United States Sen. Chris Murphy discussed potential solutions to food insecurity in higher education at a roundtable with University of Connecticut students and professors and nearby community members Monday morning.
According to the Journal of Nutrition, food insecurity is defined as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”
“I feel like I have an obligation to … try to highlight issues that maybe aren’t always top of mind for my colleagues, one of those is this issue of food insecurity,” Murphy said in his opening remarks. “This is not something that we are having a big enough, robust enough conversation about in Washington, despite the fact that the numbers would tell you that this is a crisis.”
According to a survey by undergraduate students Wanjiku Gatheru and Abhishek Gupta, in the last year at UConn, 26 percent of the survey’s 1,463 participants were worried that they would not have enough food because of a lack of money or other resources, and 11 percent of UConn students had gone an entire day without eating.
Gatheru and Gupta’s survey was part of their food insecurity initiative, titled the “UConn Access to Food Effort Initiative.” The initiative aims to assess food insecurity at UConn, create grassroots solutions and push for institutional change, Gatheru said.
“Food insecurity is a college completion issue,” Gatheru said. “I think a lot of times when we think about supporting our students and their endeavors and their academic success, we directly think of financial aid, and that is so important, but in thinking of a holistic college safety net, food insecurity and addressing that is so important.”
Gatheru said the initiative created a pop-up food pantry at UConn, and though it only lasted about an hour and a half due to weather, over 100 students visited it.
One policy initiative that the federal government is considering to address food insecurity on college campuses would ask the Department of Education to require that college campuses report food insecurity data, Murphy said.
“Trying to add a more systematic way to pick up where this problem exists in the most acute ways is one of the things we’re looking at,” Murphy said.
The roundtable also featured food security professionals, such as Jason Jakubowski, president and CEO of Foodshare, a regional food bank covering Hartford and Tolland counties.
Jakubowski said he has talked with administrators at the Hartford campus and said his company is open to working with UConn to open food pantries at the Storrs campus and in Hartford.
“One of the things I’ve noticed, I’ve been on this job for about two years now, [I’m] stunned, absolutely stunned, by the number of students in higher education that are affected by this,” Jakubowski said.
UConn students, as well as students from Eastern Connecticut State University, Middlesex Community College and Naugatuck Community College also spoke on their experiences living with food insecurity while in college.
“Consider this an invitation to keep this dialogue going,” Murphy said.