SXSW Panel Recap: Solving the Food Desert Dilemma

McDonald’s hamburgers should not cost $1 in any universe

Monday’s “Solving the Food Desert Dilemma” panel discussed a recent study from economists at NYU, Stanford, and the University of Chicago that found 55% of all U.S. ZIP codes with a median income below $25,000 are what's called "food deserts."

Photo by Jessi Devenyns

These deserts are neighborhoods where access to fresh foods is a fairy tale and the only meal options are high-calorie, processed foods. While there can be endless policy debates on the root cause of this epidemic, panelists Sam Polk of Everytable, Asha Walker of Health in the Hood, and Olympia Auset of Süprmarkt say that the problem comes down to the policymakers themselves. “People are making money off the fact that certain communities are unhealthy,” said Auset, the founder of Süprmarkt, a grocery service that brings fresh, organic produce weekly to neighborhoods without supermarkets.

Panelists highlighted this disparity by showing that the amount of money spent on groceries in lower-income and affluent neighborhoods was about equal, and yet, unlike areas with easy access to a multitude of grocers for every imaginable type of dietary restriction or culinary preference, there are not even fresh options for many families living inside food deserts. The result is that lower-income families’ money is spent on fast food and highly processed, “center-aisle” products. Panelists agreed that in no universe should a McDonald’s hamburger cost $1 – the ingredients themselves aren’t even that cheap. However, thanks to government subsidies for commodity crops, the structure of American food systems has been skewed.

This distortion, however, is not irreparable. Demand for fresh food is growing in food deserts and the panelists argued that it is a lucrative market that entrepreneurs are just beginning to tap into. After all, raw ingredients will never go out of style because we’re not going to stop eating, hopefully. Through community gardens, fresh produce delivery, and healthy grab-and-go meal options, there is a way not just to eliminate food deserts in this country but also to reduce the occurrence of preventable diseases which, according to Auset, translates to $1 billion spent every day on preventable health care for American taxpayers.


Solving the Food Desert Dilemma

Monday, March 11, JW Marriott Salon C

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw. Sign up for our South By-specific newsletter at austinchronicle.com/newsletters for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
Gun-Filled Weekend Prompts APD Action
Gun-Filled Weekend Prompts APD Action
Spring fest unrest

Mike Clark-Madison, March 22, 2019

SXSW Panel Recap: Diversity in Video Games: Hard Talk for Change
SXSW Panel Recap: Diversity in Video Games: Hard Talk for Change
YouTube exec dodges direct questions about tackling online extremism

Tucker Whatley, March 20, 2019

More by Jessi Devenyns
Texas Legislature Grants Big Win to Small Farmers
Texas Legislature Grants Big Win to Small Farmers
Local vendors are thrilled; SB 932 heads for Gov. Abbott’s desk

May 15, 2019

Citizen Wine’s Planned Tasting Room Looks to Bring Texas Wine to the People
Citizen Wine’s Planned Tasting Room Looks to Bring Texas Wine to the People
Rae Wilson of Dandy Rosé imagines a fine and dandy watering hole

April 26, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

SXSW Conference 2019, SXSW 2019

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle