Guest Commentary: Hunger in Davis

by Michael Bisch

“When we’re talking about poverty, what we’re really talking about is hunger and malnutrition.” – Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor

To my surprise, one of the biggest challenges in my first year as Executive Director of the Yolo Food Bank (founded in 1970 in Davis as the Yolo County Coalition Against Hunger), is just how difficult it is to focus a public conversation on creating and fostering an equitable, sustainable, local food system.  Inevitably, such conversations devolve into accounts of a myriad of very narrow interests such as backyard gleaning, food trucks, community gardens and the like.  While each of these activities may be somewhat helpful, interesting and fulfilling, in totality their overall impact on the local food system is negligible. They really don’t do much for creating and fostering an equitable food system that meets the needs of all Davis residents.

“Any talk of food systems should start with the most vulnerable – people without the choices that most of the people in that room take for granted.” – Former Davis Mayor Robb Davis 

Yolo Food Bank EFAP food distribution, 2018

Why is it so very challenging to focus a community conversation on something as relatively straightforward as a local, equitable, sustainable food system?  I’m no all-seer with the ability to read the hearts and minds of those participating in this community conversation, so I’ll leave the speculation to others.  What I will do is offer my own thoughts, flawed as they may well be, to kick-off a conversation about creating a local, equitable, sustainable food system and the needs such a system is meant to address.

For starters, hunger and malnutrition in Davis look nothing like the first photo in this article; rather, they look a lot more like the photo to the left.

The challenge here is malnutrition due to financial, physical, communication, cultural and other barriers to healthy foods access. In Davis, these barriers impact more than 30% of the population, i.e. 20,000 residents many of them children, seniors, disabled veterans, university and community college students, and hard-working families.  The rate countywide is 20%, impacting approximately 42,000 residents.  These are startling statistics given we live in one of the most agriculturally abundant regions on planet Earth.

Malnutrition is having an insidious impact on the lives of so many of our neighbors as well as on the common good of the community.  Our vulnerable neighbors are experiencing lower health and wellness outcomes, lower educational outcomes, more homelessness, higher rates of mental illness among and other barriers to social mobility.

Poverty and the attendant food insecurity have long since evolved from the occasional crisis to a chronic condition in our community, and in many cases it is generational.  Not only is this entirely unacceptable, it’s avoidable.  This is a community conversation worth having and I invite you to join me.

Yolo Food Bank harvest, 2018

A good first step is to listen to this 30-minute Indivisible Yolo podcast interview in which I recently participated, to learn about some of the challenges and successes in distributing fresh, nutritious food to those of our neighbors living in or near poverty: here.

The interview starts off a bit tedious, but becomes significantly more interesting within a matter of minutes.  It’s worth your time.

Yolo Food Bank Kid’s Farmers Market distribution 2018


But for those of you without the patience for a 30-minute podcast, here are a few excerpts:

Yolo Food Bank receiving a Raley’s Food for Families shipment, 2018

Indivisible Yolo: You all move an incredible amount of food throughout the year – YFB feeds about 52,000 people in about 19,000 households per month, which amounts to something like 4 million pounds of food per year. How does the food bank acquire and distribute so much food?

Yolo Food Bank: It’s a real challenge collecting, sorting, storing and distributing food throughout a rural county…produce in particular. Ensuring every resident has access to fresh, nutritious food even in remote areas of the County is very expensive.  It is capital intensive….trucks, warehouses, forklifts….these are multi-million dollar investments.  Our work would not be possible without the partnership network we’ve developed over the decades. We currently have approximately 200 partners roughly half of whom are nonprofits. Food donors, distribution partners, wrap-around service providers, volunteer organizations, grant funders. Our $10 million impact on this community is only possible because of this network.  The Food Pantry and Aggie Compass here on campus, STEAC in Davis, Woodland Volunteer Food Closet, Yolo County Children’s Alliance in West Sacramento, RISE in Winters, Meals on Wheels throughout the county are but a few of our network partners.

Yolo Grown butternut squash, 2018

Indivisible Yolo: How are the 4 million pounds of food procured?

