Food Insecurity in Austin: The Challenge

January 10, 2021

Food insecurity is an unfortunate reality for many in Texas, with one in seven Texans not knowing where their next meal will come from. That includes Travis County, as the local food system struggles to provide easy access to steady, nutritional food for all its residents. That's why we're doing our part to spread awareness and help solve this challenge! Read on to learn more

In 2018, 12.9% of Travis County residents experienced food insecurity, a figure that is estimated to have risen to 16.9% in 2020.

Food insecurity is an unfortunate reality for many in Texas, with one in seven Texans living with this experience. That includes Travis County, as the local food system struggles to provide easy access to steady, nutritional food for all its residents. In 2018, 12.9% of county residents experienced food insecurity, a figure that is estimated to have risen to 16.9% in 2020. The increase reflects the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable populations across the country, reversing decades of previous progress, exacerbating the underlying problems fueling food insecurity, and making efforts at addressing the problem as critical as ever. 

Several factors contribute to the Austin area’s food insecurity problem - Austin’s Office of Sustainability State of the Food System Report for 2018 outlined four major ones: (1) limited availability of fresh, nutritious food, (2) affordability of fresh produce, (3) lack of awareness around food assistance programs like SNAP, and (4) difficulty of access / transportation.

The challenge of availability is encapsulated by the notion of “food deserts,” areas where grocery stores are few and far between. This can lead Austin residents to rely on convenience stores or restaurants for meals, where fresh, healthy food may not be on offer. And even if residents are aware of where they can purchase food for a healthy, sustainable life, they may face challenges in getting there.

Even with a car, easy access is not guaranteed - residents of Travis County expressed that the time-consuming nature of getting to healthy food is a barrier for them.

Transportation can be costly, limited and inefficient, and Travis County has limited public transit options to offer residents who do not have their own personal vehicle or form of transport. Even with a car, easy access is not guaranteed - residents of Travis County expressed that the time-consuming nature of getting to healthy food is a barrier for them. Good Apple aims to solve this problem by delivering boxes of fresh produce directly to people’s homes (a contact-free delivery process), eliminating the burden on residents of finding and accessing the food themselves. 

Another major component of eliminating food insecurity is making healthy food affordable. Austin is a city that has experienced rapid growth in recent years, which has been further accelerated during the pandemic as urbanites from larger cities like New York and San Francisco have relocated. As the cost of living rises, and major affordability increases in areas like housing and transportation eat into lower-income Austinites’ budgets, less money is available for nutritious, healthy foods if this food is not offered at the right price. Good Apple was established with this challenge in mind, delivering qualifying individuals completely free boxes for every that is sold to a paying subscriber.

Each of these factors alone is a problem, but together fuel the complex and unfortunate situation of food insecurity.

The final component of the Sustainability’s Office report also noted that residents may not be aware of programs, initiatives, and funding available to them to help. Each of these factors alone is a problem, but together fuel the complex and unfortunate situation of food insecurity. 

Food insecurity has long-term negative consequences both mentally and physically for those suffering from it. Higher rates of mental health issues like depression and physical outcomes like chronic disease, asthma, and obesity (effects that are particularly detrimental for children in food-insecure households). With these clear negative outcomes, efforts have been taken to address the issue in Travis County, including the Healthy Corners Store and Mobile Markets as part of the overall Fresh for Less initiative by the City of Austin.

While there is quite a bit more to do, we see Good Apple as one meaningful component of combating an issue that needs to be a major focus of the Austin community, so that we can all lead happy, healthy lives.  

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