary conditions for its prevention. Whereas hunger measures unfulfilled individual needs, food security is prevention-oriented, evaluating the access to resources- both community and individual -- including income, means of transportation, storage and cooking facilities, food prices, food safety and other environmental hazards, questions of ownership, and production and processing methods-- to provide an individual with adequate acceptable food.

The Community Food Security Empowerment Act, the product of a broad-based coalition effort around the 1995 Farm Bill, explains further:

"A food security analysis embraces a systemic view of the causes of hunger and poor nutrition within a community while identifying the changes necessary to prevent their occurrence. As an effective tool for evaluating and addressing food and agriculture policy, it emphasizes the need to build and coordinate community institutions to ensure access and availability to an acceptable and adequate diet for its residents. It should be seen as a form of community development and empowerment which complements and extends the traditional approach of addressing food and hunger issues at the individual level."

National Issues
Food security and hunger are not issues unique to Los Angeles. Over the past 15 years, numerous studies to identify the extent of hunger have been conducted nationwide. In California, some of the most recent examples have been by the San Francisco Food Bank, the Alameda County Community Food Bank, and the California Policy Seminar. The Washington-based Food Research and Action Center has coordinated a series of scientific studies (Community Childhood Hunger Identification Project or CCHIP) of childhood hunger throughout the United States. A California CCHIP study revealed that 700,000 children under the age of 12 go hungry in California.

Similarly, studies focusing on food access and price have been conducted in numerous locales. In the past year, the Sustainable Food Center of Austin, Texas and San Francisco's California Food Policy Advocates have conducted in-depth studies of their low-income communities' food access situation. University of Connecticut researchers, recently released "The Urban Grocery Store Gap" a definitive study on the absence of supermarkets in 21 inner cities in conjunction with Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, a national research and advocacy organization. Public Voice also released in February, 1996 its own policy paper on urban supermarkets, calling for greater federal involvement in inner city retail development. All of these studies indicate that the issues found in Los Angeles - high rates of hunger, poor access to supermarkets, high prices in the inner city, and lack of transportation options - are common to most metropolitan areas in the country.

Despite these similarities with cities across the country, hunger and food security in Los Angeles possess a unique situation. The multi-cultural character of Los Angeles with its large immigrant population presents challenges with regards to language, cultural acceptance of foods, and ability to receive public benefits. On the other hand, this same cultural richness presents opportunities for small farmers and community-based businesses to serve niche markets for culture-specific food processing and production enterprises, as well as a virtually unparalleled forum for cultural exchange. Likewise, L.A.'s geography can present both opportunities and barriers to food security. The low-density of the city aggravates access problems for auto-less residents. On the other hand, the mild climate and proximity of year-round agriculture create substantial potential for strategies such as farmers' markets and community gardens.

Anti-Hunger Resources
At many levels of government, there exist a number of programs and resources aimed at hunger relief and income support. The structure and resources dedicated to these programs, which play a crucial role as a safety net for millions of low-income Americans, are inadequate. Many of the fourteen food assistance programs operated by the federal government were originally conceived of, or are in effect agricultural support rather than food security programs, diminishing their effectiveness. With a lack of integration and a limited purview, the effectiveness of these programs is often limited. By way of example, the lack of coherence between the four child nutrition programs results in many low-income children going hungry , as many schools are unwilling to burden themselves with additional paperwork to establish summer food or school breakfast programs. Similarly, USDA has not considered until recently the negative effect of high store prices and limited access on the purchasing power of food stamps.

A brief description of the federal food assistance program follows:

Food Stamp Program. The primary entitlement program operated by USDA. It provides more than 26 million people with vouchers redeemable for food. Maximum benefits for a family of three is $313.

Women, Infants, and Children. WIC provides pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children with nutrition education and vouchers redeemable for high protein and high iron foods such as beans, peanut butter, orange juice, milk, eggs, and cheese. It has been deemed to save over three dollars in health care costs for every dollar spent. WIC served 7 million persons last year.

Child Nutrition Programs. These include School Lunch, School Breakfast, Special Milk, Summer Food, and Child and Adult Care Feeding Programs. School meals programs have been shown to be effective as educational support programs, improving test scores, and reducing tardiness and absence. In 1995, 24 million children participated in the School Lunch Program.

Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program. TEFAP provides agricultural commodities to the emergency food system. Originally designed as an agricultural support program to reduce the level of government held surplus dairy products, funding for TEFAP has been frozen or reduced in recent budgets. TEFAP serves 1.6 million persons per month in California, and had a national budget of $80 million in 1995.

Commodity Supplemental Food Program. CSFP provides supplemental commodities to pregnant women. It operates on a limited basis in California. Its budget in 1995 was $84 million, serving 363,000 persons monthly.

WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program. The FMNP provides vouchers to WIC clients redeemable for fresh produce at farmers' markets. It has been widely praised as an innovative nutrition education and economic development program. Its budget was $6.75 million for 1995.

Seniors Programs. Home Delivered and Congregate Meals Programs, authorized by the Older Americans Act of 1965, provides meals for the elderly. These programs are also administered by DHHS. These programs were funded at $150 million in 1995, and served 20 million meals per month across the nation.

Not considered federal food assistance programs, but providing important support to low income persons are the:

Emergency Food and Shelter Program. EFSP, operated by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, distributes funding to local food and shelter providers. In 1993, its budget was $129 million, $55 million of which provided 16 million meals in soup kitchens and 57 million meals for home consumption.

