UC President allocates $3.3 million to combat UC food insecurity

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On Monday, UC President Janet Napolitano approved $3.3 million in new funding over the next two years to combat food insecurity issues across the UC system.

The funding includes $151,000 for each of the 10 UC campuses, which will be used for improving food emergency relief for UC students and for strategizing basic skills education for UC students, according to Ruben Canedo, coordinating chair for the UC Berkeley Food Security Committee. Basic skills education, Canedo said, consists of financial wellness education for students to maximize living standards based on their income, as well as basic cooking education to address students’ nutritional needs.

Many students who are coming to (the) food pantry are always saying they don’t have enough time to support themselves,” Canedo said. “The question I’m always asking is, ‘Do you have the skills to allow you to make better time?’”

The new funding is part of Napolitano’s UC Global Food Initiative, launched in 2014 to promote sustainable and nutritious food practices both inside and outside the UC campus.

Napolitano had previously allocated $75,000 to each of the UC campuses in 2015 to address emergency provisions for students who do not have a readily available source to nutritious food. According to Lorrene Ritchie, the director of the Nutrition Policy Institute in the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, funding has gone toward establishing food pantries at all 10 UC campuses.

The reason we have gotten so far is because students, faculty and community members have been working together,” Canedo said. “It’s one of those situations that has gotten everyone across the campuses involved to have their voices heard.”

The additional $3.3 million of funding came in response to a study published Monday by the UC, which Ritchie co-authored. Ritchie said the study’s findings showed a surprising number of students with low or very low food security.

The study characterized “low food security” by reduced quality, variety or desirability of one’s diet and “very low food security” by disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake. According to the study, 19 percent of UC student participants reported very low food security while 23 percent of students reported low food security, for a total of 42 percent.

“I wasn’t expecting that level of food insecurity in students,” Ritchie said. “Adults who aren’t informed would think students are just passive, spending their money on other things or just complaining … but it’s really that big of a problem.”

About a quarter of the 42 percent of students the UC determined to be “food insecure” reported having to choose between purchasing food and paying for educational and housing expenses, while 15 percent had to choose between paying for food and medicine.

The study analyzed a spring 2015 online survey answered by 8,932 undergraduate and graduate students across all 10 campuses — a 14 percent response rate among a random sampling of UC students.

Contact Jessie Qian at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jessieq96.