Overview of Food System Issues

Snapshot of the Los Angeles Regional Food System

Current State of the Plate
Image: Handbuilt Studio

Regional Food System

  • Our regional food system (or      foodshed) spans 200 miles, 10 counties and touches over 22 million people      (or about 7% of U.S. population).
  • Consumers spend close to $60 billion on food in 10 counties and $25 billion on food in LA County. LA County residents spend about $4 billion on fresh fruits and vegetables.1
  • California is the most productive agricultural state in the nation, with a $39 billion farm economy, and produces about 50% of the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables. The top producing counties are Fresno, Tulare, Kern, Merced and Monterey. 2
  • Our region still has an extensive regional farming base that produces about $12 billion in fruits,      nuts and vegetables a year and a large food processing and manufacturing sector.3
  • From 2002-2007, 10% of Southern California agricultural land was lost to development, despite some of the best conditions for producing food in the world.4
  • 125,000 farms (6%) produce 70% of the nation’s food. 5
  • 80% of the cost of food eaten in the home goes to someone other than the farmer.6
  • 2% of food produced in US is consumed locally.7
  • Every dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy. By contrast, only      15% of every dollar spent at a chain or non-local business is returned to  the local economy.

 

Food System Workers

  • The food system accounts for  more than 1 and 7 jobs in Los Angeles County. 9
  • For every four workers employed      directly by the food system, another job is created indirectly due to economic activity created by food system industries10
  • A recent study by the Centers of Excellence office of the California Community Colleges found that the agriculture value chain has a significant impact on the California economy, with most of the jobs (59%) in the agricultural support sector.   The study projected that the Los Angeles and Orange County region would  experience 53,476 new jobs in that sector over the next five years — the  largest number of new jobs in that sector, in the state. 11
  • Farm workers work in one of the      most dangerous and lowest paying industries in the nation. 12      In 2008, six California farm workers died from heat-related illnesses,  while harvesting the nation’s food. 13  Cancer rates are double among farm worker families. 14
  • Hunger and obesity disproportionately affect farm worker families. Fresno County, the most productive agricultural county in the country, has some of the highest rates of hunger and obesity in the country 15
  • The hospitality industry is one of the largest employers in Los Angeles. It also claims the highest number of L. A. County workers living below 200% of the federal poverty level. 16
  • The median wage among Los Angeles restaurant workers is $9.24 per hour. However, there are some  livable wage jobs in the Los Angeles restaurant industry – 18% of workers reported earning livable wages. 17

 

Hunger/Food Insecurity

  • 1 in 10 families (or over 1  million people) go hungry or face food insecurity in LA County.18
  • 25% of children and 50% of  seniors are food insecure. 19
  • One in ten Los Angeles County  residents received food assistance in 2009.20
  • The number of children  receiving food assistance more than doubled since 2005. 21
  • Less than 40% of LA County  residents eligible for Food Stamps are currently enrolled. 22
  • Over $1 billion in federal  nutrition benefits are available, but not claimed in Los Angeles County  each year. 23

 

Health/Food Access

  • Over 55% of adults, 40% of  middle school students and 34% of toddlers are obese or overweight in LA  County.24
  • In 2006, Los Angeles County spent $12 billion on health care costs and lost productivity associated with obesity and physical inactivity.25
  • The risk of diabetes is 50% for minority children. 26
  • Obesity and poverty rates are over three times greater in South Los Angeles than in West Los Angeles. 27
  • Predominantly white neighborhoods have 3 times as many supermarkets as black neighborhoods and nearly twice as many markets as Latino neighborhoods in Los Angeles. 28
  • The density of convenience  stores in South LA is double the rest of LA County. 29
  • Estimates of sales leakage from residents in five underserved LA neighborhoods traveling outside of their  neighborhoods to purchase groceries totaled over $113 million a year. 30

 

Environment

  • Agriculture consumes about 80% of California’s water; most of the acreage is in field crops, which can be  water intensive and are not fresh food. 31
  • One third of all human induced  green house gas emissions come from agribusiness. 32
  • The U.S. food system uses  15-20% of the nation’s energy (USDA). 33
  • Livestock production accounts for almost 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. 34
  • CA agriculture is one of the state’s top contributors to climate change. 35
  • 3,700 million acres could  sequester 1 gigaton per year if farmed with no-till, cover crops and  manure. This is 12% of all annual agricultural emissions.
  • The average food product  travels 1,500 miles to reach our plates. 36
  • Food is the largest single      source of waste in California. 37
  • Over 635 miles of rivers and  streams in the Central Valley have been classified as unsafe due to pollution from agricultural runoff. 38

