Austin, first in Vitability, moving past sustainability.
Austin champions the most advanced food system in the Planet by respecting the cycles of life.
in Austin 2050, we focus on highly educated consumers and clear communication with all elements involved in the food value chain to incentivize them to provide foods and related services in a vitable fashion that benefit the City, and by extension Texas, and the Nation. The tool that drives those efforts is the "Vitability Index"
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small company (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
The Food System Vision for Austin in 2050 would require the active participation of the following stakeholders:
• Austin Consumers: They are the mayor stakeholders and the ones that drive the whole food system in Austin.
• Austin Food System Steering Committee: This would be composed by representatives of all the stakeholders.
• Education: The education stakeholders would be composed by: Schools, Academia, City Programs, and Media.
• Governance: This group of stakeholders would be integrated by, Regulators (City, State, and National), Organizations issuing Incentives, and Bodies sponsoring standards.
• Food Value Chain: This would include, but are not limited to, producers, wholesalers, distributors, retailers.
• IT Professionals.
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
United States of America.
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Austin, Texas. United States of America.
Total area (December 2019): 704 square kilometers
What country is your selected Place located in?
United States of America
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Austin is a booming city in a growing part of the United States that faces many of the challenges that other cities around the world are facing or are likely to face very soon. A growing population puts increased pressure on existing social and natural resources, such as housing, open spaces and air and water pollution. The city’s geographic location, in an area where temperatures are rising, may limit traditional agriculture in zones immediately adjacent to the city possibly impacting resident’s access to fresh produce. Because of its forward-thinking population and relative affluence, Austin will more likely be willing and able to engage with thought leaders on creative solutions. Other cities can learn from Austin’s successes and failures.
Key members of this submittal team have spent the majority of their professional careers in the Austin area. The decision to come to Austin and stay was not by chance. The natural beauty of the Texas Hill country, the many lakes and rivers plus the dynamic social and economic elements of the city make Austin a highly desirable place to live, work, and build a life.
One thing that sets Austin apart from other cities of its size in the United States is its commitment to education for all of its residents. Although it is the home of the University of Texas, a world-renowned research institute that has also trained many world leaders, it also has publicly supported community colleges that help residents of limited means to add skills and improve their financial status. There is a strong connection between the private business sector and the public higher education system. In the recent past the Austin Community College district has been able to develop industry specific certification courses so that residents with marginal incomes or simply looking to change their careers can, upon completing a course that lasts less than one year, to enter highly lucrative trades.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Austin is famous for its bats. They live under the bridges located downtown Austin. They are a true tourist magnet.
Austin, traditional downtown. Recently the city's boom has brought taller buildings that were a reduced number until the fist decade of the 21st century.
Front view of Austin's Capitol.
Austin's Capitol was inspired in the Washington DC capitol, although this was larger at this moment. It is made of pink marble. Everything is bigger in Texas is part of the DNA of the State. Austin is the capitol of Texas
Inside of the Austin Capitol building.
The stores in Congress Avenue, the most traditional road downtown very usually sell unique and unusual merchandise. That is also an area of restaurants. "Keep Austin weird is one of the city slogans"
Lake Austin, that is critical for the Natural ecosystems in the Area and for the City's life. People practices sports around the lake.
Tattoo parlors are very common in Austin. People showing pierced and tattoos are common, especially during the warm moths, that is most of the year.
Taqueria in Austin
Austin is transforming into a modern city. The big transformation from a small city was initiated circa 2005.
Beef fajitas are a must for the always popular beef tacos in Austin
Bar-B-Q is also one of the representative dishes of Austin
This Tex-Mex dish is a representation of the local food in Austin.
All the food portions in Austin are large, because in Texas everything is big
Chiles are basic to the diet in Austin
The Percy V. Pennybacker Jr. Bridge in one of the most recognizables landmarks in Austin, Texas
Austin is the capital of the state of Texas in the United States
Austin has changed from a small town whose primary focus was its large public university, to a large city with expanding industries in the Information Technology, Bio-technology and medical services industries. This transition has brought new residents from around the country and world, giving it a much more cosmopolitan viewpoint.
Because of its focus on education, Austin has enjoyed a higher than average number of college-educated residents who tend to focus on quality of life rather than purely financial gain. Austin has been instrumental in many environmental movements, including clean water initiatives to protect aquifers from damage caused by new developments as well as being the home of the nations’ largest health conscious grocer.