Yolo Food Bank: There are four food procurement programs that make Yolo Food Bank unique in Yolo County: 1) exclusive Feeding America member, 2) exclusive USDA surplus foods distributor aka Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP), 3) exclusive distributor of California Association of Food Banks Farm to Family program, 4) exclusive distributor of Yolo Grown fruits and vegetables (funded by Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation).

Yolo Food Bank EFAP distribution, 2018

Indivisible Yolo: How are the 4 million pounds of food distributed?

Yolo Food Bank: 1) Direct distributions, 2) partner distributions, 3) wraparound service provider distributions. EFAP, Eat Well Yolo and Kids Farmers Markets are direct distributions at sites all over the county. And nonprofit partners can access food in our nonprofit nutrition center in Woodland.

New YFB food distribution and operations facility under construction, 2018

Indivisible Yolo: Yolo Food Bank is getting a new home! Why?

Yolo Food Bank: We are currently operating out of a collection of steel sheds. The need is growing exponentially, it’s not fully met, we are turning away food donations due to capacity constraints in particular cold storage for fresh produce. Dramatically lifting the nutritional paradigm county-wide is not possible in the current facility.

End Hunger Yolo capital campaign gift presentation, 2018

Indivisible Yolo: The campaign for a new building is scheduled to wrap up at the end of 2018 – how’s it looking so far?

Yolo Food Bank: The capital campaign is currently scheduled to wrap up in February as is construction. We will be moving into the new facility in March. We still have $1.6 million to raise to ensure construction is completed on time. Times is of the essence…our current facility has been sold…the new owner will be occupying the current facility in March.  You can donate to the capital campaign at

Many thanks to Sean Raycraft, Isabel Warner of Indivisible Yolo and KDVS for making this podcast interview possible.

Yolo Food Bank is a privately-funded nonprofit distributing four million pounds of nutritious food throughout Yolo County each year, reaching every community of every size.  With an unparalleled capability and capacity to collect, store and distribute this food, Yolo Food Bank provides unique services and opportunities to the region.  It has the potential to transform the nutritional paradigm of our communities, thereby reducing poverty, increasing health and education outcomes and enabling social mobility of all kinds.  What better time than the holiday season to support our neighbors who struggle to feed their families?  You can share your holiday spirit with them by making a gift at


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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    1. David Greenwald

      The author writes: ” In Davis, these barriers impact more than 30% of the population, i.e. 20,000 residents many of them children, seniors, disabled veterans, university and community college students, and hard-working families.”  I think the word you want is food insecure – meaning – “lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.”

      Do you question that number?

  1. Keith O

    The thing about malnourishment is even well-to-do families can have malnourished children if they don’t feed them the right foods.  A lot of it comes down to plain laziness.

    1. Eric Gelber

      Any evidence to back up this slur directed at the working poor, disabled, elderly, and others who face food insecurity and undernourishment? Or is this just a rationale for refusing to meaningfully address the issue?

      1. Keith O

        Any evidence to back up this slur directed at the working poor, disabled, elderly, and others who face food insecurity and undernourishment?

        Wha-a-a-at?  What are you talking about?  Read my post again and tell me how you came away with that?

        1. Eric Gelber

          Keith – Not sure why you’re confused. The article was about poverty and food insecurity. Your suggestion that the problem of hunger and malnutrition among the poor largely comes down to “plain laziness” is unwarranted, unless you have evidence to back it up.

        2. Keith O

          You sure made some big leaps there.  Suggestion, read my comment s-l-o-w-l-y then get back to me.  Maybe you can ask Alan Miller and he wll explain it to you.  You do know that Tia hates it when people think they know what others meant because they think they can read minds.

        3. Eric Gelber

          Alan Miller’s alternative reading of what you wrote (malnutrition among the well-off) would mean it’s merely off topic and bizarre. Are you suggesting hunger among rich kids is a major societal problem or relevant here?

          If I’m still misunderstanding what you wrote, perhaps you should work on expressing yourself clearly.


  2. Alan Miller

    I wondered who this “Indivisible Yolo” was doing the interviewing, rather than a named person.  I went to their website, expecting a non-partisan service organization, and instead their website splash page is: “RESISTING THE TRUMP AGENDA”.

