By Leah Harris
Food Insecurity, Mental Health, and the ‘Food as Medicine’ Movement in Alameda County.
Did you know that consistent access to food is one of the most primary social determinants of not only physical health, but mental health as well? And with the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity is increasing in unprecedented ways, including in Alameda County. Michael Altfest, director of community engagement and marketing at Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland told Well + Good: “Our food bank’s been around 35 years, and we’ve never seen an increase in need like this.”
Just what is food insecurity (FI), exactly? According to a definition from the organization Food Forward, food insecurity refers to “a lack of access to enough good, healthy, and culturally appropriate food.” “Culturally appropriate” food refers to food that people recognize and know how to prepare.
A 2017 worldwide study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found a cause and effect link between FI and mental health challenges across all regions of the globe. According to Dr. Andrew D. Jones, one of the study’s principal authors, “Psychosocial stressors…may be amplified with increasing FI. For example, anxiety related to one’s ability to acquire sufficient food in the future may be provoked even under conditions of mild FI, and is likely to increase with moderate and severe FI.”
Jones adds that the shame caused by the need to steal or acquire food in “socially unacceptable ways” to survive may further increase poor mental health. “Under conditions of more severe FI, for example, individuals may resort to acquiring food in socially unacceptable ways as a coping strategy. The feelings of shame and guilt associated with this behavior could compound pre-existing anxiety precipitated by mild FI to yield even poorer mental health conditions.”
Luckily, there are several resources available in Alameda County, whether you or someone you know is facing FI, or if you are in a position to help alleviate it. Alameda is an innovator and leader in the “Food as Medicine” movement, having five “food pharmacy” programs in place to help low-income residents access fresh and nutritious food via health clinics. And if it passes, a bill introduced earlier this year in the California legislature could take this concept statewide. Alameda County’s Dig Deep Farms offers several programs, including an agriculture internship for returning citizens.
We can each do our part to help relieve food insecurity and to promote mental health and overall health and well-being, even during these most stressful and uncertain of times. Please check out the resources below for more information on how to get involved.
To help relieve food insecurity in Alameda County:
- To get food: Call the Alameda County Community Food Bank Helpline at: 1-800-870-FOOD (3663) or 1-510-635-3663. Or, visit FoodNow.net
- Donate to or get involved with the Alameda County Community Food Bank
- San Leandro’s Dig Deep Farms In Need Of Volunteers To Help With Food Distribution (KCBS Radio)
- Volunteer at Dig Deep Farms: sign up form
- Free Food Distribution In San Leandro Every Friday (Yahoo News)
For Further Exploration:
- Food insecurity can affect your mental health: Large worldwide survey points to link (ScienceDaily)
- Dig Deep Farms’ Food Hub: Investing in Local Health & Wealth (Community Vision California)
- Alameda County launches new ‘food hub’ for low-income residents (Mercury News)
- Why this Bay Area county is betting big on food pharmacies for low-income patients (Mercury News)
- Taking Alameda County’s ‘food pharmacy’ statewide: new bill (East Bay Times)
- Why and How to Volunteer on a Local Farm (Nourishing Pursuits)
- How Food Banks Stepped Up To Feed the Millions of Americans Going Hungry During the Pandemic (Well + Good)