Community Food and Nutrition Program. The CFNP, operated by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), provides funding to grassroots groups to conduct hunger and nutrition advocacy. Funding for 1995 was $6 million.

California and Los Angeles
At the state level, California operates two of the principal welfare programs: Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and Supplemental Social Income (SSI). Mandated and paid for in part by the federal government, AFDC provides low-income parents (primarily women) and children with cash grants (a family of three currently receives $607 per month). At the heart of the debate on welfare reform, AFDC has been the target of cutbacks by the Wilson Administration. AFDC grant levels are key to the food security of 678,000 Los Angeles County residents (as of 1993).

Los Angeles County operates the other principal welfare program: General Relief (GR). GR provides single indigent adults (largely men) with minimal subsistence grants. In 1996, GR grants of $212 per month, or $12 more than the price of a Skid Row hotel room, were awarded to 86,000 persons countywide. Benefit levels were recently reduced from $285 to alleviate the County's fiscal crisis, with the possibility of further reductions looming on the horizon. These cutbacks will undeniably result in further hunger and homelessness.

Emergency Programs
For the hungry, food pantries and soup kitchens are often the place of last resort. Providing a meal or a bag of groceries, whose size and contents vary widely depending upon donations and funding, food pantries play a crucial role plugging the holes in the safety net for hundreds of thousands of people in Los Angeles. L.A. Regional Foodbank, the largest food bank in the region, serves 755 agencies, which in turn help feed 300,000 persons per week throughout the County. Despite these massive efforts, food pantries routinely report that they can not meet the needs of their communities. Instead, they are forced to turn people away, or reduce the contents or the frequency of the package given away.


As part of the policy-making process, the Volunteer Advisory Council on Hunger held six hearings in the different Community Improvement Planning Areas of the City. The hearings were held during on weekdays at 10:00 am-1:00 pm. The hearings were held in locations utilized for previous Community Development Department hearings. The hearings consisted of three parts: testimony from a series of invited speakers around a common theme, each of which typically spoke for approximately 10 minutes in length, a question and answer period, and an open public comment period.

Interfaith Hunger Coalition coordinated the hearings, and developed the themes for the hearings in conjunction with the VACH. They included: Children and the Elderly, Retail Issues, Federal Food Assistance Programs and Poverty, The Emergency Food System and the Homeless, Nutrition Education and Nutritonal Needs, and Community Gardens, Farmers' Markets, and Other Community-Based Strategies. The schedule for the hearings was as follows:

March 9, 1995. City Council Chambers, City Hall.

Focus: Children and the Elderly.

March 20, 1995. Kedren Mental Health Center, South Central.

Focus: Retail Issues.

March 30, 1995. Oakwood Recreation Center, Venice.

Focus: Federal Food Assistance Programs and Poverty.

April 7, 1995. World Port Building, San Pedro.

Focus: Emergency Food System and the Homeless.

April 20, 1995. Hollenbeck Recreation Center, Boyle Heights.

Focus: Nutrition Education and Nutritional Needs.

April 30, 1995. North Hollywood Recreation Center, North Hollywood.

Focus: Community Gardens, Farmers' Markets, and Community-Based Strategies

Flyers announcing the hearings were sent to thousands of individuals and organizations across the City, and announcements were posted in local newspapers. Forty three persons from a wide range of organizations and occupations testified, apart from a significant number of individuals who spoke during the open public comment periods. These speakers included important political figures, such as Mayor Riordan, Representative Xavier Becerra, and Councilmember Mike Hernandez.

The breadth and depth of testimony presented two distinct but interconnected portraits of hunger in Los Angeles. First, an unprecedented amount of data and personal experiences indicated the severity and spread of hunger among Angelenos. Second, the breadth of testimony sketched a non-traditional picture of hunger and its causes, intimately related with core city and county policy and planning functions. This powerful combination has opened a pivotal moment in the history of the anti-hunger movement in L.A., and may also create an opening for a new policy direction for Los Angeles municipal government.

The historical context in which this set of hearings took place clearly influenced the concerns and activities of the testifiers. Coming three years after the civil disturbances of 1992 and one year after the Northridge earthquake, we find a number of presenters conducting community development activities defined by those seminal events. Similarly, Congressional "welfare reform" legislation and its potential effects on hunger in L.A. occupied the minds of many testifiers. In that sense, these hearings have significance in both national and local policy forums.

A number of general conclusions can be drawn from the hearings. Specific conclusions are embedded within the findings section. Six themes emerged from the hearings: the scope of hunger in Los Angeles; the social costs of hunger and poor nutrition; concern about federal food assistance cutbacks and the inability of the emergency food system to respond adequately; access and price issues; the need for broad based long-term solutions for hunger; and the need for the City to develop an active role in food policy formation.


A. Extent of hunger/food insecurity

The most dramatic finding of the VACH has been the stubborn persistence of hunger among residents of Los Angeles. Over the past 10-15 years, the rise of hunger across the United States has been well documented. Los Angeles is no exception to this trend. In fact, macroeconomic conditions such as high unemployment rates, a deep recession, the restructuring of the economy toward low paying service sector jobs, combined with cutbacks in state welfare benefits have aggravated poverty and hunger in Los Angeles.

The lack of personal resources to purchase adequate food is perhaps the clearest cause of hunger. High unemployment and low minimum wage rates,-- where working a full time job can still qualify a family of three for food stamps--, have combined with a dearth of affordable housing to reduce available income for food for many low-income families. Food is one of the most elastic items in a low-income family's budget. After paying rent, utilities, and other bills, whatever money is left over may be spent on food.

