President Janet Napolitano launched the UC Global Food Initiative in July 2014 which focuses on “harnessing UC resources to addresses one of the critical issues of our time: how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach eight billion by 2025.” Since then students, staff, faculty, and community members have been working collectively to address the issues of student hunger and food insecurity on our campuses.


What is Food Security?

Food security may be defined as "when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life" and consists of the following pillars:

  • Food availability: sufficient quantities of food available on a consistent basis
  • Food access: having sufficient resources to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet
  • Food use: appropriate use based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care, as well as adequate water and sanitation

(The World Food Summit, 1996)

Students may be exposed to more factors that may increase their probability of experiencing food insecurity throughout their academic careers including but not limited to the following challenges:

  • Financial: Students may not have the financial means to afford nutrient dense and safe foods with competing financial expenses
  • Time: Not enough time to prepare meals or purchase nutritious whole meals
  • Access: Lack of resources and/or knowledge on how to prepare meals
  • Academics: Prioritizing academic expenses or other personal costs of living thus skipping meals to save money and time

Due to the various factors, many may experience food insecurity at different levels of the spectrum.  For instance, some students may not know where their next meal is coming from due to time commitments (e.g. classes, studying, transportation, work, etc.) while others may have not eaten in two days.  The following graphics illustrate the significance of food security on college campuses and what community and systemic factors may impact a student and ultimately their academic success.

Food insecurity in households v. students         Conceptual model

(Lorrene Ritchie, "Student Food Insecurity: What Do We Know?" UC Agricultural and Natural Resources)

UC Global Food Initiative Overview

  • Initiated in 2014 by UC President Janet Napolitano, the UC Global Food Initiative (GFI) is an effort to use the university system's expertise in research, education, and outreach to improve the food system on UC campuses, throughout the state and nation, and around the world.  GFI is addressing topics such as UC student food security, agroecological practices, and resource conservation, as well as encouraging hands-on agricultural education and increasing the amount of locally produced, organic food available to the UC community. Student fellowships are available for both undergraduate and graduate students (see below).
  • The Global Food Initiative work takes place through a number of subcommittees on which UCSC staff, faculty and students team with members of other UC campuses to pursue GFI’s goals. Subcommittee topics on which UCSC staff are working include student food security, agroecology research, experiential learning, and access to locally grown organic produce.
  • See more:
    • You can read more about the UC systemwide Global Food Initiative here and at the UC Office of the President site.
    • More about the subcommittee’s that UCSC staff, faculty, and students are involved in here.

UC Food Security & Access Subcommittee

UC Food Security & Access Subcommittee

Staff and student leadership at UCI for the 2016 winter UC subcommittee meeting regarding student food security.

Co-leads: Tim Galarneau (CASFS, UCSC) and Ruben E. Canedo (UCB)

Data through the UC Undergraduate Experience Survey states that 1 in 4 students are skipping meals to save money. Although this information does not include graduate students, it highlights student food insecurity as a system wide challenge. Subcommittee members across the UC system have collectively worked together to create a model that works to proactively address student’s basic need of  holistic food security.

The subcommittee on Food Security and Access is working to identify ways to address food security for both UC undergraduates and graduate students. Subcommittee members have determined that the most efficient strategy to heal malnourishment is by developing a holistic nutrition and resource security model across the UC system. This model will entail re-envisioning acute service-based needs at existing food pantries and developing food pantries into UC Community Food Development Centers (CFDCs) that accommodate a cross section of connected services and support. Some of the core elements of this model include:

  • Aligning Financial Aid and Residential Life services to provide orientation workshops on food provisioning, budgeting, and planning for housing across their student experience, on and off site
  • Integrating Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) as well as Career Center support through workshops and in referrals for student patrons of the CFDCs
  • Establishing minimum level thresholds for space, storage, and accessibility for serving campus populations for CFDCs
  • Aligning with campus dining through Swipes programs and meal ticket donations to possible pre-consumer food donations
  • Providing workshops, cooking classes, and trainings for students at these centers (ensuring there is a demonstration kitchen on-site or affiliated for this purpose)

This model will proactively take into account varying levels of chronic to acute food insecurity with holistic nutrition and resource support services. The success of our efforts will require the partnership across all students, staff, faculty, administrators, and donors/foundations.

See a brief Powerpoint on addressing student hunger, presented by CASFS researcher Tim Galarneau at the 2015 Association of Food Banks Conference.