When I was an undergraduate student the words “college food,” such as ramen noodles, microwavable processed meals, and dining halls, were a part of the college experience. Those fond thoughts bring back great memories that evoke a positive feeling of independence and growth. As a college student, it is likely my food choices were influenced by the ease and convenience of preparation and the limited funds my father supported me with monthly. However, this is a broad statement about a typical college experience around food and is not the reality for many college students on my own campus. Many of them are hungry. Many are food insecure.
Academic research has estimated that almost half of college students across the country experience food insecurity, which is defined as “the limitation or uncertain availability of access to sufficient quantity of affordable, safe, and nutritious food” (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2019). The need for food pantries on college campuses is growing at alarming rates. With college tuition rising every year, many students are unable to afford nutritious food and many go hungry. In my undergraduate dietetic program at Marshall University (MU), I had the opportunity to be the Director of my campus food pantry. I had the privilege to have students confide in me about their experiences of struggling to afford food since all their money went to tuition, books, and rent. Some worked two jobs while being a full-time student, some could not work enough hours in month to afford their bills due to college regulations, and some did not even have a warm place to go home to.
But there is good news! There are many who see the problems and are determined to make a difference. I was the only employee at the MU Pantry; however, I was never alone. Students, faculty, and staff in higher education have spoken up and researched college food insecurity that has existed on campuses for decades. They have advocated for this issue by volunteering their time and spreading awareness. This has resulted in a food pantry that ensures students to have a safety net; access to nutrient rich foods that supports allergies, food preferences, and cultural beliefs just a short walk across campus. My experience was filled with rich opportunities to help a community starving for change.
Sydney Mangialetti is a graduate student and on-site dietetic intern.
Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2019). Majority of college students experience food insecurity, housing insecurity, or homelessness. AAC&U News.