Poverty and hunger are correlated by definition: the federal poverty level is determined by multiplying the cost of a hypothetical minimum food budget (the Thrifty Food Plan) by three. In the City of Los Angeles, 19% of the population, or 684,727 persons live in poverty, and are considered to be "at-risk of hunger." The poverty rate is highest for persons of Latino origin, (28.2%), followed by African-Americans (25.3%), Asians (14.8%), and Whites (13.1%). Poverty is highest in Southeast Los Angeles.

Food Assistance Programs
With eligibility set at low income levels, participation in federal food assistance programs represents another measurement of need. 1.1 million persons in Los Angeles County receive food stamps. The receipt of food stamps does not guarantee freedom from hunger, however. With benefit levels set at 70 cents per meal as compared to $1.20 needed for a nutritionally adequate diet, food stamp benefits are insufficient. With regards to other food assistance programs, in L.A. County, roughly 200,000 pregnant women, nursing mothers, and infants receive WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) coupons, while the City's Senior Nutrition Program feeds 9,000 meals weekly to low income elderly, and has a 1,000 person waiting list. Figures available for Los Angeles County indicate that 587,965 children received free school lunches, and free commodities (TEFAP) were distributed to 535,769 needy individuals through the emergency food system.

Emergency Food System Usage
Use of the emergency food system (or resorting to food pantries and soup kitchens in times of need), is one of the most straightforward signs of food insecurity and hunger. Food pantries are often the place of last resort for the hungry. With the rise of poverty and hunger, the charitable food sector dramatically expanded throughout the 1980s and 1990s due to increased demand.

In the dozen years between 1982 and 1994, L.A. Regional Food Bank increased its distribution eleven-fold from 3 million lbs. to 33 million lbs. The number of food pantries in the Los Angeles area has multiplied exponentially during the past decade: an estimated 100 pantries in the Los Angeles area existed in 1982 as compared to the 755 that L.A. Regional Foodbank alone serves in 1995.

Despite these impressive mobilizations by the charitable food distribution sector, their efforts continue to be insufficient to meet community needs. City-wide, pantries consistently turn away numerous clients due to insufficient resources. One expert estimates that pantries turn away up to 25% of clients. Timothy Crayton, of Oakwood Wesley House in Venice, estimates that free food distribution would have to be increased by 287% to meet existing needs in the Oakwood neighborhood. Also, in Venice, Rhonda Meister from St. Joseph's Center noted that her food pantry program, due to overwhelming community need, has expanded from serving 500 families in March 1993 to 783 families in April 1995.

Other testimony heard in the VACH hearings painted a more personal yet equally valid portrait of hunger in the City. Harbor Interfaith Shelter conducted a survey of low income persons in the San Pedro area. Their study found that 61% of persons interviewed ran out of money for food every or every other month, for an average of 8 days per month, even though the majority received food stamps. High rents and a low minimum wage were identified as fundamental causes of hunger.

Survey Data
The Seeds of Change: Strategies for Food Security for the Inner City study conducted by UCLA Urban Planning researchers in 1993 documented the existence of hunger in one South Central neighborhood. A scientific telephone survey of 148 residents in an area northeast of USC revealed that 27% of households run out of money to buy food an average of five days per month. Considering that over 12% of residents in this area do not own phones, presumably because of lack of resources, these results directly indicate that hunger is a chronic problem for significant numbers of low-income Angelenos.

B. Adequacy of Resources and Structures

The Seeds of Change study appropriately characterized hunger as a chronic condition through which hundreds of thousands of Angelenos float in and out of, in rhythm with monthly paycheck cycles and cash flows. The persistence of hunger transcends a lack of personal responsibility. While the lack of an ethos of personal responsibility and hard work plagues modern society, the existence and depth of the hunger problem points in the direction of policy and structure. The federal government has never developed a coherent hunger policy, instead creating a non-coordinated patchwork of inadequately funded food assistance programs. Their goals have at times been counter to best nutrition practices. The use of high-fat surplus commodities in school lunch programs presents a clear example of the nature of food assistance programs as a downstream byproduct of agricultural policy.

Just as the federal government has never developed an integrated and adequately funded framework for addressing the hunger question, the private sector's efforts have focused on emergency aid: the distribution of provisions as a humanitarian stopgap measure. This hodgepodge of highly individualized efforts without education, referral, or social service functions that might help lift families out of poverty is becoming institutionalized as an important source of food assistance. It is a woefully inadequately funded "system" with severe structural challenges, whose raison d'etre remains the lack of a coherent public policy to provide the populace with food security.

Federal food assistance programs have succeeded in staving off massive epidemics of hunger in the U.S., but continue to be underfunded to meet the full needs of low-income Angelenos. Food stamp benefits are based upon the USDA's Thrifty Food Plan, a computer-generated model for an emergency diet. The TFP has been widely criticized as problematic, never having been proven nutritionally adequate on a long-term basis. It assumes an average of 3.5 hours of cooking time per day, does not take into account cultural factors in dietary choice, nor higher prices in inner cities. USDA data indicates that only 12% of those persons spending at or below the cost of the TFP eat diets with 100% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of nutrients. Current food stamp benefits provide approximately 70 cents per meal, as compared to the $1.20 that nutritionists estimate is needed to prepare a nutritious meal.

