I am so glad that over the course of the past eight weeks, we have been challenged to live on a budget and shop similarly to the locals. While we have been experiencing the struggles of trying to healthily feed ourselves in West Oakland, I have to admit that we still have some privileges compared to many of our neighbors and when we go back home in a few days, we will still have our supermarket down the street.
There are many people who are working to change this injustice for West Oakland and its greater communities.
1) We have a food budget of $100 a week ($25 per person). While this is not a lot by any means, this set amount of money comes in consistently—there is never a week that we are without. That consistency (and the fact that it is someone else’s money) is in itself a gift.
2) We all value living healthy lifestyles and eating well. We already know the importance of fruits and vegetables and grew up eating them. Nobody had to wean us away from eating fast food or expensive junk food. We saw the importance of eating well and made sure to make decisions regarding food accordingly.
3) Another positive is that we have a kitchen with a working stove, oven, microwave, refrigerator and sink—many people do not have this much. In most of the SROs that I have been visiting in the Tenderloin, most rooms do not have any of these amenities while some have small fridge/ microwave combinations or kitchenettes. We are by no means limited to what we can cook by the amenities that are in our apartment—just by our skills and creativity.
4) We have a car and internet to drive us to the stores and look up recipes. Because we have been staying in a food desert, we know how inconvenient shopping can be. However, we have the ability to drive to the grocery store ten minutes away while people without cars would be forced to take public transportation or get a ride from someone else. When something is on sale (but we don’t know any good recipes), we could easily do research to find something tasty.
By living in West Oakland this summer, I have recognized how fortunate I am in a multitude of ways. Before, I was constantly stressed over time and money. I was working a lot to pay my bills and the quality of my life was suffering. But now I know that I can stretch a dollar even thinner than I was before. I know to shop at discount stores like Grocery Outlet and seasonally at farmer’s markets, to make small changes in recipes like using chicken thighs instead of boneless chicken breasts or died black beans instead of canned black beans, to using recipes with inexpensive ingredients like pasta and potatoes and only cook from scratch compared to the pricey alternative of pre-made food or take-out.