Every college student knows the feeling: opening up your pantry just to find crumbs of food long since eaten, or ingredients that can’t form a decent meal. Wanting nothing more than to satisfy your hunger after a long day of classes, studying, work, interning or extracurriculars, just to come home to a bare fridge. It happens, but the worst part is when a student has no way to access more food.
This is best known as food insecurity, which is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food”. For students with limited means of transportation or low income, a trip to the grocery store is a rare opportunity. Food insecurity is also closely related to “food deserts”, which are residential areas that lack resources like grocery stores that provide fresh produce and healthful foods. However, money is also large factor in food inaccessibility for students. Between the cost of living, tuition, supplies, books, transportation and health care, food is where a lot of students cut their losses and just go hungry.
This issue has reached campuses far and wide across the U.S. — including the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2016, UNR conducted a survey to gauge statistics on food insecurity at the university, and had 4,243 responses. Of those responses, 21 percent of students said they experienced food insecurity sometimes or often within a six month span. By 2018, an additional one percent of students said they experienced food insecurity.
However, the 2016 survey also found that many students had a hard time reaching out for help when they experienced hunger. Of the 21 percent that were food insecure, 14 percent said they were willing to accept assistance from the food pantry.
Food insecurity not only affects students’ physical health, but also their performance at school, work and their mental health. Since 95 percent of serotonin in the brain is produced by the gastrointestinal tract, a healthy mentality is incredibly dependent on one’s diet. Certain foods, such as those high in omega-3 fatty acids like eggs, walnuts or spinach, can also improve learning and memory. Going hungry or eating processed foods all the time can cause a person to have low energy, low motivation and affects their mental health for the worse. That’s why it’s important that students have access to healthy, fresh foods, so they can achieve optimal performance and mental health.
So, how can we go about changing these statistics?
First, it’s important to reduce the stigma surrounding food pantries and other resources designed to help students. Pack Provisions, a student-run food pantry on the third floor of The Joe, strives to eliminate this stigma by employing a friendly, non-judgemental staff. Students who are experiencing or know of someone experiencing food insecurity can visit https://www.unr.edu/student-engagement/engagement-support-services/pack-provisions for more information or to find out how to help.
Second, it’s also important that we help out those in need. Providing a ride, inviting a friend over to eat or offering to pay for a friend’s meal can go a long way. Hunger is immediate and can be excruciating under all the other stresses a student experiences on a daily basis. Considering our current social climate, acts of love, care and empathy are especially significant.
Finally, we can share resources on where to go when experiencing food insecurity. Pack Provisions also puts on monthly farmer’s markets called Mobile Mondays, where students can get fresh produce for free. The next Mobile Monday will be held on Monday, Feb. 11, from 12:30-3:30 p.m. in the Knowledge Center rotunda.
For a general list of food pantries within Washoe County, visit https://fbnn.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Local-Pantries-List-Washoe-County-20190115.pdf.
Carla Suggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @carla_suggs.