AUSTIN (KXAN) — For quite some time, food insecurity has been a serious issue in Austin. Even with all the citywide growth, access to healthy foods hasn’t changed.
St. Edward’s University student Chrissy O’Donnell lives near North Lamar, in an area classified as a food desert.
“It’s frustrating when you live in a food-insecure area to find out where these items are or get to a grocery store,” she said.
The Sustainable Food Center said the biggest issue is affordable access.
According to the U.S. Census, nearly 15% of Austin residents were estimated to have experienced food insecurity in 2021, the majority of which were low-income families and members of communities of color.
“If they’re going to walk to the grocery store, they don’t have transportation,” SFC project coordinator Yolanda BazDresch said. “They might have to cross major highways.”
Cheaper and more convenient options include taking trips to nearby fast-food chains.
“They end up increasing the consumption of processed foods,” BazDresch said.
A food desert is defined as an area with limited access to affordable and nutritious food. St. Edward’s research reports Austin has 33 different food deserts.
“Del Valle and Manor are some of the areas that experience more of the food deserts,” SFC community engagement manager Sayuri Yamanaka said. “We also have food deserts in north Austin and here in east Austin.”
Austin City Council has put forward a proposal to partner with public transit to add bus routes and announcements on CapMetro, alerting people when they’re at a healthy food stop.
“Providing information to the families about where, what time and how often the frequency of these food access sites would definitely give them options,” Yamanaka said.
The idea originated from St. Edward’s students such as O’Donnell.
It came from The Civics Lab, a student-led advocacy group that highlighted the growing problem of food insecurity in Austin and Travis County.
“This might incentivize them to make a stop and grab some items, as opposed to stopping at one of the many fast-food restaurants,” she concluded.
Local leaders hope to declare April 21 as Austin Food Insecurity Awareness Day.
The two initiatives will be put to a vote by Austin City Council on Thursday.