By: Asia DiBenedetti, Contributor
There is a lot of talk these days about food security, but what exactly does that mean? Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. It’s a major concern, not only throughout the world and the United States, but specifically in Maine and across college campuses, including USM. Feeding America, a national organization dedicated to feeding the hungry through a network of food banks, maintains that 42.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households in 2015. In the state of Maine, the food insecurity rate in 2015 was measured at 15.8 percent, which is higher than the national average of 13.7 percent.
A study done by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger & Homelessness found that in over 30 colleges and universities across United States, 48 percent of students reported themselves as being food insecure. If you think you may be food insecure, or know of someone who might be, know that the USM is taking action around this issue through the newly formed Food Security Coalition (FSC). The FSC is a group of students and staff representing various organizations and departments across campus, including The Husky Hunger Initiative, Sodexo Dining Services, Campus Life, the Office of Sustainability, the USM Community Garden, Food Studies and the Student Government Association. Other organizations, including the ROCC, Advising and Health and Wellness, have also been consulted. Together, we want to reduce food insecurity and food waste on campus through education, empowerment and promotion of campus resources. The ultimate goal is to make USM a university where no one is hungry and no food goes to waste.
In the spring of 2016, a group called the Husky Hunger Initiative formed a food pantry on campus, currently located in The Well at Woodbury. There are a few shelves of non-perishable foods available here to students in need. Anyone can make donations to the pantry at The Well or in blue donation boxes in other buildings on campus. The Husky Hunger Initiative also holds a free, weekly Wellness Breakfast every Wednesday morning from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. in Woodbury and offers free day-old bread picked up once a week from Standard Baking downtown.
The FSC is also in the process of getting a refrigerator so that excess food from the dining hall as well as extra fresh produce from the community garden can be offered to students in addition to non-perishable items. The fresh produce and prepared foods will not only help alleviate food insecurity but also decrease the amount of food waste on campus. According to the USDA and the EPA, the United States wastes roughly 40 percent of all food produced, which equates to about 133 billion pounds, or $161 billion in food waste. This food waste is incredibly harmful to the environment, making up 20 percent of landfill weight and producing methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Fortunately, USM currently composts food that is left over from the dining halls with Garbage to Garden instead of throwing it away, but if it can feed hungry people instead, that is the best outcome.
By redistributing food to those in need, we can eliminate the environmental damage caused by food waste, as well as better the health and well-being of the USM community. But we need your help! We need more student involvement. If you are interested in food insecurity or food waste on campus and would like to get involved in the FSC, please contact email@example.com for more information.