Food insecurity and access

Austin, TX
United States

University of Texas Austin School of Nursing Social Resource Center
Social media handle(s)
@elbuenaustin (Instagram, Facebook), @elbuen (Twitter)

Used listening sessions and quantitative data to strengthen food access infrastructure in central Texas and understand the systemic barriers to healthy eating for Latino/a residents with low incomes in Austin.

Although food pantries are considered emergency food providers, many residents with low incomes in central Texas have come to rely on them as a regular resource for their household nutritional needs. Because access to affordable, sustainable, nutritious, high-quality, and culturally connected food is a central component of good health, El Buen Samaritano Episcopal Mission (El Buen) seeks to strengthen existing food access infrastructure and better understand barriers to access in the community. Residents of Austin’s Eastern Crescent community are primarily Latino/a and experience higher levels of unemployment, poverty, uninsurance, and educational attainment compared with residents in the rest of the city. These disparities have further exacerbated food insecurity and health inequities.

To better understand food access and insecurity in the Eastern Crecent’s Del Valle community, El Buen partnered with the Social Resource Center to conduct six pláticas (listening sessions). The pláticas engaged El Buen food program clients as equal partners in investigating food access and insecurity in the Del Valle community. The pláticas focused on participants’ experiences with and barriers to accessing healthy foods for their families. Plática participants were also asked to think of resources or support that would make it easier for them to eat healthier.

El Buen also analyzed publicly available demographic, socioeconomic, and geospatial data. This mixed-methods approach was designed to reflect the priorities and experiences of the plática participants and enable El Buen to gain a comprehensive, community-focused view of existing food assets and barriers to food access. A major theme that emerged from this investigation was that maintaining a healthy diet demands both time and money—two resources often in short supply for Del Valle families. In addition, the lack of a full grocery store in Del Valle and the limited public transportation infrastructure are significant barriers to accessing healthy food.

Plática participants identified that support they need to eat healthier includes nutrition classes that understand their cultural context, guidance on how to find healthy food programs and resources, and advocacy to local officials for improving infrastructure and resources available to the Del Valle community.

This project provided El Buen and the Social Resource Center an opportunity to collaborate and deepen their relationship, and for the Social Resource Center to build new capacity to use research and data to inform how they support healthy eating in the Del Valle community. These findings are informing El Buen’s and the Social Resource Center’s efforts to create more food access points in the Del Valle community, including expanding their community garden to provide more fresh produce to food program clients.

El Buen is also elevating the need for culturally congruent food across their programs, including investigating how the findings from this project can inform how they provide food in other Austin communities. In addition, El Buen will use the takeaways from this project to advocate for systems changes that improve food access with decisionmakers including the Austin City Council, the City of Austin’s Office of Sustainability, and the Central Texas Food Bank.