It’s no secret that being a college student is expensive. On top of that, attending college in New York City makes it even more costly. Students today often face the challenge of balancing the cost of tuition, housing, and textbooks with feeding themselves properly. The issue of food insecurity on college campuses has only gotten worse as a result of a two-year pandemic that has left many students feeling burnt out and stressed, financially and academically. Food insecurity refers to the inability to obtain affordable, nutritious food in sufficient quantities. Having experienced food insecurity as a Pace University student, I acknowledge that it is a growing problem that has gone largely unrecognized and unaddressed by the institution.
Pace University currently requires all full-time resident and commuter undergraduate and graduate students to have a meal plan. As of now, meal plan balances are non-refundable and unused funds will be forfeited at the end of the school year. However, there are drastic differences between meal plans for first-year students and sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Freshmen are allotted $2,000 per semester, while upperclassmen only get $1,075. This meal plan allows first-year students to spend $18 a day, but upperclassmen can only spend $10. Considering how many upperclassmen still live on campus and rely on the dining hall for the majority of their meals, this daily average is nowhere near enough to feed a student for the whole day. For example, one package of sushi is $10 – for an upperclassman on the standard dining plan, this is the only meal they could buy for the whole day to fit into their daily budget. On the other hand, commuter students are only allotted $300 per semester. This leaves their daily average at $3 a day, which is barely enough to buy one bag of chips or a drink.
Recently, students have been speaking out against the food insecurity problem at Pace’s New York City campus. Kat Reed, a junior, started a petition to push for lower prices in the dining hall. The flier reads: “When tuition is 40k and our President makes 600k a year, students should not be going hungry from the outrageous cafeteria prices. Pace continues to raise prices without informing students, and we are left to struggle all semester. We need to change NOW.” The petition calls for reducing prices to a level more in line with surrounding food suppliers, collaborating with students on appropriate food pricing, and providing better gluten-free/vegan options for students. Many have voiced complaints that the vegan and gluten-free options are often either mislabeled or simply not provided consistently. There’s also the recurring issue of food poisoning, which has steered many students away from eating at the dining hall in fear of getting sick.
I reached out to Kat for more information on what motivated them to establish this movement on campus. “What inspired me was realizing both me and my friends had no money left to eat, and most people I know only ate once a day. I really wanted to change that as we need food as fuel, especially in college,” they said. They also discussed with me their thoughts on how to directly work with the student body to create a better meal plan. Kat and several other Pace students have joined together to start an official Instagram page for the movement to lower cafeteria prices. As of now, they are planning a meeting with Pace and Chartwells, the school’s main food supplier, on December 2nd, where students can voice their complaints. “I want to hear from all students, including those that are kosher, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and others, so everyone feels included.”
Due to the lack of consistent and comprehensive federal policy options, universities must often address student food insecurity themselves. Food pantries are a common way for universities to combat food insecurity among students. Pace University opened the Provisions food pantry in 2019, but students have expressed concerns that it still isn’t enough to tackle the food insecurity problem: “I also noticed the food bank was starting to have less food to hand out as so many people were going there,” says Kat. There’s also Fare Trade, a student-run mutual aid program designed to reduce food insecurity on the New York campus. With this program, students are encouraged to reallocate their dining dollars to the mutual aid fund at the cash registers in the dining hall. While this is a great way to help food insecure students, not enough students know about the fund to donate to it, and funds will only be reallocated if the student is deemed eligible.
When the food prices on campus are too expensive, and students are struggling to make their dining dollars stretch, it’s only natural that they will seek outside sources to feed themselves. But given the high costs of most New York City restaurants and the steep price of food delivery app fees, it’s unreasonable for students to be eating out the majority of the time. Christina Guy, a junior at Pace, expressed to me her concerns about the cost of eating off campus, “When your dining dollars run out and you’re struggling financially outside of that, you try to stretch them as much as you can. But this results in skipped meals and non-nutritious alternatives. With the fact that I have to worry about how much money I’m spending in the cafeteria and budget accordingly, I find myself eating out more often. In turn, I now have to balance my personal finances that I need for other things outside of food, and it’s stressful.”
Considering the recent outrage from students on campus, it begs the question – is Pace University actually making an effort to combat food insecurity? Sure, opening the food pantry and starting the mutual aid fund are steps in the right direction. But given how the institution has not been transparent about the rising cafeteria prices, and how quickly students’ dining dollars are dwindling, it’s become more and more apparent that our complaints have not been heard. Having access to a sufficient amount of nutritious food is a human right, and it’s obvious that Pace hasn’t upheld this. Resolving food insecurity is not an easy fix, but if the university truly cares about its students and their futures, they must listen to their students and take the necessary steps to alleviate the issue. If we don’t make changes now, higher education might just become a path towards intergenerational poverty instead of a pathway to a brighter future.