Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Food Security in Cities

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 12: Community Food Security > Food Security in Cities


Most people in the world now live in or around cities. Many live in refugee camps or other communities with poor housing and sanitation, and little access to jobs, clean water, or healthy food. People have better food security in cities when they have jobs, money, and safe and healthy housing. Then they can buy and eat better food, cook and store food, and even grow their own food in urban gardens.

The People’s Grocery
People tend a garden patch between buildings.

Like many urban areas in the United States, West Oakland (in California) has more stores that sell alcohol and junk food than ones that offer healthy, fresh food. With stores that do sell healthy food setting prices too high for most people in the community, many people in West Oakland are malnourished or overweight. Problems of alcoholism, drug abuse, and violence make the community a dangerous place to live. Almost 1 of every 4 people in West Oakland depends on emergency food programs.

Seeing this problem, some people got together to bring healthy food to the community at prices people could afford. They began by raising money to buy a truck. They painted the truck in bright colors and put in a stereo system that played popular music. Every week they drove to farmers’ markets in other parts of the city and brought back vegetables and fruit. They parked on street corners where people gathered, played music to attract more people, and sold the fresh food at low prices. As they sold food, they talked to people about the importance of a healthy diet.

They called their mobile market The People’s Grocery and invited people from the community to join them. Some people decided to start a community garden to grow fresh produce that could be sold by the People’s Grocery truck. Young and old people worked together and learned how to grow food. Other people planted gardens of their own. Soon a nearby school and community center also planted gardens. Most of the food from these gardens was sold by the People’s Grocery truck.

After success in the community, the People’s Grocery asked the city government for land, funds, and advertising. With some government support, they thought their project could feed many more people.

People’s Grocery continues to build the local food system and economy, improving food security for everyone in West Oakland. People’s Grocery says no one should live without healthy food just because they are poor or live in the city. They say: In order to have food security, we need food justice!

To build food security in cities, governments must help

The story of the People’s Grocery shows how people in a poor urban community are working to solve their own problems of food security. The program they developed has helped many people, but it has not completely solved the problems of food security.

A woman speaks.

  • Why did people in West Oakland not have healthy food?
  • How did the People’s Grocery get local people interested in healthy food?
  • How could local government become involved in supporting this kind of project?
  • What other groups or institutions could the People’s Grocery work with to help the project?
  • How can you help promote food security in your community?

Sustainable food policy for cities

To have lasting food security, all aspects of city life and development must be discussed. People responsible for planning transportation, education, employment, and development of new homes and settlements should think about how people in the city get their food. Providing land for community gardens, transportation to markets, and teaching about food security and nutrition in schools are all ideas local governments can use to help people today, while making sure there will be better food security tomorrow.

People speak outside a store with signs reading "L.Shark's Sky High Store. Credit terms:10% interest per month. Coca cola, condensed milk, cigarettes, junk food, vitamin tonics. Sorry, no beans, rice, or maize." OR People speak outside a store with signs reading "People's Co-op. Credit without interest. Medicinal plants. Low cost staples. Beans, maize, rice, fruit. Sorry, no coca cola, condensed milk, beer, junk.
Stores that sell healthy foods at affordable prices support community health.


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