State and county run welfare programs such as General Relief and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) also provide an important source of income to many Angelenos. These programs have been cut back drastically over the past five years, resulting in increased levels of hunger. General Relief for single indigent persons has dropped from $313 to $212 over the past three to four years. AFDC has been reduced by 13% since 1989, with benefits dropping from $694 in 1990 to $607 for 1995-96 for a family of three. In L.A. County, welfare and food stamp benefits combined would amount to only 73.4% of the poverty level for a family of three. High housing costs in Los Angeles also reduce the availability of funds for food purchases. The Fair Market Rent (determined by HUD) for a three person family in L.A. County in 1994 was $804, as compared to AFDC benefits of $607. Given that families routinely spend more than 70% of their income on rent, little money is left over to supplement inadequate food stamps for food purchases.

On top of the inadequacies of existing welfare and nutrition programs, existing Congressional proposals for federal nutrition programs would substantially increase hunger in Los Angeles and result in deeper recessions. As participation in federal food assistance programs is sensitive to economic cycles, block grants or capped entitlements are problematic due to their nature as fixed sums. A recession would signify increased need without increased funding. This could potentially leave thousands of Angelenos without jobs and on long waiting lists for food stamps. Provisions to allow up to 20% of funds to be used by the state for other programs would also diminish moneys available for food assistance. By the year 2005, 30% of benefits would be cut, resulting in an average allotment per meal of only 54 cents as compared to the 71 cents currently in place. The removal of federal nutritional standards in the child nutrition programs could also contribute to higher rates of obesity among children. For the WIC program, the block grants would result in lower cutoff ages for child participants and possible changes in the composition of eligible foods toward less nutritious alternatives.

Not only would block grants result in a substantial rise in hunger among the poor in Los Angeles, they would negatively affect regional farmers, retailers as well as the economy at large. Cutbacks in school nutrition programs across the country would prove detrimental to California's enormous agricultural and dairy industry. In Los Angeles County in 1994, federal food assistance programs brought more than $1 billion into the economy, supporting retailers, wholesalers, processors, and other related industries. With a multiplier effect of three, food assistance programs stimulated the L.A. County economy with a total value of over $3 billion in 1994. The food stamp and other food assistance programs act as automatic stabilizers, moderating recessions by infusing more purchasing power into state and local economies when jobs are lost. The elimination of this stabilizing mechanism by converting food stamps from an entitlement program to a block grant is likely to make future recessions deeper and more protracted.

Emergency Food Assistance
Critics of the federal role in food assistance contend that the private sector, such as churches, can "step up to the plate" and fill in for reduced government aid. This contention is problematic. As noted above, the emergency food system is overwhelmed with existing demand, while facing the prospect of diminished resources. The restructuring of the supermarket industry in Los Angeles has already reduced corporate donations to food banks. Sushma Rahman, executive director of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, testified that many charitable programs receive federal funding, which if diminished would reduce their ability to meet even existing demand.

Numerous emergency food system leaders testified that their organizations will not be able to "pick up the slack" left by cutbacks in food assistance programs. The magnitude of assistance by the federal government and private organizations is exponentially different, with one operating in the billions and the other in the millions of dollars. With reductions in federal commodities, industry waste, and a public worn down by 15 years of hunger "emergencies," food banks are not a stable and sustainable source of food for the poor. Even if the emergency food system could meet increased demand, there still exists the larger question of whether it should become a permanent feature of the food system landscape.

The structure of the emergency food system discourages long-term solutions to the persistent problem of hunger. Originally designed as a humanistic measure to cutbacks in the federal safety net during the 1980s, it is a collective result of a grassroots movement to avert massive hunger and suffering. To borrow from a well-used proverb, it has given people fish rather than teaching them how to fish. The emergency food system has also inadvertently shaped public debate around hunger, diverting attention from policy-oriented solutions toward individualistic efforts.

C. Other nutrition related problems

While hunger is often thought of in terms of insufficiency of calories, lack of resources to purchase food (as well as other factors such as access and education) affects dietary choices in multiple ways. Poor dietary choices (and hunger) have extensive health and social impacts. Many low income residents, as members of minority groups, are at higher risk of nutritionally related diseases. These impacts are especially salient among children.

Among low-income children in Los Angeles, anemia and obesity present severe health threats. The medical director of a clinic serving the largely immigrant population of Pico-Union testified that he found 20-25% of the children he examined to be anemic. Anemia, or low iron consumption, is often associated with an inability to concentrate, poor attention, poor development and school performance, and a lowered activity level. Similarly, recent research has demonstrated the relationship between what children eat and what they learn in school. Undernutrition can retard physical growth as well as cognitive functioning. Low income children who participate in the school breakfast program have been shown to achieve better test scores and have lower rates of absence and tardiness than their counterparts who do not participate in the program.

Among adults and children alike, obesity is a common and severe health threat. Paradoxically, a lack of resources can lead to a diet of inexpensive foods high in fat, resulting in obesity. Roughly one quarter of children examined at the afore- mentioned Pico-Union clinic were found to be obese.

