Thousands of college students nationwide are going hungry.
“It’s definitely, unfortunately, a national issue that seems to be growing,” said Cecilia Herles, faculty adviser for the University of Georgia Campus Kitchen. “Some of the factors for students in terms of food insecurity have to do with financial reasons. The rising cost of education and the cost of living seems to contribute to this.”
Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”
According to a report titled “Hunger in America 2014,” students are finding it difficult to balance education costs, including the rising cost of college tuition and increased student loan debt. Additionally, Feeding America, a nationwide network of 200 food banks, found about 10 percent of its clients are students.
BeAna Stone said she has observed that many UGA students prioritize paying their bills over paying for groceries.
“Personally, I always put my rent and my bills way ahead of food,” said the senior magazine journalism and women’s studies major from Acworth. “Sounds terrible, but it happens every month just because I live with a few other people, so I don’t want that to affect them. So I know for me, towards the end of the month, I’ll be a vegetarian but not on purpose. And I know a lot of my friends do the same thing.”
At UGA, programs such as the UGA Student Food Pantry and the UHC Nutrition Kitchen cooking class are available to help students who suffer from food insecurity. However, Herles said she has not had many students disclose to her that they are dealing with it.
“Maybe part of the issue is that they’re not comfortable coming forward because there’s a lot of stigmas around this,” Herles said. “I think that they also don’t know what to do about it. They don’t know where to go. They don’t know how to get resources.”
Food pantries are a growing trend on college campuses, Herles said.
In 2011, UGA’s Panhellenic Council opened the UGA Student Food Pantry, which is now located in the Tate Student Center.
“There’s no judgment,” said Claudia Shamp, director of the UGA Greek Life Office. “We don’t really evaluate if people need the pantry or not, you just come in and show your ID and you can get what you want.”
Shamp said the pantry had an average of 134 weekly visitors in the spring semester of 2014.
Similarly, the University Health Center hosts a Nutrition Teaching Kitchen, which educates students how to cook nutritious meals on a budget. The class costs $5 per student.
Beyond eating, however, food insecurity can have negative effects on a student’s overall academic performance.
“It has a lot of repercussions,” said Leila Choucair, co-president of UGA Campus Kitchen. “Most of these are obviously going to be related to physical and mental health problems. If you’re not getting the nutrients you need regularly, I think that’s definitely going to affect your class performance.”
Stone said this is a problem that needs to be addressed further.
“I don’t think people think of it as a big issue,” Stone said. “It’s just, ‘Oh, the college struggle — you don’t’ have food.’ But that shouldn’t really be a thing. I would like to see it changed.”