Food for Thought: A New Paradigm in Teaching About Hunger


FROM THE INSIDE — Thoughts on Place-Based Education at a Community College

Last fall, I started working in a local food pantry as part of my graduate work in Service-Learning. I saw the need in a town where others think there couldn’t possibly be any, and I started asking questions. How many people are food insecure in my area? At my college? What is being done about it in my community? On the campuses at my college?

The data I found was disturbing: A 2017 ACCT report, Hungry and Homeless in College, found that two in every three community college students across our country are food insecure.[1] Students at my community college are no exception. A recent student survey showed that the majority of students on our campuses will be unsure of how they will be able to feed themselves and their families at some point during their time at our school.

So I kept asking questions… who was doing anything about this? It turned out lots of different people on-campus and in the community were doing things, but they often didn’t know about each other. Wait a second! What if we came together to move this work forward? Imagine what that could look like…

Let me take a step back for a minute. I had been mentoring faculty in place-based learning for almost five years at my school. I had led countless workshops inviting people to come learn about this pedagogy with varying degrees of success. To be honest, this wasn’t a new topic, and it clearly wasn’t the hot topic of the academic year. But food insecurity, hunger, and food justice were getting attention, and the time was right for doing something about this.

So this summer I brought together a small cohort of interested faculty, management, staff, students and community partners — not to talk pedagogy — but to talk about how we could actually do something in the coming year to address food insecurity on campus and how we could move this work forward together. We brainstormed lots of ways we could get started and suddenly place-based service seemed fresh again! It was the obvious way to have students apply their course outcomes to address a real need on-campus and in the community! Students helping others in their school was empowering.

a PCC student created poster.

We are now finishing our winter term, and our group has grown exponentially. Our current meetings and service projects include folks from all these areas at our college: biology, business, ceramics, computer applications, computer science, counseling, the Environmental Center, food services, our Foundation, Gateway to College, geography, health, management, math (statistics), sociology, student services, student government, and the Teaching Learning Center. We also have community partners representing three local, off-campus food pantries and the state food bank.

The projects going on in our credit classrooms are exciting in their variety. I have to say they are not what I anticipated, and that has personally been an energizing outcome of this work so far. These projects have come to the surface organically; they have come from all corners of the campus with ideas beyond what I could have thought of myself! Our GIS students are developing a map of quality food resources within a five-mile radius of our biggest campus. We heard and took to heart feedback from food insecure students that the long list of resources available through social service agencies are overwhelming to individuals trying to find food. Often many of the resources on these lists are difficult to contact, unreliable, and come across as uninterested in our students. Our GIS students’ response was to seek out quality partners for this map who are committed to our students, both when they are enrolled in our school and beyond, and are committed to the work for the long haul. Quality over quantity has been their motto. Their mapping is moving forward with the goal of having both a hard-copy and electronic version available by summer. They have become passionate about the social issue of food justice, helping those around them through their GIS skills, and moving this project forward — by creating similar maps for our other campuses next and translating the maps into “all the languages our students speak”. They’ve learned how they can make a difference — and they’re doing it.

The faculty in our cohort are working to get links to this map on course syllabi along with a statement about food insecurity. This is part of a push for staff education surrounding food justice. One of our health students created this poster during fall term, and we’re hanging it in departments, programs, offices, and cubicles throughout our district. We hope both the poster and the syllabus statement will help eliminate the stigma surrounding food insecurity here. A syllabus statement can be as simple and straight forward as this:

Additional Resources

Securing food and housing can be challenging. Our community college wants you to be successful and offers some resources to help with this. I can direct you to some of these resources, if you are comfortable talking with me.

(list of campus resources here including food pantry, Dean of Students Office, centers on-campus, our GIS map when it’s ready, etc.)

Syllabi statements and posters provide students with information about existing resources, even if they don’t want to disclose their food insecurity on-campus. They also point students who do want to reach out to advocates who are available in every part of the school.

Some of our other place-based learning projects this term include a food insecurity campus educational campaign that is being developed by an online advertising class, an herb garden being designed and grown by biochemistry students who are looking at the cultural aspects of herbs and how they can add “cultural comfort” to the canned foods in our school pantries, a small appliance drive to provide students a means to cook the food they get through our pantries, recipes cards to be compiled by our ESOL students in collaboration with a local church congregation (a quality partner on our GIS map!), and a survey of our part-time faculty and casual employees to learn how we can help this often overlooked segment of food insecure folks on-campus.

More projects are in the brainstorming stages including gleaning the leftover food from our staff meetings that has been provided through school catering and will be thrown out. Can a class of students initiate and coordinate this effort? Can we develop a program in our cafeterias similar to those programs in local groceries stores that let you round up your bill to support a local cause? Our rounding up would go straight to the campus food pantries. Can we add a “scrounge” table to our cafeteria where anyone can leave untouched food for others to eat that was paid for or brought to school? (You know — that bag of chips you purchased or banana you didn’t eat.) How can we positively impact the choices students are making with cafeteria food vouchers without coming across as condescending? What could this look like, and what class could do this work?

The ideas and the needs don’t stop here. These efforts are temporary “Band-Aids” that help feed those among us who can’t always purchase their own food while bigger systemic issues need to be addressed. In my classes, while the “Band-Aid work” is being done, larger conversations about working for systemic change are happening, and seeds for change are being planted. It’s starting with herbs, maps, and cafeteria food… but who knows where it will end up! If you’d like to learn more about any of these projects or share the work that’s happening at your school, I’d love to hear from you!

[1] Goldrick-Rab, Sara, Jed Richardson, and Anthony Hernandez. “Hungry and homeless in college: Results from a national study of basic needs insecurity in higher education.” (2017). read study here

Diane Shingledecker is the District Service-Learning Faculty Coordinator specializing in Career Technical Education, as well as, a Computer Applications Instructor at Portland Community College in Portland, Oregon. She is an enthusiastic alumna and current faculty member of Community Works Institute’s (CWI) Summer Institute on Place Based Service-Learning. She has been incorporating service-learning into her classes for the past 13 years and helping other faculty do this for the past 3 years. She is a graduate of Portland State University’s Graduate Certificate Program in Service-Learning.

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