Many diet related diseases affect minorities regardless of their socio-economic status. In adult Latinos and African-Americans, disproportionate rates of cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension are common. These diseases are linked to diets high in saturated fats and low in fiber and produce. Below is a chart indicating the incidence of diet-related diseases among Latinos and African-Americans:

Cancer Higher than average for stomach Excess incidence of cervix, gallbladder, stomach, pancreas, esophagus;
Lower incidence of colon and breast
Childhood Anemia 20-33% prevalence High prevalence of iron deficiency in children
Mexican American men at 40% higher risk than White men
Diabetes Higher than average 3 times more common than among Whites
More severe in nature
Heart Disease Twice as common as among Whites Higher prevalence than Whites
Hypertension Death rate 10.2 times White death rate for males; 13.2 times for females

Low Birth Weight 110% higher rate than Whites; 2.5 times higher rate for very low birth weight
(< 1500 grams)

Obesity 44% of women overweight 30% Mexican American men obese
39% Mexican American women obese

A number of societal and individual factors affect dietary consumption. These include income and price, education, cultural preferences, and access.

Inadequate diets are commonly assumed to be grounded in inadequate knowledge of nutrition. Research has linked increased prevalence of higher cardiovascular disease risk factors for Latinos to their lower levels of knowledge about such risk factors. The lack of nutrition education targeted at Spanish-speakers may be one factor negatively affecting dietary choices among Latinos.

Income and price clearly affect food purchases and consumption. Limited resources often preclude purchase of more expensive nutritious foods in favor of cheaper less healthful foods. High prices in inner city supermarkets and "mom and pop" grocery stores ( see next section) translate into reduced ability to purchase a wide variety of nutritionally adequate food.

Lack of access to healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables, can also present a barrier to a healthy diet. As seen in the next section, many inner city Angelenos must rely on small neighborhood grocery stores where the ingredients for a nutritionally adequate diet are rarely available. These "mom and pop" stores tend to carry many processed foods, with high sugar, salt and fat contents, and relatively little produce beyond a few items, often of poor quality.

D. Retail Issues

Along with the issue of low income levels, the lack of adequate food retail stores presents one of the most fundamental causes of food insecurity for inner city Angelenos. Forced to rely on inadequate corner stores and pay high prices, inner city residents face structural challenges to obtaining a nutritionally adequate diet. Relatively low car ownership rates combined with bus lines not designed for food shopping aggravate access problems for inner city residents affected by the flight of neighborhood supermarkets.

Promises by the supermarket industry in the wake of the 1992 civil disturbances to rebuild in South Central and other affected communities highlight the degree to which these stores moved out of the inner city over the past 20 years. While the restructuring of the supermarket industry during the 1970s and 1980s resulted in a reduction of the number of stores regionwide, inner city communities, due to a lack of transportation options, were affected disproportionately. The merger fever of the 1980s (as with Vons and Safeway and possibly with Ralph's and Yucaipa) accelerated pressures to close off marginally profitable operations in inner city locations. Ralph's has closed 54 stores in Southern California since the merger because of their poor performance or anti-trust concerns. In inner city L.A., the number of full service chain supermarkets declined 30%, from 44 in 1975 to 31 in 1991.

Research by the UCLA Department of Urban Planning has developed the concept of and mapped "supermarket deficient areas" in LA County (See map 1) Defined by a combination of low rates of vehicle ownership and the absence of a supermarket within walking distance (defined as .5 miles), these areas can be said to be those where access to food is highly problematic (While many suburban residents do not live within walking distance to a supermarket, their high car ownership rates preclude access problems). Almost one million persons in L.A. County live in supermarket deficient areas, with a large portion within city boundaries. In these areas, there is roughly one supermarket per 27,000 persons as compared to one per 16,000 in the County as a whole. Each of these markets serves 70% more people than the County average.

Without access to a vehicle or a supermarket within walking distance, many residents of "supermarket deficient areas" rely on either expensive taxis which burden their already limited resources, or buses. Bus routes, however, are more often designed to feed commuters into downtown than around the food shopping needs of neighborhood residents. An analysis of supermarket location and bus routes in one L.A. neighborhood found that residents would have to transfer one or two times to reach a nearby supermarket (See map 2). These difficulties result in shoppers unable to purchase large money saving sizes, or having to rely on neighborhood grocery stores for a greater percentage of their food purchases. A recent L.A. Times article detailed how one transit-dependent shopper, juggling two small children and multiple bags of groceries, was forced to leave behind a gallon of milk in order to purchase needed laundry detergent.

Even when inner city shoppers do avoid the limited selection and exorbitant prices of corner grocery stores and make it to the nearest supermarket, they are still faced with the inequitable situation of high prices. Numerous studies nationwide have demonstrated the prevalence of high prices in inner city supermarkets. The industry cites higher costs in transportation, land, labor, cart loss, theft, and security as factors in the price differential. A thorough comparison of supermarket prices in two suburban and one inner city communities found that a basic market basket for a family of three would cost $279 more per year when purchased in inner city supermarkets. More significantly, an identical market basket would cost a household of median income residing and shopping in the inner city 35% of their income as compared to 11-16% of a median income household residing and shopping in the suburban communities. These figures are especially noteworthy given the aforementioned high costs of rent.

As a result of these issues, many inner city residents view the development of new supermarkets as their primary community development choice, according to needs assessments by Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, RLA, and UCLA. RLA's recent study indicated that 51% of people interviewed in areas affected by the 1992 civil disturbances ranked food stores as their number one choice for what they want in their community. The telephone survey conducted as part of Seeds of Change found that 80% of interviewees would like a new supermarket in their neighborhood.

