'Hidden Hunger' panel hopes to inspire perspective shift

Three offices co-hosted the student panel on food insecurity

In the land of Dobbs' brunch and Emporium shopping sprees, it can be hard to remember that food insecurity is still a prevalent problem on MU’s campus.

In front of rows of chairs and couches in the Women’s Center Thursday night, three panelists sat poised to speak about their personal journeys with food insecurity.

The “Hidden Hunger” event was co-hosted by the Women’s Center, Tiger Pantry and the Environmental Leadership Office.

At the beginning of the event, the panel was declared a Safe Space, meaning that without explicit consent, panelists' names could not be published.

The United States Department of Agriculture defines food security as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life."

Food insecurity can be labeled either with or without hunger, according to the USDA. Low food security is a “reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet,” but with little or no indication of reduced food intake. Very low food security is “multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.”

The panel's moderator Ashley Vancil, a sociology graduate student, said 16.8 percent of Missouri residents attended a food pantry in 2009, but the numbers are on the rise. Food pantries and users are at historic highs.

The three panelists — MU student Curtis Pepper, MU student Carly Love and MU graduate student Witri Soegijardjo — each offered a unique perspective on the issue of insecurity.

Pepper said since he identifies as both a veteran and a felon, it is extremely hard for him to find work.

“If it wasn’t for Tiger Pantry and the food bank, I don’t know where I’d be,” Pepper said.

One of Pepper’s first comments about food pantries and food banks was the lack of attention to nutritional content.

“Tiger Pantry does a better job than the food bank,” Pepper said. “They like to give you a lot of cupcakes. There’s still a lot of junk food. I would love to see more nutritional food and in larger quantities.”

Love said she first applied to the food stamps program as a supplement and a resource.

“I came to college financially on my own,” Love said. “I can afford junk food, but that wasn’t going to help me do my work better or get me through college. Having a bunch of carbs all day every day is not nutritious.”

The panelists also spoke about increasing awareness.

“It would be good to let more people know about the services,” Soegijardjo said. “Educate people on availability. Advertise utilizing Tiger Pantry, not just volunteering at it.”

Pepper and Love both agreed that neither would have to go without food to pay things such as bills but would rather make changes within their diets.

“I’ve had to change my diet to rice and beans in order to make it through a month,” Pepper said.

The panelists covered topics from nutrition education to the stigma of programs such as food stamps or food pantries. Each panelist spoke frankly on the potentially sensitive topic.

The panel was then opened up to discussion from the floor. The audience members asked questions free from pity or judgment, over subjects such as home gardening, food allergies and improving Tiger Pantry.

Environmental Leadership advisor Ben Datema said the panel was a long time coming.

“It’s something we wanted to do last semester, but had too many things going on,” Datema said. “Then the snow day happened, but we finally made it happen.”

Datema said he was interested to see what the audience’s surveys had to say about the event.

“I especially enjoyed the discussion,” Datema said. “There were continuous questions, and that speaks to the interest from students and (the topic’s) prevalence.”

Datema said that making people aware of the issue is the most basic goal of the panel.

“That paradigm shift is what we’re looking for,” Datema said. “We want people to come in and have their perspective changed in some way.”

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