Soaring Food Costs Strain Campus Food Security

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September marks Hunger Action Month and with the rising food prices, many Michigan State University students are struggling to pay for basic necessities. 

Rising Food Prices and Financial Strain

Bailey Brinker, an off-campus student at MSU, frequently visits the Snyder Phillips Dining Hall between classes. Last year, she purchased an off-campus dining plan for $7.50 per swipe to sustain her through her junior year. However, in July, MSU implemented its first price increase since 2018, pushing the off-campus plan to $9 per swipe.

“We are already paying so much for tuition and supplies,” said Brinker, discovering the increase. “For the people who are paying out of pocket and working while they’re in school, [the increase] is just unnecessary.”

With price increases and more students feeling financial pressure due to other expenses, food insecurity has become a pressing issue on the MSU campus. According to the 2020 National College Health Assessment, nearly two of five MSU students reported experiencing some level of food insecurity, which is defined as not having access to sufficient food or food of adequate quality.

“Our costs went through the roof,” said Cheryl Berry, the associate director of marketing and communications for culinary services at MSU. “As much as we don’t like to increase our pricing, we had to do something to make up because we were at the point where we wouldn’t be able to continue offering the services and the type of food that students have come accustomed to.”

Across the board, the cost of dining on the MSU campus has escalated. Berry explained that food costs have surged by 20% since 2018, necessitating the price increase to maintain their services.

“A lot of time students are choosing between paying for rent or paying for groceries and they just don’t know where their next meal is going to come from,” said Aditi Kulkarni, the co-founder and co-president of the Spartan Food Security Council. “Students now have to make more money at their job to supplement the rising food prices while still paying for high costs of rent and tuition and stuff.”

MSU Addressing Food Insecurity

MSU offers resources for students’ food security needs with initiatives such as the MSU Student Food Bank, the first food bank made for students by students, which has been in operation for 30 years. They provide supplemental assistance every week to the campus community. Nicole Edmonds, the director of the MSU Student Food Bank noted that the number of annual visits had doubled to nearly 8,000 since she started in 2016.

“With the rise of tuition and housing costs on top of inflation and everything else, we are seeing an uptick in those who require our service,” Edmonds said.

The food bank’s services have had a significant impact on helping students succeed academically by allowing them the flexibility to spend more time studying and less time worrying about their meals.

“People don’t access these kinds of resources because of things like stigma, but the more we talk about it… the sooner we can fight for food insecurity and lessen that stigma,” Kulkarni said.

Advocacy and Plans to Combat Food Insecurity

In the near future, Edmonds intends to expand the food bank, offering more resources to students in need. She has plans to revamp the “swipe share” program, allowing students to donate their meal swipes to those without meal plans.

“In addition, I’d like to see satellite pantries placed around campus for grab-and-go type things,” Edmonds added.

The Spartan Food Security Council recently introduced the James Madison College Food Pantry within Case Hall and has plans to implement more throughout the campus.  They also introduced a bill to lawmakers called the Hunger-Free Campus Act, set to be introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives by the end of Hunger Action Month.

“Everyone needs to eat,” said Kulkarni. “It’s a human issue.”

Wall of gratitude located in the MSU Student Food Bank. Sticky notes expressing peoples gratitude

Tessa Kresch

A wall of gratitude located in the MSU Student Food Bank includes sticky notes expressing people’s gratitude.

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