At the same time, there is substantial disparity in wealth across the city, with new international immigrants and other socially and economically disadvantaged groups over-represented at the bottom of the economic scale. These individuals have reduced access to affordable, high-quality food. Access to affordable high-quality food is a factor not just of the price of the food itself, another factor is the limited transportation options for consumers. The most common means of transportation are private vehicles, which may beyond the means of the lowest income groups of those with physical impediments.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Laura is a 26-year-old woman. Her parents, former farmers in Mexico, live with her. Laura is a single mom to Peter, a two-year-old boy. She supports the family of four. Her mother, Maria, takes care of Peter when Laura is at work. They live in a house the parents bought more than 20 years ago. They are discussing leaving Austin because the increasing taxes and cost of living. “All those people from out of town are pushing the locals out of their homes,” Maria says.
On her way to work, Laura buys chorizo, eggs, and cheese on flour tortilla breakfast tacos. “They are very affordable, convenient, and delicious,” she says to her friend. She eats them with a cup of coffee provided by her employer. At lunch, she eats a large bag of “healthy” chips with a diet soft drink to lose some of her increasing weight. Her doctor recently told her, ”Laura, take care of yourself or you may develop diabetes.” Laura said, “I know, but eating healthy is expensive.”
Maria buys their groceries from a close by supermarket, preferring processed foods, that give the largest amount per dollar. “We now live in the US, so we need to eat like them,” she says. Sometimes it is just easier to buy hamburgers for the whole family. “The combos (hamburger, fries, and a drink) are good. I wonder, how can they make those foods so cheap?”
Laura never learned how to cook. She depends on others for preparing her meals. Very often she looks curious at some of her coworkers at lunch time, especially the one lady who eats salmon from north Canada, bell peppers from the Netherlands, and follows a Paleo diet for increased health. “Live is not fair. Some people were born with a star that I did not have,” Laura thinks while returning to her desk.
Laura is 56 years old. She still supports her parents that are still alive. Laura developed diabetes several years ago. She and her family moved out of Austin because the cost of living in the city was not affordable. “The Austin area is not what it used to be,” Laura says.
The local news media are debating how to feed Austin. Imported foods are not as readily available as they used to be before because the increased global competition for foods. Efficient and cheap transportation made that competition more aggressive than ever before. Austin is eating exotic foods, like insects and new vegetables. Processed foods are easy to find. Austin, as a technology center has developed home appliances, information systems, and distribution technologies that favor higher income individuals. The sources of fresh food of the past are not viable because the dramatic changes in weather patterns, the depletion of nutrients of the soil, and the loss of agricultural land in favor of larger urban developments. The farmers in Texas are a rarity, the same as the Longhorn cattle.
Laura regrets that the city did not prepare well for managing the growth and challenges presented by increased population and climate change.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Ways that Vitability (see explanation of vitability included as an attachment) addresses the Austin 2050 challenges in the Food System. The list included below presents some of the options.
Agriculture and lab food production is performed under vitable conditions. Companies and organizations producing under those conditions will ensure that their practices respect the cycles of life while promoting Vitability. Those vitable organizations can demonstrate the basis for their status to consumers. Consumers expect and demand to know about the life cycle (from its origin to its consumption and beyond) of what they eat.
Foods, diets, and delivery methods support Vitability in Austin. Consumers will prefer foods that are affordable, convenient, tasty, and vitable. That evaluation can be performed very quickly through the vitable food index. Foods that are not good for humans or the environment will be questioned by consumers (Reference: The tobacco industry in America.)
Food distribution channels are vitable. That may include the use of transportation methods that minimize their effect on the Planet. Examples include, but are not limited to, transportation modes that use clean energies and methods that are safe to natural ecosystems.
Vitability farming, a new type of farming, coexists with other agricultural methods. However, its benefits that extend beyond financial and quality aspects of food surpass other approaches, making Vitability a true transformational force in the Planet.
Creation of new careers in food Vitability that support the kindest type of food system ever seen by the humankind.
Austin adopts as a city slogan: “Austin, First in Vitability”, or, “Austin, the world capital of Vitability.” By doing this, Austin becomes the champion in transformation and enhancement of the cities of the future.
Creation of mechanisms that allow for transparency on Vitability. That includes full disclosure on production methods, food contents, and transformation and transportation processes available to consumers in Austin.
