Austin Sustainable Food System Series I: Introduction

The Food System, a term heard more and more often these days. It’s on your dinner table, in your garbage, at the gas station, and the break room at work. The food system is a large, dynamic, and complex, social construct that every single person interacts with at multiple points of the day. Despite the growing awareness of its existence, many people spend very little time thinking about it. And why should they? Getting food is easy in a place like Austin. With food trucks on every corner, numerous delivery services, and available grocery stores in (most) neighborhoods, there isn’t much of a need to concern one’s self with the food system.

However, for those of us that do like to think about the food system, there are many questions that begin to emerge when examining that apple or avocado in your hand. Where did this food come from? How did it get here? Was it grown sustainably? Is this food good for me? Where does the waste go when I’m done eating?

Austin is a very food-forward city. We take eating seriously. For some, that means only eating at one taco stand. While for others, that means taking a hard look at the food system as a whole.

So Lettuce provide you some insight on the Austin Food System. In April 2015, the City of Austin’s Office of Sustainability released a report titled “The State of the Food System.” This report outlined key information about the local food system and what a “Sustainable Food System” looks like.

Here are a few key findings:
– Austin has more “for profit,” urban farms than any city of its size in the nation.
– Childhood education about growing food is strong, with 73% of all AISD schools having a teaching garden. This has increased to 82% since the report was released.
– The local food economy is very strong, representing $4.1 billion dollars in annual sales and tax revenues.

But not all findings were so positive:
– Texas faces the looming departure of a generation of farmers. Many of the state’s established food producers are nearing retirement, while young farmers face increasing barriers to entering or continuing their work.
– Less than 1% of the food consumed in Travis County is grown locally.
– 18% of Central Texans are Food Insecure.
-Nearly 200,000,000 pounds of food is wasted each year.

So what exactly is a “sustainable” food system? The City of Austin defines a Sustainable Food System as ‘local, where much of the food consumed is produced locally. Providing everyone with access to fresh, nutritious food, reducing dietary related disease and hunger, and includes recovering food to reduce waste.

 

This is broken up into four major elements; Growing Food, Selling Food, Eating Food, and Recovering Food. Each of these parts includes strengths, challenges, and opportunities that we’d like to expand upon more with insights from the city’s report along with our own observations and contributions. However, instead of containing this all in one article, we’ll tell this story by providing a deeper examination of each element one at a time through a 6-part article series. Each part will include an outline of the subject, what it means, what challenges exist, and what opportunities we at Lettuce see. Please join us on this educational storytelling series and Lettuce learn about the Austin Food System.

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