In Austin, 25% of residents are food insecure. That is a fact many people don’t realize; in fact many people might not even be familiar with the term “food insecurity”. Food insecurity is not knowing where your next meal is coming from or lacking access to healthy and affordable food. While many in our vibrant city are thriving, a quarter of residents struggle with this issue every day.
I'm Brian Bowser, a Regional Campaign Director for the American Heart Association’s Advocacy Department. AHA’s Advocacy Department is dedicated to reducing heart disease and stroke through public policy change. Over the last several years, I've worked on state and local campaigns related to healthy food access, healthy vending, and active transportation. I wanted to tell you a little more about a healthy food financing initiative we're part of in Austin.
On Wednesday November 8, Leadership Austin hosted a breakfast to spark a conversation on food insecurity and take a look at how Austin can and should tackle this problem. I was fortunate enough to sit on a panel and discuss how the American Heart Association approaches the issue along with peers from the City of Austin and the Sustainable Food Center.
We were able to tout great programs like the City of Austin’s Fresh for Less effort that is delivering healthy and affordable foods in the most needed areas of the city. Fresh for Less encompasses a Healthy Corner Store initiative and Mobile Market/Farm Stand program. They partner with Go! Austin, !Vamos! Austin (GAVA), Farmshare Austin, and Sustainable Food Center to increase healthy foods while decreasing the price for them in targeted areas of the city. The City provides retail incentives to run the program and ensure the foods are affordable. The AHA strongly supported the creation of these programs and will continue to advocate for their funding in future budget cycles.
We approach food insecurity from a lack of healthy and affordable food angle. If we can build grocery stores in under-served communities, encourage corner stores to carry fresh produce, and target low grocery access neighborhoods with farm stands and mobile markets, we can substantially increase access to healthy foods and make the healthy choice the easy choice.
However, on the panel we also recognized those are surface level solutions that provide immediate access for people in need but don’t address deeper root causes of food insecurity such as poverty, affordable housing, transportation, and education. Those are much larger and harder to fix problems that get at the root cause food insecurity and poor health outcomes on the whole. We recognized the need to address both short- and long-term goals in order to be successful in our fight for a healthier and more prosperous city, state, and country.
Only by working with larger stakeholder groups in the education, housing, health, and other sectors will we be able to fulfill our ultimate mission of building healthier lives free from cardiovascular disease and stroke. I look forward to continuing the conversation and working to build a healthier with all of our committed volunteers and community partners. If this work interests you, please join our #CloserToMyGrocer campaign here.