The City of Austin and the State of Texas have policies in place that support and promote Vitability. Those policies were created in response to requests from citizens who benefit from a vitable food system.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
Peter, Laura’s son, now 32 years old, is an entrepreneur in vitable food production. What used to be called “farming” is now a highly respected and technologically intensive business. Peter developed his love for agriculture while working on the small garden his grandfather created in the backyard of the house in Austin where he grew up. His school, through the Vitability program, also enriched that love by teaching him how to cook, what a healthy diet is, and how to garden and raise animals in community with his friends. After high-school, Peter decided to go to the Austin Community College to take advantage of one of the grants offered to study the two-year program of Professional in Vitable Food Systems. Peter learned how to produce food under very unpredictable weather conditions, how to use technology that support his business, including traceability of his foods, the Vitability food index, and commercialization. Peter found that technology is an essential component in his effort to offer his products to a larger global market by taking advantage of very cost-effective transportation methods.
Under the slogan, “Austin, first in Vitability” the city of Austin and other organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, found in Vitability ways for diversifying the economy of the City and enriching the life of its citizens. “Vitability is not only rooted in the balance of cycles of life. It also brought life to the Austin. It transformed our education, industry, our society, our government, and the spirit of the City as a whole. We all respect the cycles of life by adding life to the equation” says the Austin’s major. Peter is engaged as a mentor in one of those City programs. Peter speaks at events sponsored by Austin to show other cities in the world what Vitability has done for the City. His opening line is almost always “Everybody wants to be Austin, let me tell you what we have done.”
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
“Everybody wants to be Austin, let me tell you what we have done.” Says Peter, “Do you see this smart food label? When we interact with it, we get information about this food’s vitability index. This is how we instantly learn if this is a nourishing food and whether it was produced in a vitable and Planet conscious fashion. This index is probably the most visible aspect of Vitability. Now, let me tell you how Austin, First in Vitability began. During the early 20s, Vitability was developed as an enhancement to the sustainability concept, to be something like sustainability on steroids applied to human systems. By using sustainability as a baseline, they added the conditions of being respectful of the cycles of life, and socially responsible within the frame of a viable system. That sounds very technical, but it is not. At the same time, the city was discussing how to feed its future generations, so they decided to work on solutions that met these sustainable “plus” requirements. Hence, First in Vitability.
In Austin, we focus on highly educated consumers and clear communication with all elements involved in the food value chain to incentivize them to provide goods and services in a vitable fashion that benefit the City, and by extension our State, and the Nation. The tool that drove and continues driving those efforts is the Vitability index. Through the Vitability index consumers know what foods are best for them and the environment. Participants in the vitable Food Value Chain can obtain better prices for their products as they are in greater demand. As vitable practices have become more common, both economies of scale and vigorous competition have resulted in better food being available to all segments of our population, at affordable prices, and produced under conditions that are favorable to the Planet as a whole.
As with any successful idea, the Vitability index has many parents. The City government picked up the idea from a local thought leader. Together they presented and evolved the concept through discussions with various members of the private sector, consumers, and the IT industry. A key breakthrough was the technology advances that permitted for smart labels that would interact with consumers’ personal information devices, allowing individual consumers in Austin to make better food buying decisions, based upon factors that they have decided are important to them. Through this, consumers understand the consequences of their decisions, on their personal health and all other Vitability factors.
Full transparency among the Food Value Chain is the key and necessary condition for Austin’s food system. Technology allows tracking the history of a food product, from the beginning to the end. The index reflects the degree of compliance of a food with the Vitability parameters. For doing that, we use blockchain for tracking and other smart technologies for communicating among the food system’s actors. So, a food “gets points” when they are produced, transformed, maintained, and transported in a sustainable and regenerative fashion. The index also accounts for the way foods are prepared. This is one of the most critical aspects of the index because during this stage, all the “good grades” can be lost if the foods are prepared for consumption in a way that adversely impact for human health. For example, a prepared meal with a sodium content higher than one third of the daily maximum recommended intake, gets a lower Vitability index because it has the potential to create heart diseases. Something similar happens with printed foods. If the substrate is based on starches, fat, artificial colorants and flavors, and minimum nutritional content, that food gets a low index. On the other side of the spectrum we have our local vitable foods. Those foods get the highest rates. Everybody in the City has access to this information. With transparency, we as individuals, and collectively as a society can make better decisions about our foods, how they came to reach our tables, and the impact over the Planet’s health.
