To Rachael Ray: Regarding Austin Food Justice –
Season Your Remarks With Some Knowledge

Photo of Rachael Ray interviewing Michelle Obama in Austin, Texas

March 8, 2019

I and thousands of Michelle Obama fans collectively exclaimed, “Huh?” when Rachael Ray strode to center stage at the Frank Erwin Center last Thursday to not only introduce but interview our beloved former First Lady on her book tour for Becoming.

In Ms. Ray’s glutinous effusiveness for Austin, she proclaimed the complete absence of food deserts in our fair city. For a woman who has climbed the food pyramid to success, she should know better.

KXAN reported in a May 23, 2018 story that 25% of Austin households face food insecurity.

Travis County absolutely has food deserts – lots of them. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Access Research Atlas shows vast stretches of food deserts blanketing almost all the land east of I.H. 35.

As Marissa Richerson, Program Coordinator of Urban Roots ATX, stated at the Front Porch Gathering on Food Justice at Huston-Tillotson University, February 19, 2019, in Austin, food is everywhere and nowhere. We are surrounded by restaurants and high end grocery stores, but without sufficient income and access, many can’t afford to partake. In communities with food deserts, residents buy their food from the corner gas station or the fast food dollar menu.

Dr. Erin Lentz, Assistant Professor of Public Affairs at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, who also spoke at the Front Porch event explained that adding a grocery store alone is not enough to solve the problem. Lack of income resulting from limited access to jobs paying a living wage, further limits access to nutritious food such as organic produce. Language barriers also put up walls between people and healthy foods. Limited mobility, such as the absence of public transit forces people to walk to buy food. The lack of sidewalks, makes it dangerous to get there on foot, even riskier and more difficult if you’re pushing a stroller. Poor lighting layers on danger for folks shopping after work walking through dark parks or other perilous areas attempting to reach a grocery.

Lack of nutritious food for children leads to poor performance in school. Combined with our noted absence of access to health care in the same communities, people end up at the emergency room for conditions like diabetes that could have been prevented, resulting in higher costs to all of us in taxes and insurance rates.

Dr. Raj Patel, Research Professor at LBJ School of Public Affairs and author of Starved and Stuffed, told KXAN in the story above the solutions to those problems have to be just as robust as the problem itself: "Raising wages, making wages livable, making rents affordable, improving transportation, improving healthcare infrastructure and improving school meal programs."

So, Ms. Ray, thank you for your visits to Austin and for fan-girling us. We invite you to get real about food justice in Austin. And welcome you pitching in to help fix it.

Sheri Soltes, J.D.
Democratic Candidate for Travis County Commissioner, Precinct 3