EDITORIAL: Food insecurity is prominent at Rutgers
Rutgers Student Food Pantry will not solve issue on its own
While ramen noodles and mac and cheese seem to be the typical college student’s meal of choice, it has become apparent that many students may not have many other options. Food insecurity among college students is a significant issue across the country, but when we come to realize its prominence at Rutgers, the problem becomes more personal.
Food insecurity is generally defined as a lack of reliable access to the necessary amount of affordable and nutritious food. According to a done by the University in March regarding food insecurity among students at Rutgers—New Brunswick, slightly less than 37 percent of undergraduates and slightly more than 32 percent of graduate students are food insecure — which translates to approximately a third of the student body and more than the national average. Most of the students who are affected by this issue live in off-campus housing and come from low-income families.
Food insecurity entails multiple issues for students other than simply hunger. There is a significant correlation between GPA and level of food security, according to the Rutgers study. The lower the level of a student’s food security, the lower their GPA is likely to be. This seems intuitive, because when a student has to spend more time focusing on how to feed themselves, it likely follows that they must spend less time on their academics. Considering the fact that most of the students who are food insecure are also low-income, it is clear that this is an issue that perpetuates itself. Poor access to affordable, convenient and healthy food entails decreased academic performance and therefore possibly a lower graduation rate. In other words, someone is more likely to graduate and move on toward personal success if they have the financial ability to comfortably feed themselves.
Poor physical health is also associated with food insecurity. When students are financially insecure, they need to work more hours to sustain themselves. But these students also need to make time to focus on their studies on top of their job. This leaves less time to make home-cooked meals or exercise. The quickest and cheapest option is often fast food — which obviously ends up leading to poor health. Intertwined with this issue is the fact that groups most at risk for food insecurity include students of color, first-generation students and students who receive Pell Grants.
The Rutgers Student Food Pantry is a great start to addressing this issue in New Brunswick, but it cannot be one of the only things the University contributes. For one thing, the pantry is not utilized by one-third of the Rutgers community despite the fact that apparently one-third needs it. This may be the result of a culmination of things, such as the fact that shopping at a food pantry in general may seem somewhat embarrassing for some students, or that there is simply not enough advertisement on behalf of the pantry. In general, though, the food pantry is not going to solve the issue. In addition to promoting use of the pantry, the University could possibly begin working on a way to implement more subsidized food plans and campus-grown produce for those in need.
Student health and success is, and should continue to be, the University’s priority. But without more being done to address food insecurity, the problem will continue to worsen, as will the inequality gaps. Rutgers students must be informed about the fact that so many of their classmates experience this issue and should be encouraged to take part in working out a solution. This is an issue that, if solved, can have far-reaching and long-term positive effects.
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