Austin’s success in the Food system has transformed the City. Life expectancy and general health has increased, from 77 years in 2020 to healthy 89 years in 2048, drawing attention from organizations that are looking to reduce their health care and absenteeism costs, and is making Austin a magnet for ecologically and health minded tourism.
[Population] For the last 30 years Austin has been one the fastest growing cities in the country. The growth is explained by the continued migration of individuals mainly from Canada and the US looking for more moderate weather, in addition to the international refugees who recognize Austin for its inclusiveness and high quality of life. Today’s population with 6 million inhabitants is six times the population in 2020. We are happy to say that the City can properly feed all its citizens. It is truly Austin’s consumers who are the ones who drive the Vitability movement.
[Culture] During the last three decades, Austin has been attracting people from all over the world. Its diverse culture and its love for Vitability have retained for Austin the title of one of the best cities for living in America. As a distinctive note, Vitability have permeated other areas of the city, impacting the demand for housing, transportation systems, city policy and law, medicine, and education that give preference to options that protect and promote the natural cycles of life, the wellness of its citizens, and restore the Planet for the future. Our local professional degrees in Vitable Food Systems are attracting students from all over the world who want to learn about what we do here.
[Environment] With the creation of the food production vitable districts in Travis and adjacent Williamson county, Austin has been able to preserve 22% of the farming land available at the beginning of the 21st century. Those areas became the largest enclave of vitable industry and natural industrial ecosystems in the world. Buildings in those areas very often use geodesic designs able to withstand the suddenly changing weather conditions and severe storms that affect the area. Soil based vertical farming has been used to increase the yield to levels that surpass equivalent conventional farming. The irrigation provided by the desalinated water coming from the Gulf of Mexico have made Austin the vitable food garden of North America.
[Technology] Technology has been central to the development of Vitability. Local IT companies and the University of Texas in Austin developed the tools that use blockchain technologies for tracking the vitable aspects of the food value chain, allowing for its full transparency. The same organizations support the virtual farmers markets and groceries stores that benefit from the virtual sensory experiences of taste and aroma. The use of clean and inexpensive transportation methods integrates Austin’s food system with the global food system.
[Diet] The diet in the city is no longer what it is used to be at the turn of the 21st century. Beef is almost entirely replaced by plant-based meat substitutes and lab-created meats. Today’s the Tex-Mex cuisine is 80% plant based. That opened the door to the ATX Vitable Cuisine with new recipes that replaced the most traditional high fat dishes. Austin is now the city # 200 in the country in obesity, and diabetes levels are in the single digit percentages.
[Economics] The vitable food industry has created employments for Austin and its surrounding areas. For example, while in 2015 only 1% of the food consumed by the City was locally produced, by 2050, that percentage has increased to 20%. That is incredibly significant considering a population 6 times larger. Additionally, the property taxes incentives for vitable food production have made the Food Industry one of the major industries in the city next to IT, clean technologies, life sciences, and space technology.
[Policy] The laws and policies reflect the common will. As more residents came to understand the impact that their food buying decisions had on their health and their family’s well-being, plus the consequences for their neighbors and future generations, they requested and later demanded that the information in the vitability index be provided to consumers. Using “Truth in Advertising” laws that served as a model, straightforward vitability index regulations were put in place to keep the system honest. Either the food product has a smart label, or it does not. If it does not, it can still be sold, but producers are prohibited from confusing consumers by providing incorrect information or pretending that a label reflects vitability scores when it does not. With correct information available, Austin consumers’ purchasing decisions influenced all members of the food value chain to provide the consumers what they wanted, more and better vitable food options that are tasty, affordable, and convenient.
Austin has found a straightforward, consumer focused solution to the problems we are now facing. Foods with a smart label showing a Vitability index are available next to non-vitable food. Educated consumers get to decide what they want. Fierce competition between producers has led to innovative ideas such as Local Vertical Farming 2.0 and the exclusive use of renewable energy resources. Food waste has been reduced as food that is grown, manufactured, and transported, but not consumed has a strong negative impact on the overall Vitability score. Most importantly, the food system we have today is not static. Clear lines of communication between consumers and all those involved in the food value chain ensure that as consumer preferences change, all producers will have the same opportunity to meet that new demand.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?