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Originally published Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Editorial: ‘Top Chef’ highlights Seattle food scene, but healthful fare not accessible to poor

Seattle is a hotbed of hip restaurants and local foodies, but access to healthful meals remains difficult for the less affluent. The recently released Seattle Food Action Plan aims to produce a more equitable system.

Seattle Times Editorial

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Cooking is cool in Seattle. Using fresh, locally grown ingredients is hot. These days, food is a form of art — and policy.

Take for instance:

• Bravo’s latest season of “Top Chef” burnishes the town’s reputation as a foodie-friendly mecca, where ingredients appear to be in excess — brimming with fresh flavors and nutrients.

• Last month, the city of Seattle released its strategy to increase healthful food production and consumption. The 44-page plan has been in the works since 2008. It highlights what the city has already been doing for years, and suggests a few areas of improvement.

Why is such a plan needed at all? The Emerald City is home to a world-renowned public market, cocktail connoisseurs, a coterie of celebrity chefs and discerning diners.

Everyone loves good food, but not everyone can get it.

The Seattle Food Action Plan reads more or less like a pat on the back. However, it also seeks to address a fundamental flaw: healthful food may be hip in the city, but the good stuff isn’t cheap. This lack of access affects low-income residents.

Food-bank lines are long. One in five children in King County doesn’t have enough to eat.

Processed food is cheaper to purchase and easier for stores to stock. Even when fruits and vegetables are affordable, they — and the farmworkers who tend and harvest them — likely have been exposed to artificial chemicals and pesticides.

The result is an increase in obesity and diet-related illnesses, especially among the poor and people of color. Such risks often end up leading to higher health costs for taxpayers.

The Seattle Food Action Plan calls for expanding city-funded community gardens and encouraging food-stamp recipients to shop for healthier options like fresh vegetables. It’s also a recipe for moving forward, with directions to coordinate intergovernmental efforts, partner with communities, encourage stores to locate in poor areas and open up more unused land to urban farmers.

Seattle stands out as one of a handful of metropolitan cities in the country to include a sustainable food plan in its overall vision.

The city has spent the past four years gathering input on a “feel good” issue that has serious economic and public health implications. Consumers spend $4.8 billion every year on groceries; the overall industry employs 130,000 people in King County.

Some seeds have been planted. It’s time to support and measure the city’s efforts to grow a sustainable food system for all.

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