1US Bureau of Labor Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved 2010
2 County Agricultural Commission Crop Reports. (2009). USDA Census of Agriculture, 2007. Retrieved 2010, from http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/.
3 County Agricultural Commission Crop Reports. (2009). USDA Census of Agriculture, 2007. Retrieved 2010, from http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/.
4 National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA. (2009). USDA Census of Agriculture, 2007. USDA. Retrieved 2010, from http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/.
5 National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA. (2009). USDA Census of Agriculture, 2007. USDA. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/.
6 Canning, P. (2011) A Revised and Expanded Food Dollar Series: A Better Understanding of Our Food Costs. Economic Research Services, USDA.
7Civic Economics. (2002). Economic Impact Analysis: A Case Study Local Merchants vs. Chain Retailers, Austin.
8
9 California Employment Development Department. (2009). Retrieved March 15, 2010, from Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) : http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/?pageid=1016
10 Schilling, Brian J. and Kevin P. Sullivan (2006). The Economic Importance of New Jersey’s Food System in 2002. Food Policy Institute, Rutgers University.
11 Agricultural Value Chain for California. (2011). Center of Excellence.
12 Aguirre International. (2005). The California Farm Labor Force Overview and Trends from the National Agricultural Workers Survey. Office of Binational Border Health (COBBH), California-Mexico Health Initiative (CMHI), California Program on Access to Care (CPAC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9
13 Burke, Garance. (August 21, 2008). “More farm deaths in heat despite Calif. Crackdown,” Associated Press. Available online at http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-08-20-3205167992_x.htm
14 Reeves, M., Katten, A., Guzman, M. (2002). Fields of Poison. Citing study by P.K. Mills and S. Kwong. (2002). “Cancer Incidence in the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) 1987–1997,” Amer. J. Industrial Med. 40: 596–603.
15 Wirth, C. et. al., (2007). Hunger in the Fields: Food Insecurity Among Farmworkers in Fresno County. California Institute for Rural Studies: 36.
16 Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. (2008). Poverty, Jobs, and the Los Angeles Economy: An Annual Analysis of US Census Data and the Challenges Facing Our Region. Los Angeles: LAANE.
17 Restaurant Opportunities Center-Los Angeles. (2011). Behind the Kitchen Door: Inequality and Opportunity in Los Angeles, the Nation’s Largest Restaurant Industry. Los Angeles, CA.
18 Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. (2010). Hunger in Los Angeles County 2010. Los Angeles, CA.
19 The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Mazon: A Jewish Response to End Hunger. (2009). Hungry No More: A Blueprint to End Hunger in Los Angeles. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Mazon: A Jewish Response to End Hunger.
20 Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. (2010). Hunger in Los Angeles County 2010. Los Angeles, CA.
21 Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. (2010). Hunger in Los Angeles County 2010. Los Angeles, CA.
22 Shimada, T. (2009). Lost Dollars, Empty Plates. Oakland: California Food Policy Advocates.
23 Shimada, T. (2009). Lost Dollars, Empty Plates. Oakland: California Food Policy Advocates.
24 Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. (2009). Key Indicators of Health by Service Planning Area- 2009. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
25 Chenoweth & Associates, I. (2009). Economic Costs of Physical Inactivity, Obesity, and Overweight in California Adults: Health Care, Workers’ Compensation, and Lost Productivity- 2006. California Center for Public Health Advocacy.
26
27 Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. (2009). Key Indicators of Health by Service Planning Area- 2009. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
28 Shaffer, A. (2002) The Persistence of L.A.’s Grocery Gap: The Need for a New Food Policy and Approach to Market Development. The Center for Food and Justice, The Urban and Environmental Policy Institute: Occidental College.
29 Sturm R and Cohen DA. (2009). Zoning for Health? The Year-Old Ban on New Fast-Food Restaurants in South LA. Health Affairs.
30 Social Compact. (2008). Los Angeles Neighborhood Market DrillDown: Catalyzing Business Investment in Inner-City Neighborhoods.
31 Cooley, Christian-Smith, Gleick. (July 2009). Sustaining California Agriculture in an Uncertain Future. Pacific Institute.
32 Paustian, K., Antle, J., Sheehan, J., Paul, E. (2006). Agriculture’s Rol in Greenhouse Gas Mitigation. Prepared for Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
33 Energy Use in the U.S. Food System. Patrick Canning, Ainsley Charles, Sonya Huang, Karen R. Polenske, and Arnold Waters. Economic Research Service, USDA.
34 Food And Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2006). Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM.
35 Sumner, Daniel et al. (September 2010). Impacts of AB 32 on Agriculture. Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics, University of California Davis. Available at: http://agecon.ucdavis.edu/extension/update/articles/V14N1_6.pdf
36 Pirog, R. (2003). Checking the Food Odometer: Comparing Food Miles for Local Versus Conventional Produce Sales for Iowa Institutions. Leopold Center for Sustainability
37 Daniels, K. (2010, April 5). Food to Waste. Retrieved May 5, 2010, from Hunger in the Golden State: http://hungerincal.uscannenberg.org/?p=112
38 The Environmental Justice Water Coalition. (2005). “Thirsty for Justice: A People’s Blueprint for California Water”.