College Students Address Food Insecurity During Conference at UCI

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UCI’s Student Outreach and Retention Center (SOAR), Muslim Student Union (MSU), Associated Students of UCI (ASUCI) and the Global Food Initiative Food Fellows hosted the California Higher Education Food Summit.
Photo Courtesy: Ali Shahbaz | UCI’s Student Outreach and Retention Center (SOAR), Muslim Student Union (MSU), Associated Students of UCI (ASUCI) and the Global Food Initiative Food Fellows hosted the California Higher Education Food Summit.

By: Jeanine Erikat

The second annual California Higher Education Food Summit (CHEFS), a conference dedicated to discussing food security on college campuses, was held last week in the Student Center from Jan. 22 through Jan. 24. 

The three-day conference was hosted by UC Irvine’s Student Outreach and Retention Center (SOAR), Muslim Student Union (MSU), Associated Students of UCI (ASUCI) and the Global Food Initiative Food Fellows.

The theme of this year’s conference was “uniting food communities through food justice.” Attendees at the conference included students and staff from various University of California and California State universities throughout the state. 

Given UCI’s first food pantry grand opening at the SOAR center last October, the summit was especially important and relevant for UCI students and faculty.

As expenses are rising while wages are not, students are finding it especially difficult to afford three meals a day, and these meals usually do not have a high nutrition value. 

A study conducted at the University of California found that in 2014, approximately one in four of roughly 150,000 undergraduate students at the nine UC campuses often skipped meals to save money.

To UCI students who began the food pantry, these statistics illustrate why addressing food insecurity at the campus level is especially important.

“To engage in critical discussions about food insecurity as a social justice issue affecting students, families, and community members is one of the goals of CHEFS,” said Ali Shahbaz, a third year computer science major who served as the marketing committee lead of CHEFS. 

Additionally, Bushra Bangee, a second-year urban planning major and the  volunteer coordinator of CHEFS, elaborated that another goal of the conference was to identify strategies that will increase food access and security in higher education.

These strategies include increasing awareness about food security, providing scholarships for students not on the voucher system, having more social workers on campus who may analyze each student’s case specifically and getting a referendum for the food pantry so it may be a permanent addition to the UCI campus. 

Students across the UC and Calstate gathered at UCI last weekend to discuss food insecurity on college campuses.
Photo Courtesy: Alexander Fung | Students across the UC and Calstate gathered at UCI last weekend to discuss food insecurity on college campuses.

“One of the most important strategies brought up was raising awareness of food insecurity on our respective campuses, particularly where these discussions and terms are newer and hardly ever used,” said Mona Bdaiwi, a fourth year Public Health Sciences and Spanish  double major and volunteer of CHEFS. “The more students talk about this, the more the rest of the campus learns of its significance and works toward making changes.”

The conference featured various discussions about actions campuses have taken to tackle food insecurity, in addition to workshops which were aimed to get conference attendees to think about addressing food security within their campuses and their greater community. Among these workshops were sessions to help campuses become zero waste facilities and to begin campus gardens. 

The conference also featured an entertainment session held by Grammy-nominated DJ Cavem and his wife Alkemia Earth, who performed a “culinary concert” in which they rapped about healthy eating while they made fruit smoothies. 

The pair demonstrated how they have been able to incorporate self-expression and their lifestyle to influence those around them to consider their choices in food and how they might be able to improve them,” said Bdaiwi.  

Saturday’s keynote speaker, LaDonna Redmond, a food justice activist spoke about her current project in Chicago, in which she has created food and vegetable gardens throughout the city. To serve the garden, Redmond has hired predominantly young black men and women who were having difficulty finding jobs in order to combat both economic and food insecurity simultaneously.

One of the highlights of the conference was the open mic event, in which audience members were encouraged to share spoken word poetry about their personal struggles with food insecurity, including the role race, gender and sexuality may play in food accessibility, as well as the rise of gentrification in many cities.

“This year’s CHEFS was very unique on the basis that on the UCI level only one person from staff was involved and the rest of the program was organized by students. It was student-driven, showing how this issue isn’t being tackled by administration but students,” said Bangee. “Furthermore, this year’s summit was really successfully in providing a space for dialogue about how to deal with food insecurity on campuses by bringing students from across college campuses together.”

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