EngageICT: Food & Water Access

August 9, 2016 at Taste & See

Engage ICT’s August Democracy On Tap event, held at Taste and See Restaurant in Old Town, looked at the issues of food and water access.

Access to healthy, affordable food and clean water is something most people take for granted. A study from the Wichita Health and Wellness Coalition found that the city alone has approximately 44 square miles of food deserts, defined as a low-income area where most residents don’t have access to a supermarket or grocery store within a mile of where they live. There’s also “an extreme price variance” of healthy foods based on where residents live, says Becky Tuttle, with the HWC; people in lower socio-economic status brackets not only struggle to find healthy food, but additionally end up paying more for it.

She said if prices were equal, people should—and will—pick the healthier options.

“People that are food insecure, they want to eat healthy too,” she said.

Tammi Krier, healthy eating director with the Greater Wichita YMCA, says a major goal of her work is to make food “CAN”: convenient, attractive and normal.

“How can we make healthy food CAN?” she asked.

A 2014 assessment of the state’s food system found that Kansans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, but that even if we ate the recommended amount, farms wouldn’t be able to support the demand. A state Food and Farm Task Force was supposed to end in 2015, but lawmakers recently acted to extend it.

“It’s too big and too important to let it go away,” Krier said.

She noted Kansas’ high food sales tax is part of the equation.

Brian Walker, CEO and president of the Kansas Food Bank, said the high tax punishes low-income people. He noted that many people, particularly the elderly, won’t ask for help in paying for food.

“They’ll feed their dogs and cats before they feed themselves,” he said.

Glendell Henderson, with the Church on the Street, also spoke about the disproportionate impact of food insecurity in low-income neighborhoods.

Food pantries are often placed strategically in food deserts. A number of grocery stores have recently departed areas that are already struggling with access to food, but Tuttle said she doesn’t blame them for leaving—it’s an economic decision for them if they close. But, she said, “once there’s a need, a grocery store will come.”

The city is also working on long-term planning to maintain our water supply.

“We’re lucky that we’ve got abundant clean water supplies,” said Don Henry, assistant director of the City of Wichita’s Public Works and Utilities.

The community has enough water to last about 50-60 years under the right conditions. Henry said affordability, water cleanliness and access are the city’s top priorities.

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