Food insecurity is when family members within a household aren’t sure if they’ll have access to regular or adequate meals. And it’s a larger issue in the United States than you might think.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 12.7 percent — or 15.8 million — U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2015. That amounts to about 42.2 million people not knowing where their next meal is coming from.
Food insecurity doesn’t just stop at home. It’s also a problem for students attending universities. A study by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger & Homelessness found that 20 percent of students at four-year universities reported experiencing food insecurity. This ends up having a profound effect on their education. Out of the food insecure students surveyed in the study, 55 percent said food or housing insecurity prevented them from buying textbooks.
What’s even more troubling is that 56 percent of the students who reported food insecurity also said they had a paying job. Meal plans and financial aid didn’t prevent food insecurity, either.
Some universities are taking steps to help students get access to regular meals. We asked Dr. John La Puma, a board-certified specialist in internal medicine and professional chef, to help us identify 10 schools are working to make sure their students are eating.
University of Arizona (UA)
When four UA students noticed the food insecurity problem at their campus, they decided to take action. The UA Campus Pantry opened in 2013 as a grassroots operation. It has since grown and now has a permanent space with shelving and refrigeration. The UA Campus Pantry is an official student service program, open every Friday. Around 1,200 pounds of food are given to more than 100 students each week.
Arizona State University (ASU)
At ASU’s West Campus, the student government stepped in with a solution for students with food insecurity. In 2016, they began a voucher program using $10,000 given by university housing for the cause. Students in need can go to the dean’s office to receive a voucher for one or two meals. If they need more long-term assistance, the office will help connect them to available programs and resources.
UC Berkeley takes a two-pronged approach to solving food insecurity, by providing both emergency services along with education and outreach. The UC Berkeley Food Pantry opened in 2014 and has since serviced over 1,800 students. Students can also apply to the school’s Food Assistance Program to receive meal plan points. The education and outreach programs — like the undergraduate course called Personal Food Security and Wellness — focus on teaching students about nutrition, wellness, and how to recognize someone who might be experiencing food insecurity and how to help.
University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC)
UCSC runs a food pantry on campus in the family student housing. The university also makes sure students know their resources outside of the school, which include local food pantries, and how to apply for food assistance through the government. The Produce Pop Up Stand, which is run by UCSC students, offers low-cost local produce to help students save money.
University of California Irvine (UCI)
Students at UCI started the FRESH Basic Needs Hub to help those on campus who needed assistance with food, housing, and wellness. The Hub provides a variety of services, including a food pantry, help applying for Cal Fresh EBT, emergency meal swipes, nutrition education, and cooking classes. UCI’s food pantry, called SOAR, opened in October of 2015 and served 2,949 students during its first year.
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)
The University of California system launched the Global Food Initiative fellowship to support student research and projects that address food insecurity and provide solutions. As part of this project, on Sundays, a group of student volunteers along with Food Forward, a local nonprofit, go to collect fresh produce from farmer’s markets. The produce is then divided between the UCLA Food Closet — the school’s food pantry, a church that serves financially insecure students, and Food Forward. Students at UCLA are also working on creating an app to alert food insecure students in real time when there’s leftover food available from campus events.
Bronx Community College
Single Stop, the Bronx Community College student support office, found that 70 percent of the students it served were food insecure. The college decided to take action and launched the BCC Food Pantry in November of 2016. It provides free food to college students and their families who are in need.
George Mason University (GMU)
Food insecurity is a growing problem in communities and college campuses, and to take it on we’ll need educated problem solvers. GMU offers a graduate certificate that combines nutrition, food studies, and geography. The food security certificate program provides students with knowledge about food science, nutrition, food insecurity both globally and locally, and which assistance programs are helping now.
Michigan State University (MSU)
The MSU Student Food Bank has been around since 1993. It’s funded through student-run bake sales. Money from the bake sales goes back to the food bank, which provides free food to students and their families facing food insecurity. The food bank is meant to be a supplemental service, so while they can’t provide all the food needed for two weeks, they aim to help students and families cut their grocery bill in half.
School for International Training (SIT)
The SIT offers a program called Rethinking Food Security. In it, students learn about food availability and access on a global scale, including what problems the world will face with population growth. They also gain insight into how experts in the field are trying to solve sustainability and food insecurity issues. The school’s dean of students and Office of Student Affairs are responsible for ensuring student health and safety in the programs, including meal access. Meals are included in the room and board cost.