From Food Bank to Food Haven | Teen Ink

From Food Bank to Food Haven MAG

September 14, 2020
By KateTauckus BRONZE, Manhasset, New York
KateTauckus BRONZE, Manhasset, New York
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

In the current pandemic, food insecurity has become a central concern for an increasing number of families, but what few people realize is how drastically this issue affects college students. Recent studies have revealed American university students are even more at risk of being food insecure than households. According to the Association of American Colleges & Universities, in 2018, over 50 percent of college students experienced food insecurity, or “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food, or the ability to acquire such food in a socially acceptable manner.” As a rising senior who started touring campuses in the past year, I only just learned about this issue, noticing food pantries on campuses for students to get free food if needed. 

With the rising cost of tuition, more students than ever are struggling with the issue of where to find their next meal, often having to choose between the cost of their books, rent, and groceries. Students unable to afford a traditional meal plan must instead find creative ways to stay fed or simply go hungry. It’s vital that students have reliable access to food if they’re to be able to make the most of their college experience; not surprisingly, food insecurity has been linked to decreased academic performance as well as lower overall health. While college food banks and pantries are a crucial resource that have increased in prevalence over the past few years to help address this issue of student food insecurity, they are far from an adequate solution.

Having grown up with celiac disease, I know firsthand how difficult it is to find food that suits the limitations of my diet. When looking into campus food banks, I was dismayed to find a large majority of them rely on packaged foods, many of which are highly processed; high in sodium and sugar; and often filled with allergens like wheat and dairy. While I commend universities for making attempts to help students in need, those with dietary restrictions – whether for health, allergy, or religious reasons – are even more likely to remain food insecure due to the scarcity and high cost of “free-from” food options.

In addition to other measures like extending government assistance to students, I believe colleges need to create on-campus “food havens” to increase accessibility to fresh and healthy options, creating a safe and welcoming space where students can learn about their dietary needs. Certain college food banks, such as the pantry at UC Berkeley, are working to include fresh produce while actively decreasing the stigma around receiving aid. Food insecurity disproportionately impacts students who are already financially underprivileged, but the optics of getting “handouts” can often lead to students avoiding pantries because of a sense of shame. A food haven would similarly strive to change the conversation about food insecurity and nutrition. In addition to offering a wide variety of nutritious foods that would accommodate allergies and religious obligations, the food haven would feature free cooking classes where students could learn healthy, easy, and affordable ways to cook for themselves. While an important skill for any adult to learn – and one that an increasing number of young people lack –  cooking is especially vital for students with dietary restrictions, as many prepared items are not suited to their needs. 

There are a number of challenges to implementing a food haven. For one, while food banks offering packaged foods simply need shelving, maintaining fresh, non-processed foods requires refrigerators and freezers. Additionally, space and equipment for mini cooking stations is necessary – though simple counter space, cooking supplies, and portable hotplates could be sufficient. On-campus food service directors would need to collaborate with campus food services to create a food haven that would be easily accessible for students and integrated into campus life. This would reduce stigma by allowing students who can afford a meal plan to use credits in the food haven, ensuring that those with means contribute to the haven’s maintenance. 

By placing a focus on nutrition education and accessibility, the food haven would hopefully engender a welcoming environment that would attract a variety of students, not limiting it to a “last resort” that students might feel ashamed to use. By offering a variety of ingredients, as well as prepared meals that could be acquired from the surplus of other dining halls, the food haven would allow students to get a quick bite or linger and sate their culinary curiosity. 

The last thing college students should be worrying about is where their next meal will come from, and whether it’s the type of food they are able to eat. Food havens are the crucial next step in ensuring a healthy, rewarding college experience for all students. Rather than just putting free food on shelves, food havens create a culture of inclusivity and understanding around nutrition, where all students are welcomed to come and be nourished. 

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