New supermarkets in inner city Los Angeles have been promised by virtually all major chains. Economic analysis reveals that the primary rationale for this redevelopment is not good corporate citizenship, but saturation in the suburban markets. The inner city has become the "inner frontier" for capital expansion. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review touts the growth potential of inner city markets, noting that in Los Angeles, the retail penetration of supermarkets per resident in the inner city as compared to the rest of the city is 35%.

Perhaps one of the fundamental lessons of the 1992 riots with regards to the food system, is the need for food stores to increase the sense of community ownership or engagement. If new supermarkets are to thrive in the inner city, carefully cultivated relations between the community and the chain must be developed. Experience shows that costly problems such as cart loss, shrink, and security can be minimized through community input in the operation and participation in the ownership of the store. Success stories about community-store partnerships are not infrequent. One of the best known is the joint venture between the non-profit New Communities Corporation and Pathmark in Newark, which has the highest sales per sq. ft. of any store in New Jersey. Another less well-known example involves Fine's Market in Boyle Heights, whose customers, grateful for the store's pick-up and drop-off van service, prevented it from being looted during the 1992 civil disturbances. These examples point toward the need for innovative programs and community economic development oriented solutions to the city's access and hunger problems.

E. Solutions

To the problems discussed above, the VACH has identified a series of solutions which if combined in a "basket of strategies" can significantly improve the food security of all Angelenos. There does not exist any one "magic bullet" solution. The synthesis of many different strategies is necessary to address the broad range of food insecurity parameters. This section will look at a series of programs ranging from supermarket development to farmers' markets, community gardens, transportation, and advocacy for federal food assistance programs.

The first set of solutions addresses retail deficiencies. They are grounded in a greater community engagement in the food distribution system. The Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC), has established an equity fund (The Retail Initiative - TRI) to assist community development corporations in building inner city supermarkets as joint ventures. The joint venture model is an important one, as it provides for the recirculation of local dollars into community based projects. Profits earned from joint ventures may return to the community in the form of child care centers, affordable housing, and transportation services. Through training and hiring local residents, allowing community input into the product mix and store operation, joint venture arrangements can increase a community's sense of ownership of a store, and enhance its success. In Los Angeles, LISC officials are working with two CDCs to build joint ventures in South Central.

While LISC will provide funding for the construction of full-size supermarkets, RLA has offered another plan to meet community retail needs. After completing community needs assessments and an inventory of available lands, RLA is laying the groundwork for the creation of a network of smaller 8,000 to 14,000 sq. ft. stores. The small size of these stores, as compared to the typical 40,000 sq. ft supermarket, would allow for construction on the numerous small parcels available throughout the inner city. To ensure economies of scale and competitive prices, the stores would be linked through a cooperative buying arrangement.

The Korean Youth and Community Center has developed a similar plan to RLA. It is collaborating with Korean-owned mom and pop stores to develop cooperative buying arrangements which could result in lower prices and a wider range of product. Common among their approaches is a core notion that these stores must be engaged with the communities in which they are located.

Farmers' Markets
In communities where adequate retail outlets are scarce, certified farmers' markets play an important role in providing access to fresh, affordable produce. Farmers' markets provide benefits to growers, consumers, and communities alike. Growers receive prices substantially higher than wholesale (30% by one estimate), cash in hand, and reduced packing costs. Consumers on the other hand receive fresher produce, at lower or comparable prices than supermarkets in an open air festival style atmosphere. Farmers' markets also serve as a community meeting place, where other services such as immunizations, mammographs, blood screenings, and seed giveaways have been provided. They lay the groundwork for inter-cultural communication through tasting new foods and swapping recipes.

Community Gardens/Urban Agriculture
Through the process of converting an empty or blighted lot into a flourishing vegetable and flower patch, community gardening and urban agriculture projects provide multiple benefits to residents as well as possess great potential as a community development tool. Not only do they provide a source of nutritious food for low income persons, - up to $600 on an average 64 sq. ft. plot according to USDA estimates-, but they can also provide job training. By way of example, the Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz employs homeless persons as part of its 2.5 acre operation, providing them with the stability and nurturance to get off the streets.

In park-scarce inner city L.A., community gardens are often utilized as parks, where celebrations such as birthday parties are held. Community gardens are the only public gathering space in many neighborhoods. They are safe places where parents can allow their children to run freely, and where recent immigrants can share their cultural knowledge through gardening. Through the medium of gardening clubs, community gardens play a powerful role in community development, as neighbors get to know each other and build a greater stake in their community. Gardens also enhance urban environments, transforming "concrete jungles" into real miniature jungles. Finally, community gardens (and school gardens in particular) play an effective nutrition education role. As one local elementary school teacher commented, "Kids will eat anything that they grow."

Community-based food production businesses possess great potential for job creation. The Hartford Food System's hydroponic greenhouse, built on a vacant lot donated by the City, employed four to five persons full time in growing lettuce for local supermarkets, restaurants, and other institutions. In Los Angeles, Food from the Hood's salad dressing business, run by Crenshaw High School students, has garnered praise as a model economic development project, as well as netted inner city students hundreds of thousands of dollars for college scholarships.

Historically, the food retail industry has been an important source of family wage jobs for inner city residents. The growth of independent and warehouse format stores has led to a decline in union scale jobs with good benefit packages. The maintenance of well paying supermarket jobs is crucial as an economic development strategy for inner city communities.

The final set of solutions lay within the field of transportation. In Austin, Texas, at the behest of the new Food Policy Council, a new bus route has been added to assist low income shoppers in accessing supermarkets. A similar effort in Los Angeles through a re-evaluation of bus routes could facilitate food shopping. Research by the UCLA Department of Urban Planning to develop a model van service for supermarkets also holds great promise in increasing inner city residents' access to nearby supermarkets.

