Austin is known for its variety of food and exquisite diversity ranging from farmers’ markets and food trucks to food pantries and community selections. Despite the multitude of options and bursting economy, Austin’s overall food insecurity rate is 16.7 percent higher than the national average.
The fresh food access points are extensively placed in low-income communities, which is done to help the residents, but why is the segregation in one city so extensive?
Austin’s Office of Sustainability demonstrates that the “availability of healthy food, affordability of fresh produce, awareness of food assistance programs, and mobility options” all affect the rate of food security in an area. Social, economic, and physical factors determine one’s food environment and influences where someone can shop for the food they can access.
According to the data presented in the 2017 Food Environment Analysis, those with barriers to those four stable facets of food security in Austin-Travis County are those in the low-income communities mainly made up of African-Americans.
Only 5% of white residents and 5% of Asian-Americans fell into areas with any barriers. 9% of Latinx did as well, with African-Americans at 11%, deeming them the two making up the low-income neighborhoods in the city thus exposed to food insecurity.
“I moved here from Houston for high school and was immediately shocked at being the only black girl in my classes,” said University of Texas junior Sydney Isika. “I am living in downtown Austin for school while my family is in Lakeway, and have learned some of my friends of Austin ISD only received fast food for free or lower-priced bagged meals while we had our own Starbucks and frozen yogurt in the cafeteria at Lake Travis High School.”
As shown on the map as part of the Food Environment Assessment 2017, these struggling areas border the most affluent sectors of Austin. Lakeway and Westlake are two of the richest parts of the city and are predominantly white with some Asians sprinkled in.
Austin started off as a widely diverse place to live, but increasing progress has transformed it into the most racially and economically divided city in the country. Food For All, a group in North Austin that does inclusive food planning, found that one in four Austin households face food insecurity.
The obesity rate is increasing though, demonstrating the quality of the food being distributed to overcompensate for lack of resources.
Former AISD administrator and teacher, Valerie Sterne, realized schools in Austin were either all-minority students or white, affluent schools with some minorities that grew up luckier.
“I had no idea that schools in Travis County were segregated to this extent,” said Sterne. “It is the most segregated county in the state, with any students living in poverty typically attending schools concentrated in Black and Latinx areas.”
Any white students who live in impoverished conditions end up attending these schools, though rare, which showcases how ethnically diverse areas seem to be marked as the place to send the less affluent. Austin puts up an inclusive facade, but the African-American population has gone from 15% to 5%, with the share of Asians increasing.
Austin’s history of housing discrimination has limited African-American families from owning property and keeps them from reaching the middle/upper class in Austin. African-Americans made up a great deal of the city in the 19th century, but as Latinx folk overtook that population, forms of tri-segregation starting being pushed for.
These minorities have been cornered into poverty and isolation in Austin and the fact that they are still dealing with food insecurity problems is hardly looked at. Black and Hispanic families have been thrown out of Austin neighborhoods because of gentrification, so there are more students of color in other Texas cities.
“I went to Lake Travis High School as well, and was shocked at how diverse my university was in comparison,” said Texas State junior Naica Paul. “I am of Haitian descent, and I remember people asking me what that was…and I know Austin’s suburbs are more diverse than other Texas suburbs, but that does not distract from the fact that people like me are forced to work harder for affluence here.”
She moved here from Boston in the middle of high school, and it took her family two years to be able to afford a house in the Lake Travis area. In contrast, if they had resorted to minority-concentrated areas, they would have been in the upper-class there.
The system itself has made it so that residing here is only possible if we work out of inherited inequality or have a strong basis, to begin with.
The Austin Policy Food Board has a conference every month, and during their virtual work planning session on Oct. 12, they detailed how $400,000 has been invested in healthy food access by the city council.
Councilmember Alejandra Rodriguez-Boughton continued the conversation circle with the topic of the Austin Climate Equity Plan.
“We need to discuss and take action on this resolution to even out the playing field in Austin,” said Boughton. “Not only does this plan help underprivileged areas improve their environment, but propels land equality and investing in climate-friendly food production units.”
Their target rate for fresh food access sites was deemed by a 2% annual increase. The council is looking to add one or two new access site locations a year for 2021 and 2022 to combat the food inequality, though the bigger problem concerning the gentrification to be addressed seems far from solved.