Let Me Chew on It
by Steve Wilson
When food and public policy meet, most people take a “L’eggo my Eggo” stance; they don’t want government messing with their food, at least not until they’ve had their say. That’s why Edwin Marty’s initial act as Austin’s first-ever food policy manager in the Office of Sustainability was to give everybody something to talk about. His team’s upcoming food system report, due out in April, will crunch the numbers on how Austin crunches food—the most comprehensive look at the way the city grows, sells, eats, scraps and recovers its grub.
“We’ve got a lot of info,” says Marty, who was hired nearly a year ago. “It’ll be a useful tool.”
Sound like a boring read? Consider this little tidbit: Five zip codes in Austin don’t have a full-service grocery store. If it’s not economical to get a full-service grocery in those areas, what are the other options? Marty is open to suggestions. “One approach would be a farmers market or farm stand run by students at a local elementary school,” he says. “It would be a way to provide food and teach students about food.”
Those are the kinds of ideas Marty wants the report to generate. He plans for it to show the city, nonprofit organizations, commercial businesses and individual neighborhoods how food works in Austin, and spark discussions about how it can work better. Emphasis on discussions—Marty’s saving action until after he gets input. “We’re not going to draw any significant conclusions in terms of what projects need to happen or strategics,” he says. “This is a starting point to see where we’re at.”
After publishing the report and gauging reactions to its findings, Marty hopes to pilot some citywide food planning programs by this fall. In the coming year, he’ll approach neighborhoods about more localized food planning ideas.
He has reason to be cautious. Last year, when the folks behind East Feast Coalition got approval for a two-acre “food forest” to grow fruits, nuts, vegetables and herbs for anyone to pick at Festival Beach on Austin’s East Side, they figured everyone would appreciate access to fresh, affordable, healthy food. They didn’t count on opposition from East Town Lake Citizens Association and other local organizations angered over outsiders changing the landscape of their neighborhood. “When things are imposed from the outside, you’d be surprised by how much pushback you get,” says Marty.
For updates, visit austintexas.gov/department/sustainability