Advocacy for Public Benefits
As we have seen above, federal food assistance and welfare programs provide crucial income support functions, averting further food insecurity and hunger. Given high unemployment rates and low minimum wages, without the continuation of these programs in a substantial fashion, efforts to increase access through retail and farmers' market development can only provide half of the picture. Advocacy for public benefits targeted at the County, state, and federal government is an essential activity for ensuring the food security of all Angelenos.

F. Policy Related Issues

The expansion of community-based approaches to address questions of hunger and food access necessitates the formulation among individual agencies and departments of comprehensive and coordinated food-related policies and programs. Already embedded within the policies and activities of many agencies are de facto food policies. Greater attention and coordination of these policies is needed to ensure food security for all residents of Los Angeles. By way of example, the Planning Department and Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) should play pivotal roles in improving access to affordable and nutritious food through such policies as granting parking lot size variances, facilitating public finance, and assisting in land assembly for new supermarkets in supermarket deficient areas in exchange for greater community ownership and participation in the operation of the stores. Similarly, the Community Development Department, through block granting mechanisms (CDBG) in conjunction with the Environmental Affairs Department should promote community-oriented programs and policies to address food insecurity and hunger, such as community gardens. Current CDD funding for community gardens should be substantially increased. The Metropolitan Transit Agency should re-examine its bus routes around the facilitation of intra-neighborhood food shopping.

Many of the testifiers at the VACH Hearings expressed the need for pro-active city policies around concrete components of the food system. Both Lamont Bristol and Debbie Fryman of L.A. Harvest cited the absence of a coordinated policy in the Department of Water and Power (DWP) as a major barrier to the development of community gardens. Ms. Fryman recommended a "one-stop shopping" permitting process for community gardens, as is currently conducted in New York and Philadelphia. Similarly, Marion Kalb of Southland Farmers' Market Association argued that a centralized process for farmers' market permits would be more efficient and facilitate their development.

Through exploring the wide reach of food and hunger issues, across departments (Health Services, Community Development, Planning, CRA, MTA, Environmental Affairs), jurisdictions (federal, state, county, and city), and disciplines (Planning, Public Health, Social Work, Agriculture, Public Policy, Business Administration), VACH research has demonstrated the need for a coordinated municipal approach to the long-term resolution of hunger. Such an approach can be undertaken only by a new body comprised of stakeholders from the various sectors of the food system and vested with an official advisory capacity to the City in policy and program development. This public private partnership, entitled the Los Angeles Food Security and Hunger Partnership, like similar entities existing in half dozen cities across the nation, will play an instrumental role in facilitating community efforts to reduce hunger and overseeing the development of municipal policies and their intersection with state and federal programs.

Financial Sustainability
The Los Angeles Food Security and Hunger Partnership should be financially sustainable, and not exclusively dependent upon funding from the City. The City should provide initial seed funding for the start-up phase of the Partnership. The Partnership should establish a viable on-going funding base from its stakeholders drawing on a broad-base of sponsors in the private, independent, and public sectors. As its purview crosses many fields, its sponsors will come from a number of different arenas including social services, community development, environment, health, economic development.

Measurable Results

In its first twelve months, the LA Food Security and Hunger Partnership (LAFSHP) should achieve the following:

Assist in the identification and selection of LAFSHP stakeholders;

Develop criteria for and publish an annual hunger index;

Hold six meetings of the LAFSHP;

Research and publish a State of Food Security in Los Angeles Report;

Raise adequate funding to ensure the continuation of the LAFSHP;

Identify demonstration projects.

IV. Recommendations

Summary of Recommendations
This plan proposes the adoption of a Los Angeles Food Security and Hunger Policy, incorporating the establishment of the Los Angeles Food Security and Hunger Partnership. As a joint venture between the public, independent, and private sectors, the LAFSHP's mission is to provide food security and combat hunger through empowerment and community and economic development strategies. The LAFSHP will be a city advisory body located in the Office of the Mayor, with an adjunct non-profit organization and research arm connected to regional universities and colleges. The Partnership will consist of 18 members appointed by the Mayor, the Community Development Department, and the the City Council President. Its functions will include reviewing, evaluating, and recommending policies and programs as they relate to food security and hunger. The Partnership will also recommend pilot projects based on empowerment and community economic development principles.

A. Mission Statement: End Hunger and Create Food Security

It shall be the policy of the City of Los Angeles to help combat and eliminate hunger and establish community food security so that all residents continually obtain a culturally acceptable and nutritinally adequate diet.

B. Goals

The goals of the LA Food Security and Hunger Partnership shall be the following:

To end hunger;
To establish food security;
To assure that all residents have access to a continuous source of safe, affordable, culturally acceptable, and nutritious food;
To encourage self-reliance and empowerment-oriented solutions to nutritional problems;
To encourage food-related community development and economic development throughout the City;
To encourage food production and distribution systems which are community-controlled, equitable, and nutritionally and environmentally sound.
To develop an Annual State of the City Food Security and Hunger Report;
To enhance the effectiveness of existing policies and programs as well as seeking additional resources to fulfill its mission, to bring about the more effective use of existing city programs and policies to eliminate hunger and create community food security, such as through inter-departmental collaboration.

