We need better food accessibility

Hamline University’s lack of food accessibility is troubling, and is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Robin Doyscher, Senior Columnist

Food inaccessibility for college students is one of those extremely prevalent, yet seldom talked about issues that seems to be an afterthought in the minds of those it easily affects. In Fall 2020, the Hope Center found that 34% of college students experienced food insecurity prior to the pandemic, this problem was only exacerbated by COVID-19. It’s honestly astounding how despite the fact that one-third of students nationwide suffer from food insecurity, there doesn’t seem to be more university-wide initiatives to address it.

I’ve attended a few Food and Chats as of late, and have found them to be illuminating and enriching (please go if you have the chance—they’re on Tuesdays during convo hour!). And at these events I’ve gotten the chance to discuss the topic of food insecurity on campus, and Hamline’s failure at addressing it.First off, Hamline needs to throw its chips all into the Food Resource Center. Not enough people know it exists, and I only heard about it secondhand through a friend. Now, if I were a university with a president who gets paid around $440k a year (completely hypothetically speaking of course), I’d maybe divert some of the excess funds towards advertising the FRC and stocking it as full as possible with fresh produce and canned food.

Second off, the dreaded meal plan—the mandatory “option” if you live on campus. As a first-year student having a meal plan sounds nice—not having to cook yourself, or even think about the food you have to choose. But this presents some problems. One, it strips agency from a group of youths who have already had agency taken away from them for the last 18 or so years of their life. Two, part of food security is having the dignified sense of choosing your own preferred meals that align with your health and dietary needs, faith and morals. Hamline not having enough consistent Halal and Kosher foods is a serious oversight for such a campus with a very diverse community. Three, if students are paying exorbitant prices each semester for an (allegedly—for legal purposes) prison-profiteering company to feed them non-nutritious, often bland and barely fresh food, then the least that can be done is to give them sufficient options.

Also, a quick caveat. Shout-out to the kitchen staff. I doubt they get paid very much, and they likely have to deal with a lot of annoying people each day, but they truly are a backbone of this university, and if they were given sufficient resources and funding from our university corporate overlords perhaps they’d be able to both have less stressful jobs and serve students food they want and need.

Students who want to opt out of the meal plan and still live on campus have to go through a demeaning process of proving themselves to either have a specific condition like celiac, or to argue on behalf of their faith. So, essentially laying themselves at the feet of the administration to prove that “no, I really can’t eat the food you give me.” How utterly awful must that be? Having to write a proposal and be evaluated by unfeeling individuals who see you less as a person with needs, and more of a complication is truly disappointing. 

And now, a modest proposal. How is Hamline not sending out surveys or gathering info on the demographics of students in regards to food security? And I mean actual quantifiable survey data, not just tepid google forms where you answer yes or no questions—I mean application level “please tell us the specifics of your dietary needs” type stuff. Hamline will happily find out your family’s tax bracket down to the cent as well as the exact material your toilets are made out of, but can’t be bothered to truly ask your food security status to at least guarantee you’ll always have a cooked, nutritious meal?