Hungry Students? Food Insecurity on Campus Far Worse Than You Think

Updated Sep 16, 2014

I grew up on the free lunch program, so I don’t feel stigmatized when it comes to getting food subsidies or food stamps.

I don’t have a problem with official government efforts to make sure people don’t go hungry.

But did you know college kids are hungrier than you think?

With two kids in college, I don’t often think that food is a campus problem.

Not with longstanding traditions like the so-called “Freshman 10.” Or considering inflation, I suppose that’s become the “Freshman 15.”

But one of my kids is living off-campus this year, and doesn’t have a pricey meal plan.

It’s rare not to hear him talk about food.

Good healthy food is too expensive, he tells me. And if you’re required to read 300 pages per class a week, who really has the time to prepare and cook healthy meals? You grab fast food as a matter of academic survival.

But easier on the pocketbook is every cheap eater’s friend: ramen.

Never mind that your standard “food warehouse, 10-bricks-for-a-buck” ramen is not exactly what you’d call health food ― not when it’s high-carb, high-fat and even higher in sodium.

So when I read on MSNBC.com that hunger on college campuses was a big issue, I wasn’t all that surprised.

Reporter Ned Resnikoff cites stats from Feeding America, the country’s largest emergency food assistance network. It said that roughly 10 percent of its 46.5 million adult clients attended college, including 2 million who are full-time students.

 

The numbers suggest real food insecurity among college students, yet most older students don’t have access to mom and dad to shore up the pantry.

 

Food stamps? Not many vendors at schools accept them. And when there are restrictions on buying prepared food in a cafeteria, using them isn’t even allowed in most cases.

That doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

 

If you’ve been enjoying the latest Ken Burns documentary on PBS, The Roosevelts, you’ll be pleased to know that one of the ways the family’s legacy carries on is through the Roosevelt Institute’s Campus Network.

 

Its purpose is to help students engage and organize in community projects to help them develop leadership traits.

 

At Santa Monica College, a community college in West Los Angeles, it might also solve campus hunger.

 

Resnikoff reported on Yvonne Montoya, an older student with three grown kids, who made student food insecurity the Roosevelt chapter’s key issue. Montoya found she was one of the many students who are forced to choose between paying for education or paying for food.

 

With the Roosevelt Institute’s backing, Montoya called 16 schools and found no one accepted food stamps. That was mostly because no one had ever asked.

 

It’s hard to think of “starving students” as you would the kind of hunger you’d see in a third world country.

 

But that only makes the issue seem more doable. Montoya’s focusing on California first, as there seems to be some openness at her two-year college. Even if she doesn’t succeed, at least somebody’s asking the question: Why for the huge number of low-income students can’t there be a New Deal?

 

Inspired by Roosevelt and hunger, Montoya presses on.

 

And maybe because of that, there will be fewer hungry college students choosing between a decent education and a decent meal.

 

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race, culture and politics for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog). Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media and on Twitter @emilamok.