College Campuses are Where Food Insecurity and Food Waste Meet

July 16, 2016

recent survey conducted by the University of California discovered that 40% of UC students do not have a stable source of high-quality, nutritious food.

In response, the university proposed a $3.3 million project to boost the fight against campus malnourishment. Every campus is expected to receive $151,000 to supplement the $75,000 granted last year to build America’s most extensive hunger-fighting initiative, according to officials.

These findings at UC, however, are a snapshot of a larger issue at hand: nationwide food insecurity within the college population. They shed light on a number of alarming statistics:

  • Almost 50% of undergraduate students reported food issues, in comparison to 25% of graduate students
  • About one-third of those in need said they experienced hardship while studying, due to hunger and lack of money for food
  • Approximately one-fourth of students reported having to choose between paying for food or for education and housing costs
  • Students without stable access to high-grade food reported lower GPAs, averaging 3.1 compared to 3.4 for students without these hardships


CollegeCampusGreen2.jpgAcademic performance in affected students is likely to decline as a result of food insecurity and hunger. Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University, critiques the stereotype about college students eating Ramen because it dismisses a genuine problem. According to Goldrick-Rab,  “Colleges do all these things to help kids at-risk for dropping out . . .They look at grades and missed classes, but they never ask them if they have enough food to eat or a place to sleep at night.”

The College Board found that that college tuition at four-year public institutions has risen by 25% since 2007. Additional expenses such as housing, books, and transportation have also escalated, all of which puts a strain on students struggling to find money for food.

The massive rise in college food pantries which provide students with groceries and other supplies began after the recession occurred in 2007. Over 200 U.S. institutions now run food pantries, and some, like UC Davis, now receive around 300 student visitors per week.

Yet, while food pantries provide important emergency resources, they do not resolve hunger and malnutrition in the college student population. UC Berkley introduced a course this past spring that teaches healthy cooking on a college budget, which are skills that may not have been initially taught at home or school. “Mobile kitchens” will also provide lessons in college dorms.

As food insecurity rates rise, however, food waste remains an immense issue throughout American institutions. Every year, 22 million pounds of food goes to waste on college campuses. Not only could a reduction in food waste curb food insecurity and hunger, but it could also end up saving the institution money and resources.

One of the easiest ways to achieve this goal is to mandate trayless dining halls. Trays allow students additional space to retrieve food they may not eat, which leads to a tremendous amount food waste. Results from an Aramark study conducted in 2008 revealed that one day of trayless college dining decreased food waste by 25 to 30 percent—ultimately reducing the cost of waste removal, water, energy, and cleaning supplies to clean the trays.

A perfect example of this case occurred at Rutgers University, which saved $300,000 in food costs and witnessed a 20% decrease in food waste — all within the first 10 weeks of going trayless. Nicholas Emanuel, assistant director of Rutgers Dining Services noted, “Now students can take all they want, but they eat what they take.’’

The incongruence of food insecurity alongside food waste on American campuses is but a microcosm of the issue nationwide. Nearly 50 million Americans are unsure of where they will find their next meal, yet, 40% of all the food produced in the United States each year is lost or wasted.

We know the problem. We have the solutions. Let’s work together to reduce food waste and end hunger once and for all.