California aims to tackle food insecurity following sharp increase in grocery prices


Hannah Saunders


California is the fifth-largest supplier of food and agricultural commodities in America, and produces about half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables. As the prices of groceries continue to rise, California legislators are working to address the growing rates of food insecurity through Assembly Bill 1961, known as the End Hunger in California Act of 2024. The Assembly Committee on Human Services met on April 9 to discuss the proposed legislation. 

AB 1961 would require the Strategic Growth Council to establish and convene the End Hunger in California Master Plan Task Force. The task force would be responsible for recommending future strategies to address access barriers to healthy and culturally-relevant foods for all Californians. Ideally, the task force would craft a holistic plan that tackles root causes of food access and insecurity to create feasible, long-term solutions. 

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“More than one in five—about 8.8 million people—currently struggle with food insecurity. Hunger and lack of access to nutritious food are exacerbated by racial and economic inequalities, with 40 percent of Black households and 30 percent of Latino households being food insecure in the state of California, one of the richest places in the world,” AB 1961 sponsor Asm. Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) said.

While California produces an abundance of the country’s food, food deserts—regions with limited access to affordable and nutritious food—still persist. Many households experience food insecurity due to financial challenges, or they lack adequate transportation to and from their closest food retailer, Wicks said. In 2021, 65 percent of San Francisco and San Jose metro area neighborhoods were considered food deserts, while over 20 percent of Fresno residents live in food deserts. 

Food insecurity occurs when people don’t have enough food to eat or don’t know where their next meal will come from. Chronic health conditions can cause food insecurity, since long-term health issues can make it difficult for a person to work and earn enough money. They may have to spend a lot of money on healthcare bills, leaving them with less funds for food, according to Feeding America

A lack of access to enough nutritional food leads to an increased risk of malnutrition and other chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Individuals and families experiencing food insecurity are more likely to experience social isolation, negative stigmas, and shame, which tie into mental health problems like depression, stress, and anxiety. Malnourished individuals may also miss school and work due to illness, have low energy, and face difficulty in concentrating. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study on food insecurity in America, which found it is associated with a 257 percent increased risk for developing anxiety, and a 253 percent increased risk for developing depression. 

Since food insecurity leads to increased risks of depression and anxiety, it also increases the need for mental health providers. California State University at Sacramento published a report in 2022 which stated that California will have 41 percent fewer psychiatrists, and 11 percent fewer psychologists, licensed marriage counselors, and family therapists by 2028. 

Jassy Grewal, legislative director at the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Western States Council, spoke in support of AB 1961. The union protects employees in the food sector, including farm workers and grocery delivery drivers. 

“AB 1961 establishes a broadly inclusive task force that will work to develop statewide goals, strategies and solutions to tackle the inequities that exist within our current food system, and improve access to nutritious and affordable food for all communities,” Grewal said. 

Grewal said workers who grow and deliver food face higher levels of food insecurity than the rest of the U.S. workforce, with over three-quarters of them experiencing food insecurity, based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food security assessment tool. 

“The cost of food has significantly increased. It has been over 30 years since food was this expensive, and consumers now spend over 11 percent of their disposable income on food. In 2022, food prices increased nearly 10 percent—faster than any year since 1979.”

— Grewal

Food prices in 2024 are 19 percent more expensive than they were prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Grewal added. The committee approved AB 1961, and sent it to the Assembly’s Agriculture Committee. 

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