    I fail to see how linking Yolo Food Bank with a political (some may say TDS) organization is fruitful.  Some of the most giving, charitable people I know are Republicans.

    1. Jeff M

      Well thanks for pointing that out.  This charitable Republican will now stop giving to the Yolo Food Bank and regret what he has already given.  Seems maybe it is just a front for a PAC?

      Ironic since Trump’s economic policies are specifically to help lift more out of moocherism poverty.  I guess this must feel like a threat to some that connect their identity to being the savior of the unfortunate.

      1. Don Shor

        Lest anybody get the wrong impression from Jeff’s comment:
        Yolo Food Bank is a charitable organization that serves thousands of residents and coordinates food donations for the poor. Their website is here:
        They are not a political organization.
        Indivisible Yolo hosts a broadcast on KDRT, our local low-power FM radio station. There is lots of great programming at KDRT; I do two shows there (gardening and jazz). Check out the program schedule here:
        Indivisible Yolo is a political organization. Their website is here:
        The only connection is that Michael Bisch, who is the executive director of the Yolo Food Bank, was a guest on their show to discuss hunger and food programs in our area.
        I would hope a reasonable person would not stop giving to the Yolo Food Bank simply because the director chose to speak about their programs on a local, politically-oriented talk show.

        1. Jeff M

          Sorry.  Not good enough.  There is no excuse for making any association with that disgusting organization… especially posting a link to their site.  It is more than just ideological… it is an organization that exists for only one reason.  Republicans and Democrats can agree to work together on shared concerns like hunger, but forget it when I am supporting a network of nasty and destructive political activists.  I will give my money to churches instead.

          Most Republican business owners like me have already left the state.  If I am staying here, they I find it my duty to draw the line.

  3. Keith O

    An honest question.  Something I don’t understand from looking at the chart above.  How does poverty lead to children getting obese from malnutrition?  If a child is obese they’re obviously getting enough food to eat, they’re just eating the wrong types of food.  Is it any more expensive to feed a child healthy foods than it is to feed them unhealthy foods?  For instance, making a child a tuna sandwich with and apple and carrot sticks has to be less expensive than taking them to McDonalds.  A banana costs much less than a candy bar, etc…..

      1. Don Shor

        Many health disparities in the United States are linked to inequalities in education and income. This review focuses on the relation between obesity and diet quality, dietary energy density, and energy costs. Evidence is provided to support the following points. First, the highest rates of obesity occur among population groups with the highest poverty rates and the least education. Second, there is an inverse relation between energy density (MJ/kg) and energy cost ($/MJ), such that energy-dense foods composed of refined grains, added sugars, or fats may represent the lowest-cost option to the consumer. Third, the high energy density and palatability of sweets and fats are associated with higher energy intakes, at least in clinical and laboratory studies. Fourth, poverty and food insecurity are associated with lower food expenditures, low fruit and vegetable consumption, and lower-quality diets. A reduction in diet costs in linear programming models leads to high-fat, energy-dense diets that are similar in composition to those consumed by low-income groups. Such diets are more affordable than are prudent diets based on lean meats, fish, fresh vegetables, and fruit. The association between poverty and obesity may be mediated, in part, by the low cost of energy-dense foods and may be reinforced by the high palatability of sugar and fat. This economic framework provides an explanation for the observed links between socioeconomic variables and obesity when taste, dietary energy density, and diet costs are used as intervening variables. More and more Americans are becoming overweight and obese while consuming more added sugars and fats and spending a lower percentage of their disposable income on food.

        1. Don Shor

          Translation: bad food that fills you up costs less. People need better education about food choices. Making healthy food more readily available and/or more affordable can help people make better choices.

        2. Keith O

          Exactly Jeff.  Like I stated earlier, obesity isn’t just confined to poor families.  In fact this articles atates that middle class families are more prone to having obese children than poor families.

          It’s about buying and eating the right foods.

  4. Dave Hart

    I see the ideas for increasing food security for those who would most benefit are flowing unrestrained here.  I thank the author for at least bringing it up.  Hopefully, there are others out there who are reading this that will also give it some actual thought.  Maybe Michael Bisch should let it soak in awhile and try again or maybe this is just the wrong forum.

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