March 24, 2019 | 47° F

Rutgers focuses on food security with community lecture series, analyzes the rise of hunger relief initiatives

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Janet Poppendieck is an author and a professor of sociology at Hunter College. She stopped by yesterday’s lecture on hunger relief and said that she has noticed a growth in hunger relief efforts that once functioned as small operations. 

Sustaining over recessions, new regulations and positive economic trends, the charitable food industry has seen and made its own share of adaptations in keeping up with the times.

Janet Poppendieck, an author and professor emerita in the Department of Sociology at Hunter College, came to Rutgers yesterday to discuss her experiences and observations within the charitable food industry, as part of "Bending Toward Justice: Food Charity and Public Policy," a continuation of Rutgers' Human Ecology Brown Bag Series.

She talked in-depth about the overall arc that charitable food establishments have faced and began by emphasizing the differences she realized when attending a celebratory gala for the 35th anniversary of the Food Bank For New York City. 

“I did it as a spy, for those who have read ‘Sweet Charity,’ there is an account of the 10th anniversary celebration and so I thought it would be a good idea to see how things have changed” she said. 

Poppendieck said that the 10th anniversary she attended and wrote about was free to attend and had an emphasis on thanking donors and resolving hunger. 

At the 35th anniversary gala, Poppendieck said she observed a change — she had to pay a considerable amount of money to attend and there was an overwhelming attention to raising money. This shift signified the way charitable food organizations have gone from generally small operations to large corporations with many partners and sponsors. 

She discussed how hunger is viewed in society today.

“It has become so normalized in our society, no one sees it now as a symptom of our failure. We have, in a sense, embraced the charitable food project," she said. 

As the discussion progressed, Poppendieck said that food pantries and food banks were started with the idea that they would only be open for one year and mostly be in use during harsh, inclement winters. 

All of the speakers at the galas she has attended have stressed the point that they would love to see their doors close or for their positions to no longer be needed, she said. Now, with the position of the poverty line and the usage of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — formally known as food stamps — the goal of many charitable food establishments is to shorten their lines and provide support to those in need. 

“States feel the budget crunch pretty much any time there is a steep recession. Tax collection is going to go down, need is going to rise. They were cutting back on public employment and laying off workers,” she said.

Seeing how society was falling in what Poppendieck calls her "perfect storm," there was a higher need for charitable food sources. 

Poppendieck said the "storm" started in the 1980s and consisted of several recessions. Being where society is now economically and considering the amount of people relying on food banks, there has been an increase in the amount of healthy foods offered. Major food banks also provide food literacy and recipes to enforce healthy eating habits.

Being at Rutgers, Poppendieck said the Rutgers Student Food Pantry that has been taking donations and helping those locally for almost two years now. 

Mashal Malik, a School of Social Work graduate student, also brought attention to the parents that may be attending Rutgers.

“There are a lot of parents and single parents who decide to go back to school and its hard. They have to decide if they can pay for their books or feed their children and have a meal at home,” she said.  

Poppendieck emphasized the importance of the food pantry as the profile of the college student has changed tremendously. Many students have felt hunger before and when it is easy to satisfy that hunger there is not a second thought. Those who have to deal with that hunger and are attempting to learn simultaneously are the ones Rutgers should have a hand in supporting, she said.  

Sarah Holick

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