It was in the early 2000s that the concept of college hunger— hunger on college campuses—first began becoming mainstream. However, hunger among the college population has been going on for many years before it ever started to gain traction in the media. What I am referring to is what we like to call ‘the ramen diet,’ ‘the college diet,’ ‘the freshman 15’ and more. Plain and simple, many college students across the nation are not getting the adequate nutrition they need.
“Because we have always had very positive terms associated with college life, we have negated to see how hunger affects the college population,” Baylor social work graduate student Esther Zapata said.
Hunger doesn’t discriminate. Baylor is not immune to hunger just because of its private university status. In fact national research shows that there is a correlation between rising tuition costs and the amount of students experiencing hunger on a given campus. After surveying a sample of the Baylor population, Dr. Nathan Alleman, an associate professor in educational leadership, and graduate student Cara Allen, discovered that 50 percent of their 300 completed surveys indicated students are facing some level of food insecurity.
We, college students, are very privileged to go to college, and we are also reminded constantly of that privilege. In society today, starting from kindergarten on up children, are constantly bombarded with messaging about the importance of going to college. Nonetheless, some may argue we are selling children a false hope. We are telling them they have to pursue higher education in order to be successful, but we neglect to take care of them when they get there.
“We are addressing hunger in children, the elderly and in veterans,” Zapata said. “We have stated that you’re a child and we want you to go to college. Therefore we are going to feed you between the ages of kindergarten all the way to your senior year of high school. Once you leave high school, you fall out of the system. Go to college—go hungry.”
The diet we have in college, ages 18 to 25, affects us for the rest of our lives. Establishing poor eating habits during the vulnerable stage of young adulthood leads to increased rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease, not to mention the negative effects that a lack of nutrition has on our long-term physical and mental health. The hierarchy we have created around food has caused damage—this ‘at least you’re eating’ mentality has detrimental impacts on our health and well-being.
“There is a hierarchy of food,” Zapata said. “Eating ramen is so much ‘worse’ than eating a salad, but eating a salad is so much more expensive, so you might as well eat ramen.”
It is clear we need to address hunger on college campuses. It is a problem that will continue into the future if we don’t intervene. One way many universities have attempted to combat the issue of hunger on college campuses is by designing and implementing their own food pantries. According to the College and University Food Bank Association (CUFBA), there are more than 350 universities with food pantries on campus. On-campus pantries are ideal because students do not have to travel off campus to receive the assistance they need.
The pantries, and other organizations focused on fighting food insecurity, help provide a network to both students who are food insecure and those interested in making a difference. “We need those students who are passionate about [hunger] and want to change the system to actually create a task group,” Zapata said.
Another creative effort to ease college hunger is for universities to host free farmers markets on campus. Recently, Alleman and Cara Allen partnered with the Family of Faith Worship Center to host Baylor’s first free student and faculty farmers market on campus. Thanks to partnerships with community organizations and across campus, 47,555 pounds of food was distributed.
“We have students coming to our campus from all different populations and no matter how they are coming to us, it is our goal to help them be successful,” Allen said. “And I think if student learning and student formation are our goal, we need to think about how we use our resources and partnerships within the community to serve those students.”
Technology is also key in fighting college hunger. Students at Colombia University in New York City developed a meal-sharing app to create emergency meal plans for students in need. When students have leftover meals at the end of the week, those meals are added into a virtual bin of available meals. Students who are in need of emergency assistance can login, even if they don’t already have a meal plan, and redeem a meal with their student account, no questions asked.
“Baylor is having conversation about what is best for the students,” Allen said. “A food pantry is an option, but there are lots of other options. The food pantry is one of many options for students, but what it comes down to is what is best for Baylor students.”
For ways you can get involved contact the Texas Hunger Initiative office nearest you.
by Madyson Russell, Communications Intern, Texas Hunger Initiative