Food and Mental Health: How College Students could Benefit from Healing Centered Care and Lessons from the Anti-Hunger Policy Conference

By: Celia Myerov, Senior – Temple University

I had the privilege on March 15th, 16th and 17th, 2022 to join over 3,000 advocates from across the country virtually at the largest anti-hunger conference to date, sponsored by Feeding America and the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). Thanks to FRAC, I received an Anti-Hunger Advocate Scholarship and was able to not only represent Nazun, but attend independently as a student. To be one of those 3,000 advocates in attendance was humbling. The conference was a reminder of the strong network of organizations, government officials, and individuals who focus on ending hunger everyday.  This was my first experience attending a conference of this magnitude. The two days of programming, and preparation to virtually lobby our representatives on the third, absolutely left a lasting impact on me, and allowed me to reflect on what I can bring back both to the Nazun community and into my future as I prepare to graduate college in May. 

In between classes I tuned into the webinar to listen to advocates, leaders, politicians, and community organizers, and to partake in powerful conversations on anti-hunger work being done throughout the country. The conference focused on highlighting stories of those with lived experience, and uplifted innovative policy and advocacy work that strives to address hunger’s deep roots in oppressive systems.While there was a diverse array of sessions offered, one I attended stood out to me in particular: Food and Mental Health: Lessons on Trauma-Informed Care from Chicago’s Frontlines. The session had community organizers from across Chicago representing the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, Lakeview Pantry, and New Life Centers of Chicagoland. Themes of healing centered and trauma informed care were discussed, along with the importance of holistic intervention when addressing individuals affected by food insecurity and other injustices. The value of right relationships, a form of restorative justice focused on repairing past harm and rebuilding broken bonds within communities, was also highlighted.

As I reflected on the lessons Ahmad Jitan, Matt Demateo, and Jennie Hull shared throughout the session, I thought of the importance in incorporating this type of care when addressing college food insecurity. Food insecurity stems deeper than just merely a lack of access to affordable and nutritious food; it means there is a lack of infrastructure on college campuses, resulting in 3 out of 5 college students experiencing basic needs insecurity, such as homelessness. Being a full-time student is a full-time job, with social, personal and financial hardships impacting most people’s experience. While there are supports on most campuses, accessing those resources can be a barrier to getting help. I believe that taking a healing centered approach to addressing these issues on campuses will help in creating a stronger sense of community by empowering students and fostering relationships between organizers and those affected.

This conference showed me new ways to approach anti-hunger work. It allowed me to reframe how I think about this work, and encouraged me to look at potential positives in a community rather than focusing on what may be lacking. Food, for many, holds meaning beyond its essential purpose of providing energy to our bodies. It can be used as a vehicle for fostering relationships, building solidarity, and generating trust. Food is an essential tool in solving systemic inequalities.

The conference did a great job of including information on nutrition assistance programming ranging from child nutrition and school lunch programs to addressing senior hunger, and of course college food insecurity. As the pandemic continues it is crucial to recognize the positive impacts expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has had on college students. SNAP continues to be one of the strongest tools our country has against hunger and poverty, making its expansion that much more critical. Expanded SNAP eligibility for college students will currently only last 30 days after the public health emergency is lifted.

The Enhanced Access to SNAP (EATS) Act of 2021 (HR 1919/S2515) was recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), Rep. Josh Harder (CA-10), and Rep. Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), and in the Senate by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY). The act would eliminate the work-for-food rule within SNAP for students, which requires proof that they work 20 hours per week to receive benefits. Instead, The EATS Act would permanently expand SNAP eligibility by amending the Food and Nutrition Act to include “attending an institution of higher education” as a qualification similar to work. Urging our representatives to support this expansion is a crucial step in ensuring that college students all over the country are eligible for federal nutrition assistance. Currently, 77 representatives are co-sponsoring the EATS Act, but there is still work to be done to make the new normal a place where no student goes hungry.

One thought on “Food and Mental Health: How College Students could Benefit from Healing Centered Care and Lessons from the Anti-Hunger Policy Conference

  1. Jeffrey Mizell

    Great job, Celia! We’re so glad you were able to go as an Anti-Hunger Advocate and to represent Nazun.

    Reply

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