Austin Sustainable Food System Series Part IV: Eating Food

In part three of this series, we discussed the topic of Selling Food in the city of Austin and the challenges of that activity in a sustainable food system. Great economic and social barriers stand in the way of achieving a food system in which selling food is mutually beneficial and equitable for producers and consumers of all socioeconomic and cultural groups. Ultimately, access is the greatest challenge to overcome and this stands true for the topic of Eating Food as well.

Fundamentally, most adults understand what nutritious and/or healthy eating means. They know which foods will improve health and which ones will not. Whether or not they care is a futile point of discussion if the choice to care does not exist for an individual. And that’s what access really boils down to; having the choice to eat well or not. Any gaps in knowledge of healthy eating likely occur when healthy eating isn’t much of a choice. Why bother knowing which foods are more nutritious when those more nutritious foods aren’t available to you? In addition to that, when it is available, can you afford it? When resources are low, how do you prioritize your spending when it comes to food?

So selling food and eating food are really two sides of the same coin. And that coin is called access. You cannot eat what you cannot buy. So what do we do about it?

One way is to increase the spending power of individuals. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can provide a significant boost to families food budget. However, 43% of income-eligible Travis County residents do not participate in SNAP. The Capital Area Food Bank and its partners have an extensive awareness campaign that attempts to dispel misunderstandings around the application process and program benefits. Additionally, the Sustainable Food Center’s Double Dollar Program allows SNAP recipients to double their purchasing power at certain markets when buying eligible products.

However, purchasing power still means little if there is no market to purchase from. But what if the food came to you? Delivery as a means of accessing food may seem out of touch or expensive for many families, but perhaps not. Starting in February Lettuce will be launching a pilot program to further explore this option.

In addition to improving equitable access to nutritious, locally grown food, there is always the thought of how sustainable the food is. When you take a bite of that burger, do you ever think, was this beef raised humanely? How much pesticide was sprayed on the wheat used to make this bun? Did the farmer who picked the lettuce get paid fairly?

With each bite, there is not just an economic cost, but an environmental and social cost as well. What and how we eat food impacts much more than our waste line or wallet.

Slow Food International’s three principles of Good, Clean, and Fair insist that all food should be produced in an environmentally friendly way, the economics should be fair to both producer and consumer, and the food should be good quality, have good flavor, and be good for you. These simple and inclusive principles are part of what guides us at Lettuce. Both as a company and as individuals. We believe a more sustainable food system is possible in Austin. From farm to fork, there is an opportunity for equity, quality, nutrition, and most of all, great flavor.

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