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Food Insecurity at CUNY

Naomi Eyre Headshot

There’s a running joke that ramen noodles are the “staple” of college students’ meals. Although ramen noodles are delicious, they are unhealthy and have dire consequences for students’ health and learning experiences. However, cheap foods like ramen are the alternative to an expensive meal plan and groceries that college students cannot afford. Many college students are then faced with either taking “poverty naps” or sacrificing their financial stability to have a proper meal. Poverty naps are also a running joke among students: students would rather sleep their hunger away than deal with long-term expenses. The desensitization to hunger and food insecurity has been normalized far too much to the point where the joke is understood nationally. 

Low-income students of color at CUNY colleges are the most vulnerable to being victims of food insecurity. HealthyCUNY conducted a survey where it sampled individuals across all 17 CUNY community colleges and four-year schools where undergraduates are enrolled. Almost a quarter of CUNY students from this sample reported struggling with food insecurity and housing instability. However, food insecurity was highest amongst Hispanic and Black populations–48% of Hispanic students faced food insecurity, and 42.3% of Black students faced food insecurity. This is then followed by Asians and whites having the lowest food insecurity rates of 30.5% and 30.6%, respectively. Also, from this sample, 94% of the students from CUNY are low-income; 46.3% work at least 20 hours a week, and 55.5% reported their health as fair or poor. 

Ultimately, these statistics on food insecurity are even more disturbing to discover, knowing that colleges are not addressing the issue and spreading awareness of the available food resources on campuses. Only 7.2% of students from the sample reported utilizing the food pantry or other food assistance program in the last 12 months. Despite 18% being qualified for food stamps, only 6.4% of students received food stamps. Yet, food stamps are not the sole solution to solving food insecurity. 63% of students that receive food stamps still report food insecurity. 

So, what are the solutions? To provide temporary relief from food expenses, colleges should provide 24/7 free food pantries, pamphlets and newsletters informing students of New York City’s food assistance programs;  form partnerships with food companies for CUNY students to receive discounts on food purchases, and provide perishable foods at food pantries.  

In addition, more CUNY schools should receive funds from the city as my campus, Brooklyn College, did. $13,000 was granted for food resources and hygienic products during the pandemic. However, it shouldn’t take pandemics to bring awareness to food insecurity amongst low-income students at CUNY Colleges. Moreover, with the COVID-19 pandemic exposing the economic conditions that low-income students live with, the City Council’s approach to allocating funds and addressing food insecurity for CUNY schools should change for the better.

Naomi Eyre is a member of Young Invincibles’ New York Young Advocates Program.