Food for thought: Closing the college-diet gap

Black and white photo of students in cafeteria.

This post is written by Luna Collins, who is currently serving with The Vermont Foodbank this year as an AmeriCorps VISTA. Growing, cooking, sharing, and eating food are among her favorite activities—especially when they create opportunities to bring people together. For those reasons and because she hopes to promote equity and community resilience through her work, Luna studied sustainable and just food systems education at Green Mountain College and soon found her way into my current role at the Vermont Foodbank. As Outreach Systems Specialist, she is working on capacity-building projects to support the 3SVT outreach team in their effort to connect more people in southern VT to food assistance.

As a student, I was jealous of those who lived off campus and had the freedom to prepare their own food, but I also felt lucky to have full access to the dining hall. Occasionally, I helped students without a meal plan sneak in through the backdoor, or tossed a couple apples over the dining hall balcony to hungry friends below.

Many people assume a connection between scrimping and going to college, and they are not entirely wrong. Ramen is often seen as a rite of passage, although this image points to a deeper issue. False stereotypes often portray a student “indulging” in cheap, instant food for convenience, or foregoing a meal to buy beer. In reality, access to healthy, affordable food is limited for many on college campuses.

The documentary film Hungry to Learn highlights recent and shocking statistics of food insecurity among college students. The film cites data from an annual basic-needs assessment drawn from a #RealCollege survey of some 86,000 students. A staggering 45% of college students report struggling with hunger. While tuition has risen dramatically over the last 30 years, college student demographics has changed to include more middle and low-income students. Many more folks attending college today are over age 24, work full-time, are enrolled part-time, or have financial dependents of their own.
Awareness about the issue of food access for college students has been growing.

At Champlain College in March 2017, for example, a community discussion around campus food insecurity was sponsored by a handful of organizations including the Vermont Foodbank. President Bob Allen of Green Mountain College was moved to tak