Food insecurity remains a big threat to students – The Blue Banner

UNC Asheville students struggle with food insecurity despite the creation of the Food Equity Initiative.

“We want everyone to have enough to eat. We want them to have foods they like and we want them to have foods that meet their nutritional and cultural needs,” said FEI Advisor Jordan Perry.

According to Perry, UNCA’s Food Equity Initiative began in 2017, when the Walnut Cove Members’ Association provided a grant with the goal of providing students with access to food resources.

The Food Equity Initiative distributes non-perishable food on a weekly basis every Tuesday from noon to 2 p.m. on the quad.

” Everything is free. People are encouraged to take what they want or need,” said Naomi Todd, a student employed by FEI. “Snacks are very popular with people. I think people rely on us for staples like peanut butter and pasta.

While FEI tries to reach students directly through face-to-face interaction, Perry said a major cause of student food insecurity stems from capitalism and the unequal distribution of food. food to those in need.

“Resources are hoarded by the wealthy and, despite what Ronald Reagan proposed, do not reach the destitute. There is plenty of food. It’s just not distributed fairly,” Perry said.

Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Asheville, Kiera Bulan, said a variety of overlapping and interrelated issues are the likely cause of food inequality.

“Sometimes it’s an issue of access, transportation or reliance on public transport that can be difficult in terms of accessing fresh food. Sometimes it’s an economic situation. People don’t necessarily have the means to buy fresh, healthy food,” she said.

One of the challenges the initiative faces is addressing the misconception that food insecurity doesn’t happen to students.

“There’s one end of the spectrum where people say, ‘OK, food insecurity doesn’t happen to students’ and then there’s another end of the spectrum that says ‘oh it doesn’t happen here’,” Perry said. “Not everyone has a meal plan and not everyone finds the meal plan meets their needs.

Bulan said students, like other financially challenged demographics, face the risk of food insecurity.

“As we know, college can be a real expense and financial burden for families and individuals. I think there are students in our communities who have to make those tough choices and rely on some of the other community safety nets,” Bulan said.

Because of these challenges, Perry said student performance in college can be negatively affected by those directly facing food insecurity.

“If you’re distracted by hunger or worrying about where your next meal is coming from, it’s really hard to be present, it’s hard to concentrate, it’s hard to fully engage in what you’re doing. If you have to work a lot outside of school, it’s hard to devote all of your attention to school,” Perry said.

Due to low engagement with students, Todd said FEI is working with the key hub to help engage with students the group is struggling to reach.

“Every week we probably have 15-30 people coming through and I just feel like not many people know about it. Or people just don’t come and they don’t know it’s all free. people come up to the table and don’t know if they can take things,” Todd said.

As the FEI helps students on campus, Perry said political action is needed to address food insecurity with an institutional understanding around the issues.

“It’s an illusion to think that we can do this work without being political. Every choice we make has political ramifications and when we work in the context of a politically bound institution,” Perry said.

To help prevent food inequity on campus, Perry said minimum student wages should be increased.

“The federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009. North Carolina uses this same minimum wage at $7.25 an hour. That’s not even a living wage, let alone a wage you can thrive on,” they said. “Having a standard for the school, I think, sets an example and shows that we value the students.”

In addition to raising the minimum wage, Perry also said limiting food waste helps fight food inequality. By preventing food from being thrown away and wasted, it can be redistributed to those in need.

“Especially when we have to work to focus our energy on saving this planet,” Perry said. “A lot of food is thrown away that could be redistributed.”

Students interested in addressing food insecurity at UNCA can follow FEI via Instagram and Facebook.

For students choosing to fight food insecurity in Asheville, Bulan said volunteering with local organizations can serve as a learning platform for them.

“There is a lot to learn from this experience and to be grounded in the reality of people’s lived experience and there are a lot of organizations doing the work on the front lines. So I strongly encourage people to get involved in this way,” Bulan said.

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