Hand Holding Red Pepper

Food access inequity exists in Austin - here's why and how to help

Healthy food is a human right. No one should have to choose between paying rent and putting a healthy dinner on the table. According to the USDA, last year 11.1% of Americans experienced food insecurity caused by economic, racial and social disparities. That’s a staggering 14.3 million people who do not have reliable access to affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food.

Here in Austin, these numbers are significantly higher. 15% of our residents are food insecure. Yet Austin consistently makes national rankings as a city with a high quality of life and abundant economic opportunity. What is causing such inequity in food access?

Equality versus equity

Let’s start by defining equity - not to be confused with equality. Equality means everyone has access to the same amount of resources. Equity is achieved when everyone has what they need to improve the quality of their situation. The cartoon below depicts this well.

Equality vs Equity Infographic

Image Source: “Interaction Institute for Social Change” | Artist: Angus Maguire

So what does equity have to do with food access?

Austin is well known for being a great city to live in and is growing at an astounding rate. This rapid growth drives up housing prices and makes it impossible for families to remain in the neighborhoods where they have lived for generations.

Displacement from the urban core pushes people into the northern, eastern and southern edges of our city. Commonly referred to as the Eastern Crescent, this area has fewer resources residents need for a high quality of life. Healthy food outlets, health clinics, and city services are hard to find.

Low-income communities of color are most impacted by this widening inequity gap. People experiencing displacement and food insecurity are forced to spend more time accessing basic needs like good quality food.

City of Austin Food Access Infographic

Image Source: City of Austin Office of Sustainability

Austin and community organizations are working to expand food access

The City of Austin is addressing this issue by funding programs to make it easier for folks to access resources in their communities.

Fresh for Less is part of the City of Austin’s commitment to increasing access to healthy, affordable food in food-insecure regions and pockets of the city. Through this initiative, Farmshare Austin runs Fresh for Less Mobile Markets that bring locally grown produce and grocery items, such as pasta, beans, local honey, and cooking oil to families throughout the Eastern Crescent.

Mobile Markets sell produce at reduced prices, and also offer Double Up Food Bucks, a program we operate that doubles the value of SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). SFC partners with community health workers to provide recipe samples and cooking and nutrition tips at each Mobile Market every month. Visit farmshareaustin.org to learn more about Mobile Markets, including a schedule and a weekly availability list.

What can you do about it?

There isn’t one easy answer to address inequities caused by displacement, but there are ways that you, in conjunction with your community, can make a difference.

You can start by voting with your dollars - shop at SFC Farmers’ Markets and Fresh for Less Markets to support local growers, buy nutritious, sustainably grown food, and ensure your money benefits the local community. You can support organizations and businesses that are run by or work directly with impacted communities. You can also get involved in your local neighborhood efforts and working groups, and vote in local elections.

Austin will continue to grow, but we can no longer allow the marginalization of low-income communities because of it. SFC believes that all people, regardless of their neighborhood or zip code, have the right to affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food. We hope you will work with us to think creatively and strategically - because together we can create a stronger, more resilient and equitable place to live for all.