The following report comes from Monica Sager, Clark University ’21, and Campus Hunger Project Cohort Ambassador, who attended the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in DC.
There are two conflicting views as to what a college student looks like. The first is an affluent, young adult who comes from a privileged background with enough money for college, groceries, and any other necessary—and unnecessary—spendings. The second is a financially strapped student with no money to their name, who is cramming for classes while solely surviving off of cheap ramen, pizza, and snacks that they were able to scavenge from a school event or the discount section nearby.
The latter is an acceptable norm in society. It’s a “right of passage,” per say. But for 39 percent of college students, even that scenario is a stretch. Food insecurity is the reality.
Currently, more than half of students need some form of financial help—federal or private—but 70 percent of those who do graduate still end up with debt of some sorts, according to CNBC. College prices nationally keep rising, and maintaining a job, social life, and academics is a stressful balance that only few can successfully manage.
The country is not adequately addressing food insecurity—in college and beyond it with 37 million in the country facing this issue—as many pointed out at the 2020 Anti-Hunger Policy Conference, co hosted by Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and Feeding America, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.
“We can and should do better as a country,” FRAC’s new president Luis Guardia said at the conference. “We’ve had some successes but…we have some struggles. We have a lot to do.”
Beyond the 39 percent of college student who have been food insecure in the past 30 days, 17 percent are homeless, and 75 percent of families struggle to afford college—that former example of a high-class student is just a barrier.
College administrators need to recognize this data. Statistics facilitate a changing mindset. Without it, the Deans and Presidents of our colleges will be stuck in the same place—leaving countless students on their own without the help they need.
“I think one of the things we are missing right now is national and local data,” said Bria Berger, research director at Feeding America.
Students deserve programs, and they should not have to be the ones to push and create them. The field must be open to newer conversations and strategies. Cultural norms must be broken. Barriers must be torn down. Stigmas cannot surround this issue, or else when programs like SNAP, food pantries, or food aid plans come into place, students will not take advantage of them. Instead, language needs to be inclusive and comprehensible.
“We have to think of the student as a whole, as a human,” said Roicia Bank, who is the SNAP coordinator at the district office in Maricopa County, Arizona.
Even though we live in a nation with abundant opportunities and farmland, one in six children live in a home with food insecurity. Parents living in households with food insecurity use coping strategies to deal with budgets and the feeling of hunger, from cutting out their own meals so the kids can eat to not pay the electric bills. But this eventually becomes a chronic disease, as Representative Kim Schrier shared at the conference. Food insecurity is cyclical in nature, directly correlating with many other issues this nation faces, including: homelessness, health care, immigration, education, stagnant pay wages, and so much more.
“Hunger in the US is not a medical problem but a political problem,” Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern said.
We are in a crisis right now. Changes need to be made. If we work together, schools can gather and share more data on food insecurity at their campuses to urge powerholders to make more informed decisions. Data is important. The statistics make a difference. The culture needs to change, and food insecurity needs to end.