In 2017 the University of Tennessee conducted its first blanket survey, asking students to assess their eating habits. The results of that survey, along with another in 2019, revealed what nutritionists have long suspected; many college students are struggling with food insecurity.
The USDA describes food insecurity as the lack of access to enough food to lead a healthy, active life. At UT and other college campuses, thirty percent of students suffer from food insecurity.
UT Associate Professor Betsy Anderson Steeves says societal norms make addressing the problem more difficult. “I think we have a cultural mindset that college students should be broke, they should be eating ramen noodles.”
Non-traditional students and international students are especially vulnerable to food insecurity. Some are forced to make difficult choices, between textbooks and food or food and medicine. Adding to the challenge of addressing food insecurity is the stigma associated with asking for help.
Smokey’s Pantry, an off-campus food pantry, has been serving UT students, faculty, and staff since 2016. In November, the university opened The Big Orange Pantry, the first on-campus food pantry to address food insecurity. Anderson Steeves hopes the two pantries will serve as a point of contact for offering additional services like SNAP benefits and other financial assistance.