Can Students Alleviate Food Insecurity?

SLU Campus Kitchen tries.

“I was starving until you guys came,” a Midtown 300 resident tearfully said during a Campus Kitchen delivery shift. “I was sitting in my apartment, my fridge empty and it felt like there was a hole in my stomach.

These are not the circumstances of only one person in St. Louis, but of almost 15% of the population in Missouri, according to the 2019 Missouri Hunger Atlas. Food insecurity, or lack of access to sufficient, nutritional food, has plagued St. Louis for years. It is said to be caused by many factors including unexpected illness of a family member, accidents or underemployment. However, disparities in food insecurity are also at the intersection of racial issues in this country. In fact, food insecurity might simply be a symptom of decades of systemic racism. 

In St. Louis, Black Americans are more likely to go hungry than their white counterparts. This trend transcends across generations, according to a report by the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic at Washington University School of Law. Saint Louis University’s Atlas Program brings together members of the University to focus and educate on global challenges that confront the 21st century, with food insecurity at the forefront of those issues. 

Students involved in an educational Atlas session on food insecurity spoke about why SLU students should care about and advocate for tackling food insecurity.

“Most of us are from privileged backgrounds. We go to a private school and have never gone hungry a day in our lives. But hunger and malnutrition have a ripple effect on society and development,” said Faith Whatley-Blaine, SLU senior in charge of hosting the Atlas session.

At SLU, the effects of urban poverty are camouflaged for students within campus boundaries. However, walking a hundred feet away from campus will give any student a clear picture of the poverty impacting many St. Louis residents. 

“There is a clear disinvestment in the north side of St. Louis. Poverty is obvious to anyone who goes there. There are barely any grocery stores, yet, around SLU there are at least three. How can St. Louis residents eat nutritionally if they cannot even find a grocery store near their homes?” another student in the session said. 

For SLU students, there are ways to work toward fixing food insecurity on campus. Campus Kitchen is a volunteer organization dedicated to fighting for food justice around SLU’s campus neighborhood. Melissa Apprill, the program coordinator of Campus Kitchen, said this program aids in solving food insecurity through redistributing food.

“Campus Kitchen helps reduce food waste, recovering 65,000 pounds of food across campus and the surrounding St. Louis area. Reducing food waste has an effect on food insecurity on a systemic level. By repurposing food, we are giving people nutritious, fueling meals,” Apprill said. 

Campus Kitchen aims to put as little as possible into the landfill. If there is food that cannot feed large groups of St. Louis residents, then students are able to come in and keep it for themselves. 

“Students come in on Sundays during the Cooking Shift with grocery bags and can shop for things like they would in a grocery store. If we cannot give it to the residents, then it goes to the students, never the trash,” said Apprill.

According to Apprill, there are many things students can do to aid in ending food insecurity. Simply watching their own waste, advocating for nutritional food and researching where to buy healthy food at a reasonable price are effective strategies. 

“Many students do not like to garden or don’t have the space, and I understand that. If a student cannot grow their own food, then they can educate themselves and others on where to shop for healthy food. This defeats the belief that nutritional food is always expensive,” said Apprill. 

Getting involved in local legislation, Apprill said, is another great way for students to tackle food insecurity while also working to combat environmental injustice and systemic racism. 

“There is always legislation defining what a nutritional meal is. Advocating for fair zoning laws that allow grocery stores and local farmers to bring food to our neighborhoods is imperative and students can help push this legislation forward,” said Apprill.