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Main Body

Food Insecurity Among College Students: The Food Pantry Predicament

By Taylor Lance

This paper was written in response to an assignment in English 121 that asked students to write an analytical essay about entering adulthood in 2020 and use some resources.

Food insecurity is an imperative issue in colleges across the country. “Food insecurity” is a broad term for the two types of low food security: low food security and extremely low food security (Yashamiro). This means that these individuals are not consistently getting the food that they need in order to be healthy. Many students attempting to gain a higher education at two-year colleges and four-year universities are facing food insecurity. To help these student’s, colleges are trying out various methods. There are many concerns for students who are experiencing food insecurity, their overall health is at risk, and their grades are destined to suffer. It is extremely concerning how prevalent this issue is. In the article “Why a Food Pantry isn’t Enough” Gwen Dilworth, a fourth-year student and executive director of The College and University Food Bank Alliance, reported that “…the GAO concluded that about a third of U.S. college students struggle with food insecurity”. Colleges across the country are becoming progressively more aware of this issue and are taking steps to intervene by adding food pantries to help students get the nutrition they need. Although food pantries are helpful and should be supported, they alone are not enough to completely combat food insecurity among college students.

Food insecurity among college students is a critical issue in dire need of a solution. “In studies among children and adults, FI [Food Insecurity] has been associated with poorer nutrition and health outcomes, higher stress and depression, and adverse learning, academic outcomes and/or productivity…Findings were generally consistent across peer reviewed and gray literature, despite using different metrics” (Bruening et al.). These are all reasons to be concerned for students in these situations. These individuals are trying to get a higher education because they simply want to have a successful future and are met with the obstacle of not being able to afford both education and basic needs. Students struggling with food insecurity are not able to get the nutrition they need; therefore, they are unable to focus on their academics. Since students are preoccupied with the struggle of meeting their basic need for food and safety they cannot focus on their studies. One solution has been the introduction of food pantries, although these are helpful, colleges cannot stop at just this.

Food pantries are popping up in many colleges across the country in attempt to reduce food insecurity. While these are showing to benefit the students, there are still limitations to how much they can help. In the case study titled “Hungry for a Higher Education” the author determined that food pantries “may not address larger systematic issues of hunger and poverty experienced by students, but focus on immediate needs” (Yashamiro). Food pantries are not a long-term solution to the problem, their intent is to be a short-term solution. Another reason food pantries are not able to reduce food insecurity among college students on their own is attributable to the students view and perception of the food pantries. “It was reported that 36% of students studied associated the pantry with social stigma and embarrassment…” (Yashamiro). This means that many students are hesitant to take advantage of the food pantry because they fear that people will judge them for it and they do not want to be subjected to that embarrassment. Many students know of the food pantries available but are not aware of how the system works or if they are eligible for this help. “33.8% noted unawareness of how the food pantry worked, and if they would even qualify for the services” (Yashamiro). To improve effectiveness of food pantries some colleges might consider adding more ways to inform students on the operation of food pantries and who among the students might be eligible for access to the food pantries. Colleges should not have the misconception that they have solved the problem by only installing food pantries on campus; there needs to be more long-lasting efforts and programs in place.

In the case study “Hungry for a Higher Education” Connie Moreno Yashamiro discusses some other food insecurity intervention methods such as “developing a single point of contact”. This means having one place that students can go to seek help if they are experiencing food insecurity. By creating a single point of contact the student does not have to keep repeating their situation to numerous people across campus, they can instead, talk to one person to get the help and support they need. Another approach mentioned by Yashamiro was to introduce swipe programs. These programs would make it an option for students that have left-over meals on their cards to donate them to students that are food insecure. The individuals that are food insecure and have received the donated meal swipes will be able to use them the same way as any other student and it would be completely confidential (Yashamiro). This would take away any risk that the students might feel judged or embarrassed by their situation. In addition to those tactics, there are still other ways to help students struggling with food insecurity such as mobile notifications when there is food leftover from events on campus. There is a limitation to this strategy however, students who do not have access to cell phones might not be able to be made aware of when there is food leftover from these events. Gardens on campus can serve multiple purposes, they could be used for agricultural education and could also help supply students in need with healthy foods (Yashamiro). The authors of the scholarly article “Hunger In Higher Education” determined that “While there is public resistance to such efforts, policy changes that expand SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] eligibility or extend the National School Lunch Program to higher education are likely cost effective responses since undergraduates who receive public benefits are more likely to persist than observably similar peers”. These college students are here by choice and have the desire to achieve higher education. Therefore, it makes sense financially to extend the National School Lunch Program to enable these students to be healthy while pursuing an education and working to reach their goals. Although food pantries are a valuable addition to the effort to fight food insecurity, they should not be seen as more than temporary help to students who run out of food.

There are many variations in the food pantries that are in these different schools. Food pantries vary in size, available resources, how much students can take, and hours of operation. It is difficult to measure the success of food pantries when all of them are different. There is a lack of research on the effectiveness of food pantries so in order to get a complete understanding of the help that they provide, more studies need to be done. For these reasons’ colleges need to be cautious of having the mindset that food pantries will be an end-all solution when in reality colleges need to combine various programs and efforts to have the greatest impact.

Food insecurity among college students cannot be solved by merely introducing short term solutions such as food pantries. The combination of many approaches and tactics is the best way to tackle this issue. The steps that need to be taken in order to unravel this type of large-scale problem are efforts that colleges can make, such as the swipe program, alongside policy changes to extend eligibility for assistance.

Works Cited

Broton, K. M., et al. “Hunger in higher education: Experiences and Correlates of Food Insecurity Among Wisconsin Undergraduates from Low-income Families.” Social Sciences, vol. 7, no. 10, 2018, doi: dx.doi.org.lcc.idm.oclc.org/10.3390/socsci7100179. Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.

Bruening, Meg, et al. “The Struggle Is Real: A Systematic Review of Food Insecurity on Postsecondary Education Campuses.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vol. 117, no. 11, 2017, pp. 1767–1791., doi:10.1016/j.jand.2017.05.022. Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.

Dilworth, Gwen. “Why a Food Pantry isn’t Enough.” UWIRE Text, 26 Feb. 2019, p. 1. Gale OneFile: News, link-gale-com.lcc.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A575986285/STND?u=lom_lansingcc&sid=STND&xid=4dba1729. Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.

Yamashiro, Connie Moreno. “Hungry for a Higher Education: A Case Study on Undergraduate Student Experiences with a Campus Food Pantry.” Order No. 13881227 California State University, Long Beach, 2019. ProQuest. Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.


Professor Jill Reglin was impressed with the complexity about what Taylor had to say about the topic and her focus in the paper. There were no easy answers to the social problem or the discussion.


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