Hunger in Alaska by Monica Hake

April 16, 2014

Hunger in America 2014, to be released this year, will be the next iteration of Feeding America's quadrennial study that examines our network of agencies and the clients whom they serve. Throughout the summer of 2013, volunteer data collectors visited more than 12,000 food distributions across the country and collected more than 60,000 surveys from clients. That phase of the study allowed members of the Feeding America research team, myself included, the opportunity to visit and support many of our member food banks and agencies and to see firsthand the diverse and remarkable services and geographies that exist in our network.

Among other places, my data collection travels took me to Alaska, where I assisted staff of the Food Bank of Alaska and the Alaska Food Coalition with surveying clients of food pantries in the northern villages of Barrow and Point Lay during a week in late July. Compared to my current home, Chicago, there may be no place more different than Alaska's North Slope. While the differences I noted were many, two things stood out most: the subsistence lifestyle of many residents and the limited availability and high cost of food in that region.

To engage in subsistence is to live off the land, and in northern Alaska this can mean gathering berries, fishing for salmon, or hunting caribou, seals or whales. While walking through town, I noticed strings of fish and stretched seal skins drying in the sun, and on the beach I saw the remains of a hunted and harvested whale. I was able to witness subsistence firsthand, when a local couple invited us to join them on their boat for a seal hunting excursion on the Chukchi Sea.

Though subsistence is an important source of food for many, the need to purchase food is inevitable. A visit to the local grocery store proved to be an eye-opening experience. Due to the high cost of transportation and storage, food is incredibly costly: $10/gallon of milk, $16/gallon of orange juice, $8/dozen eggs. Fresh produce, when available, was also very expensive. At the only coffee shop in town, a small latte started at $7, and even at that price, the shop owner disclosed that she was lucky to break even.

While in Alaska, I was able to witness some of the unique challenges faced by residents of the North Slope, as well as local agencies' efforts to alleviate hunger, through support from the Food Bank of Alaska and the Alaska Food Coalition. Like many others, I eagerly await the results of Hunger in America 2014, which will provide comprehensive information, at both the local and national level, about the unique and diverse agencies and clients of the Feeding America network.

MHake-picture-100Monica Hake is a Research Associate at Feeding America working on Hunger In America 2014 study to be released later this summer.


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