Empty shelves: How your academic library can address food insecurity

Lana Mariko Wood


Researchers have only recently begun looking at food insecurity on college campuses. Food insecurity is characterized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as limited or uncertain access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods or the ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways due to limited financial resources. Harmony Reppond illustrates this point when writing, “food insecurity for college students can mean running out of food between paychecks, attending campus events in search of food, reducing food intake, purchasing minimally nutritious food that costs less, skipping meals, and deciding between paying for textbooks or food.” Food insecurity is often an invisible condition because of the stigma associated with hunger and poverty. However, the extent and severity of food insecurity on college campuses is alarming. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a literature review and found that college student food insecurity rates exceeded 30% in the majority of published studies. The Hope Center at Temple University conducts an annual survey on student basic needs, which originally covered food and housing insecurity, and has since been expanded to include transportation, childcare, stress, and mental health. Over the last five years this survey has been completed by more than 330,000 students attending 411 colleges and universities, and the Hope Center has found that on average over the last five years 39% of respondents reported being food insecure in the prior 30 days. The rise of student food insecurity is linked to a decrease in public funding for higher education, which in turn has caused a steep increase in tuition rates, combined with more low-income students entering college.

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Copyright Lana Mariko Wood

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