THE BASICS: What is food insecurity?
Food insecurity is a term describing a situation where an individual does not have consistent access to healthy and nutritious food. This may result in the tendency to skip meals, reduce food portions, or go without any food the entire day. According to the USDA there are four categories of food security, very low food security, low food security, marginal food security and high food security1. Those who are considered “very low food security” often make adjustments in their daily meals with foods that are more affordable such as fast food restaurants or they skip a meal altogether. Those who are “low food secure” are those who reduce the portions sizes of meals they consume because they are suffering from financial hardships. Individuals that fit into the “marginal/high food secure” categories tend to be food secure and rarely face difficulty having access to nutritious food but tend to not buy highly nutritious food because of its cost2.
THE ISSUE: Food Insecurity at Fresno State
Food insecurity is extremely prevalent in Fresno, especially on the Fresno State Campus. In a survey that was conducted in spring of 2013, it was found that 31% of Fresno State Students were experiencing food insecurity2. So, roughly 1 in 3 Fresno State students struggle meeting their nutritional needs; meaning that Fresno State students are twice as likely to experience food insecurity than the average American 3. This issue was found to be something that could affect all races, as there was no significant difference in food insecurity between ethnic groups. Students who were living on their own and who had their own source of income, or who had credit card debt were found to be more at risk for food insecurity2.
While this issue is widespread across campus, it is not something that is frequently discussed due to the stigma. Students who are food insecure are often too embarrassed or ashamed to seek help or alert others to their struggle. In an informal study that was conducted, 63% of students expressed that they were not aware of the issue of food insecurity on campus. This may be something that goes relatively unnoticed by the general public, but the effects of food insecurity can be detrimental to the student.
THE EXPERIENCE: A student’s voice
“When someone hears my stomach growl and tells me to go get something to eat, I don’t know how to tell them that I only have $25 in my bank account and I can't buy food right now. When I have to pay for gas, PGE, and rent I put off paying for food. Hunger causes me to have a lack of sleep, it is hard to pay attention in school, I am anti-social, and I am lacking the nutrients I need as a cancer survivor to remain healthy. You really have to learn to budget yourself and limit yourself because it isn't easy but you just have to do what you can.” - Fresno State Student
THE EFFECTS: How hunger can impact college performance
- Reduced brain function from lack of iron4
- Increased absenteeism from a lack of ability to fight illness5
- Inability to concentrate
- Impaired decision-making skills
- Depression and social withdrawal
Children from food insecure households are more likely to be held back a grade or be in remedial classes compared to food secure children. 3 While this hasn’t been fully researched fully in college populations, we imagine the same to hold true.
THE SOLUTION: Food Recovery
49 million Americans experience food insecurity3, yet 36 million tons of food are wasted annually.6 This obvious disparity lead to the birth of The Food Recovery Network when in 2011 University of Maryland students noticed that huge amounts of leftover food was being thrown away that could be recovered to combat food insecurity. The students organized and mobilized to volunteer recovering leftover food from Dining Services to eventually be recovering 150 - 200 pounds of food a day. According to the Food Recovery Network, 75% of college campuses do not have a food recovery program in place, adding up to 22 million meals that could be recovered and given to those in need. Fresno State does not want to be one of those schools wasting food any longer.
Sociology students at Fresno State have begun their own chapter of the Food Recovery Network to assist in promoting food security on campus and in the neighboring community. Collaborators include Dr. Janie Nkosi and her food recovery volunteers, University Dining Services, Auxiliary Services, ASI, and various Sociology Classes. Beginning in December 2013 student volunteers will begin to recover food and take it to nearby community benefit organizations for distribution.
THE CALL TO ACTION: How you can help
The biggest ways that you can help are to spread awareness of the lack of food security at Fresno State and to give support to the Food Recovery Network. Talk to friends, family, professors, administrators, community members, and businesses; everyone you know! We want to spread the word about the prevalence of food insecurity and to spread the notion that people should not be embarrassed to get the help they need. Services are there to help with no shame required. One such service could be the Food Recovery Network with help of people like you supporting it. To learn more about food recovery visit foodrecoverynetwork.org and to get involved with the network at Fresno State, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
References: 1. Definitions of Food Security. USDA Economic Research Service http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/definitions-of-food-security.aspx#.Uo2f-Y2ILcE, 2006 2. Espinoza, Alida (2013) Assessing Differences in Food Security Status Among College Students Enrolled at a Public California State University Campus 3. Hunger Facts. Feeding America http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-facts.aspx#
4.An Examination of the Relationship between Nutrition and Learning. Doris L. Pertz and Lillian R. Putnam The Reading Teacher , Vol. 35, No. 6 (Mar., 1982), pp. 702-706
5.Hunger Facts and Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved Oct 22, 2013, from Community Food Bank: http://communityfoodbank.net/WhoWeHelp/C_V_Residents.aspx
6. Kleinman, Murphy, Little, Pagano, Wehler, Regal, and Jellinek (1998) Hunger in children in the United States: Potential behavioral and emotional correlates. Pediatrics, 101 (1), e3