Watchworthy Wednesday: Feeding Mind and Body

A University of California, Irvine undergrad, whose mother died two years ago leaving her to care for her grandfather and younger brother, was lucky when she could afford a meal for herself.

The transfer student, commuting from L.A. five days a week and working 10-15 hours per week, “was rarely eating one meal per day because she would use any funds she had to feed her grandfather and brother first. In addition, she has a medical condition (post-concussion syndrome), and her lack of appropriate nutrition was making it worse because she was always fatigued and feeling weak. One of her professors noticed that she was always tired in class, and recommended that she check out our services,” said Andrea Gutierrez, UCI’s FRESH Basic Needs Hub coordinator.

Thanks to that intervention, the student now is able to feed herself. She and thousands of other hungry UCI students are being served by the largest food pantry in the 10-campus UC system. The 1,800-square-foot FRESH Basic Needs Hub offers fresh, frozen, refrigerated and dried and canned foods, as well as counseling services, workshops on how to make affordable healthy meals and help applying for CalFresh, the state’s nutrition assistance program.

“As Virginia Woolf’s quote goes: ‘One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,’ ” Gutierrez said. “It is important to provide food assistance to students who cannot afford it because a lack of food/nutrition and basic needs has a direct impact on their mental-emotional-physical health, wellness, and academic performance. As an institution committed to students’ degree completion, success and social mobility, it is imperative that we offer these types of resources so students can thrive and not have to worry about where their next meal will come from. As Dr. Sarah Goldrick-Rab, national researcher on college hunger and homelessness explains: ‘College is a great route out of poverty but, for that path to work, students must escape the conditions of poverty long enough to complete their degrees.’ ”

A UC survey last year found that four in 10 students did not have a consistent source of high-quality, nutritious food. From the survey summary:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that one out of every seven households in the United States is considered to be food insecure, meaning that lack of money or other resources limits their access to adequate food. As awareness about the prevalence of food insecure households has increased, anecdotal reports from colleges and universities throughout the country have raised concerns about food insecurity among students. Because there is limited data about food security among college students, the University of California is working to better understand the scope of food insecurity on its campuses. … Student food insecurity is both a national and global issue, and UC is addressing it head-on. The Food Access and Security study, and subsequent Food Access and Security plan, is just the first step to understanding this complex and nuanced issue. UC is dedicated to providing an equitable and sustainable food system for the University community. To this end, the University will continue to work toward long-term solutions that improve student nutrition and enhance student success at UC.

Addressing students’ basic needs so they can be successful is a strong example of connected learning, which is when someone is pursuing a personal interest with the support of peers, mentors and caring adults, and in ways that open up opportunities for them. It is a fundamentally different mode of learning than education centered on fixed subjects and standardized testing.

Uci’s food pantry is part of the UC Global Food Initiative, created to take on the food insecurity problem worldwide. Its aims: to identify best practices and share widely; to use the power of UC research and extension to help individuals and communities access safe, affordable and nutritious food while sustaining natural resources; and to deploy UC’s research to shape, impact and drive policy discussions around food issues at the local, state, national and international levels.

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A systemwide survey last year found that 4 in 10 students did not have a consistent source of high-quality, nutritious food. The survey of 9,000 students, believed to be the nation’s largest look at campus food security, found that nearly one-third of those in need had difficulty studying because of hunger and that about one-fourth had to choose between paying for food or for educational expenses and housing.

Banner image credit: UCI FRESH Basic Needs Hub

Editor’s note: Watchworthy Wednesday posts highlight interesting resources and appear in DML Central on Wednesdays. Any tips for future posts are welcome. Please comment below or send email to mcruz@hri.uci.edu.