C. Structure

The LAFSHP will be an advisory body to the City. An adjunct non-profit (501c(3)) organization will be established, with the 18 stakeholders (designated in Section D) serving as its Board of Directors. The purpose of the non-profit organization will be to help provide funding to the Partnership for staffing and the carrying out of its mission. The Partnership will establish an adjunct Research Arm through a joint USC/UCLA partnership, encouraging participation from faculty, staff, and students in a wide variety of disciplines from the region's community colleges, colleges, and universities.

D. Composition

The LAFSHP will be composed of 18 partners, 6 appointed by the Mayor, 6 appointed by the President of City Council (with input from the Community and Economic Development Committee chair), and 6 by the Community Development Department. The Volunteer Advisory Council on Hunger will be available to the appointing parties as an advisor in the appointment process. The chair will be elected by the partners annually. The partners will serve staggered two and three year terms, and will represent the stakeholder positions in the food system.

The 18 members of the Partnership will consist of the following stakeholders:

One representative from the private food retail industry;
One small grocery store owner or representative from an organization working with small grocery stores;
Two representatives from the religious community knowledgeable in food/hunger issues, and reflecting the religious diversity of Los Angeles;
Two appointments at large;
Two representative from an organization working on economic and community development in low-income neighborhoods;
One representative from a community gardening organization;
One representative from labor involved in food retailing or processing;
One representative from an anti-hunger organization;
One representative from a farmers' market association;
One representative from a food bank or other emergency food system

One representative from a nutrition-based organization;
One representative from the academic community;
Three LA City residents who represent clients of agencies that participate in the anti-hunger and food security system

The following agencies may appoint one ex-officio non-voting member:
City of Los Angeles Mayor's Office
City of Los Angeles Environmental Affairs Department
City of Los Angeles Planning Department
City of Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency
City of Los Angeles Department on Aging
City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department
City of Los Angeles Community Development Department
Los Angeles Unified School District
United States Department of Agriculture
CAB President or President's Designee

E. Functions and Duties

The Los Angeles Food Security and Hunger Partnership shall have the following functions and duties:
Prepare an annual report on hunger and community food security, and development of a set of food security and hunger indicators, based in part on existing models, such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Hartford Food Policy Advisory Commission
Review, evaluate, and recommend both existing and new policies of city agencies, to increase the food security of all residents;
Collect and monitor data on a continuing basis on the nutritional status of city residents, as well as on the affordability, accessibility, and quality of food in the various areas of the City;
Develop a coordinated plan to increase access to food throughout the City;
Collaborate with community groups on local food-related issues and initiatives;
Develop pilot projects based on empowerment and community economic development principles in targeted areas;
Recommend appropriate policy to City Council and the Mayor;

F. Food Security and Hunger Policy Statements

Food Security
It is the policy of the City of Los Angeles to assure that all residents obtain on a daily basis a diet which seeks to meet the cultural and nutritional needs of the City's diverse population.

It is the policy of the City of Los Angeles to pursue and support policies which assure that all of its residents have access to culturally acceptable and healthy food sources.

Community Economic Development
It is the policy of the City of Los Angeles to promote neighborhood based food production, processing, and marketing which stimulate living wage job creation in its development and community plans.

It is the policy of the City of Los Angeles to promote empowerment-oriented solutions to the problems of hunger and food insecurity.

Urban Agriculture and Community Gardening
It is the policy of the City of Los Angeles to facilitate the development and operation of community gardens and community-based agriculture projects within city limits.

Farmers' Markets
It is the policy of the City of Los Angeles to facilitate the development and operation of certified farmers' markets, especially in those areas with deficient food access.

It is the policy of the City of Los Angeles to support public, independent, and private efforts to promote healthy food choices.

It is the policy of the City of Los Angeles that food shopping shall be taken into account when planning public transportation programs and resources, especially in highly transit dependent communities.

It is the policy of the City of Los Angeles to work cooperatively with its residents, local farmers, community organizations, private food industry, labor, and all levels of government to improve the food security of all residents.

Emergency planning
The City shall promote policies which encourage the self-reliance of residents with respect to food production and processing as a form of emergency food planning.

Lobbying and Advocacy
The goals and objectives of the Partnership and projects it sponsors or supports should be incorporated into the intergovernmental polciies of the City of Los Angeles.

As a result of its various food-related policies and programs, the City shall strive to ensure that the environment is not degraded nor its citizens exposed to environmental hazards in the production of local foods.

Appendix A: Potential Sources of Funding for the
LA Food Security and Hunger Partnership

Foundations and Community Organizations

Ben and Jerry's
California Baptist State Convention
California Community Foundation
California Restaurant Association
Catholic Charities
Episcopal Diocese
Farm Aid
Food for All
Guess Foundation
James C Penney Foundation
James Irvine Foundation
Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation
Jewish Federation of Los Angeles
Kellogg Foundation
LA United Methodist Foundations and Community organizations
LA Women's Foundation
Liberty Hill Foundation
Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger
Merck Foundation
National Restaurant Association
Ralph Parsons Foundation
Riordan Foundation
Southern California Gas Company
Sothern California Grocers Association
United Parcel Service
United Way Employee Contributions
Verbina Foundation
Weingart Foundation
World Vision

Governmental Agencies
CDBG funds
Community Development Department, City of LA
Community Food Security Act
Crime Prevention Funding
CSBG funding
EPA Pollution prevention, Environmental Justice, and Environmental Education Funds
HUD funding
Urban Resources Partnership USDA/NRCS
US Department of Health and Human Services

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