UA organizations work to combat food waste and insecurity on campus
20 % of UA students experience food insecurity. UA organizations work to combat food waste and insecurity on campus by expanding knowledge and resources. Organizations such as the FRN and The Student Care and Well-Being office provide the local community with access to nutrient rich food.
By Sara Wilson, Katherine Welch
A 2017 study found that up to half of undergraduate students are food insecure, meaning they often do not have access to food or reliable resources for every meal. In Tuscaloosa County, the food insecurity rate is 17.5 percent, staggering over the national average of 12.9 percent.
Although junior Emily Adams has never experienced chronic food insecurity, she grew up hearing about her parents’ personal struggles. Her father grew up in poor, rural Appalachia and relied on farming, hunting and scavenging for many meals. Her mother shared the burden of food insecurity with her seven siblings in a Texas border town.
“Seeing their background—and we are lucky enough now to have good financial stability and good access to food—it’s always been in the back of mind that I’ve been lucky to come so far from where my parents started,” Adams said.
Her interest in food security stemmed from an Honors seminar she took with Dr. Thomas Herwig about building a personal position on social issues. She completed her final paper about food scarcity within Alabama, building an academic interest that she would later work to seek tangible solutions.
Adams founded a campus chapter of the Food Recovery Network (FRN) last fall in order to combat the dual issues of food waste and food insecurity. FRN is a national non-profit founded in 2011 at the University of Maryland that works to recover unserved food on college campuses and deliver it to a local hunger fighting partner.
Although Kaitlin Little, an Alabama alumna, attempted to start a chapter in 2014, the process was never completed. Adams intends to finish the chapter establishment checklist provided by FRN and bring younger students on board to ensure its sustainability.
Dining halls on campus wasted 26,327 pounds of food in 2018, according to reporting from the Crimson White. Although Bama Dining and Aramark have begun initiatives to reduce food waste on campus, it is still a prevalent issue. Kristina Patridge, the director of University Dining Services, said that the university is working to increase the green matter compost material that Dining Services delivers to the UA Arboretum. In addition, programs like Lean Pass analyze food waste during the workday and help the department come up with better processes.
Adams’s vision for the campus chapter of FRN is to collect unserved food from dining halls, Ferguson Student Center dining locations and campus catering events and deliver it to the West Alabama Food Bank for community collection. The planning process, she said, has been a group effort between her, the food bank, and Bama Dining.
“We made sure to involve the West Alabama Food Bank at every step of the process,” she said. “We signed a partner agreement contract so the expectations are really clear—we are not just barging in and bringing 100 pounds of food in that they don’t necessarily have the space for. It’s been nice so far. I think everyone is on the same page as far as what’s expected.”
Adams and her partner, Mary Elizabeth Clements, worked this semester to lay the groundwork for an initial recovery to take place during the first weeks of summer. Between the various contracts required by FRN, Bama Dining, and Aramark, she said that although the bureaucratic tape was hard to get through, it was worth it.
“Everyone that we talked to was really enthusiastic and positive,” she said. “Even Bama Dining, once they got past the skepticism of us not following through, they were really enthusiastic about the idea as well. They have a million things going on and this was a big logistical effort. I am still really passionate about the idea of trying to make The University of Alabama a more sustainable and less wasteful place.”
Food insecurity is a closely related issue to food waste. While FRN focuses on recovery and community need, there are other groups on campus dedicated to providing resources for current students experiencing food insecurity.
Sophomore Caitlyn McTier started Project FIERCE (Food Insecurity, Education, and Recharging Civic Engagement) after being exposed to the issue of food insecurity through volunteer work in high school and involvement on the executive board of Beat Auburn Beat Hunger. As leader of that group, she is also a member of the Alabama College Food Security Task Force and the national Virtual Hunger Dialogue network.
“Students struggling with the effects of poverty are all around us,” McTier said. “Just because someone looks like they have it all together does not mean they always do. If you can’t donate, at least care—work to eliminate the stigma of needing assistance on campus.”
A Twitter account she helped found, @FreeFoodatUA, posts about the daily free food opportunities on campus. The feed publicizes events like club meetings, movie screenings, and department events that often have catering for the students who attend. The bio claims that “From Little Caeser’s to PubSubs, there’s food on this campus and we’re going to find all of it” and users are encouraged to tag the account or use the hashtag #FreeFoodUA to share meal opportunities.
Limiting campus food waste is an important aspect to combating food insecurity on campus. Many organizations on campus, including The Student Care and Well-Being office, are working to provide resources and knowledge to students regarding where they can find substantial food options.
The Student Care and Well-Being office provides students with a variety of necessary resources to help navigate any challenges UA students may face.
“Our office is like the hub for students that are in need, or want help finding any services,” said Tawanna Franks, Student Care and Well-Being office case manager. “Any student that is in a crisis, whether it’s mental health, family issues, or really anything we help them find what they need.”
Students who are experiencing food insecurity can receive assistance by filling out an online application at bamacares.ua.edu. The online application is not focused solely on food insecurity, but instead assesses a series of questions evaluating what basic needs the student is lacking.
“I want to get away from the term food insecurity, I like saying lack of basic needs instead,” Franks said. “If you are food insecure, you have other needs that are not being met.”
The Student Care and Well-Being office provides needy students with access to a food pantry on campus. The pantry is stocked with a variety of goods including vegetables, pastas, cereal, household and hygiene products and more. Eligible students have access to the pantry using their action card anytime the Ferguson Center is open.
“Approximately 20 percent of our undergrad students are insecure, which is about 9,000. We currently serve about 200 to 300 students a semester,” Franks said. “Between February and April, 100 students swiped into the food pantry, that is not nearly enough. I think that it is based on the stigma surrounding needing assistance, and the lack of knowledge.”
According to Franks they are working to break the stigma surrounding the need for assistance by expanding resources next semester, including open shelving in the Ferg filled with snacks available for all students to grab if they’re hungry, regardless of need.
“I am a big student activist person. Students have the power to completely change the culture and expand what we already have,” Franks said.
It’s a sentiment that McTier echoes.
“We have to create more spaces for open conversations about the realities for many of our struggling students on campus,” she said. “Recognize your privilege and do something about it. Don’t wait for the next person to donate, volunteer, or care. Show up and make it happen.”