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A screenshot of a digital version of the AACC Pantry Cookbook, created in fall 2023

A digital version of the Pantry Cookbook features recipes from AACC students that reflect their traditions and cultures.

Anne Arundel Community College

A November 2023 report from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation found one of the key reasons college students are at higher risk factor for food insecurity is a lack of cooking skills.

Food pantries are common at higher education institutions, but many students don’t have the knowledge or ability to prepare healthy meals, which can be a greater challenge when ingredients are limited to what’s offered in the pantry.

Two faculty members at Anne Arundel Community College collaborated to publish a student-written cookbook that features recipes from students’ cultural backgrounds, modified to use ingredients found in the campus pantry.

The assignment, part of the course World Culture & Cuisine, helped students reflect on their identity, the relationship between food and culture, and how food insecurity impacts their peers and others in their communities. The finished product is a resource for food-insecure students to provide diverse, rich recipes that are affordable and accessible.

AACC’s Pantry

Anne Arundel Community College’s food pantry opened prior to the pandemic, working out of a closet before slowly scaling up to now occupy a former office space, explains Caitlin Silver Negrón, AACC’s coordinator of inclusive excellence and previous basic needs coordinator.

The pantry supplies visitors with both shelf-safe and refrigerated items. A partnership with a produce rescue group also gives patrons an opportunity to visit a pop-up fresh produce market on a regular basis.

When using the pantry, a person can take up to 30 pounds of food at one time. In the past year, the pantry distributed over 2,000 pounds of food to over 300 staff, faculty and student visitors.

What’s the need: Nationally, 22.6 percent of undergraduate students experience food insecurity, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Students at community colleges were more likely to experience food insecurity, with 23.4 percent of respondents reporting low or very low food security.

Pre-pandemic, AACC’s pantry would have regular visitors who depended on the resources, but “it was nothing like it is now,” says Caitlin Silver Negrón, AACC’s coordinator of inclusive excellence and previous basic needs coordinator. Pantry staff have seen the financial impacts of stay-at-home orders on faculty members and students and how many are still struggling to catch up after losing work.

While food insecurity is often seen as a lack of access to food, it can also be marked by a lack of variety in food or a lack of nutritious meal options. Often, people will joke that college students prefer to eat microwaved food, but that’s a misconception and “no one should have to eat only one thing,” says Silver Negrón.

Knowing how to cook or prepare dishes is not an innate ability, either, and many students lack education on ways to reconfigured shelf-safe foods, such as canned vegetables or meat.

The cookbook: Fall 2023 was the first semester Amy Carattini, assistant professor of anthropology, and David “Forrest” Caskey, associate professor of gender and sexuality studies, co-taught the World Culture & Cuisine course. One of the course goals was to provide students with a project that had real-world applications, and the idea of a cookbook rose to the top.

“I love cooking, I used to cook in restaurants and I know that a lot of cookbooks have ingredients that not a lot of people can find or afford,” Caskey says. “I’ve always found them to be a little pedantic or for wealthier people.” Caskey, in talking with Silver Negrón, imagined the idea of an accessible textbook or one that prioritized affordability for students experiencing basic needs insecurity.

To create the cookbook, students in the course were asked to write out a recipe that was either from their family or represented their culture and then add a short cultural narrative about the dish. Then students took field trips to the campus pantry and to local ethnic grocery stores, including Middle Eastern and Latino grocery stores, to understand the resources available to them.

A screenshot of the AACC Cookbook recipe titled Mema’s Fettucine with Meat Sauce

One student, Emily shared a recipe from her grandmother, handed down from her grandmother's Italian immigrant grandparents. The recipe has only five ingredients, making it more accessible to students who are limited to pantry selections for their groceries.

From there, students prepared their recipes, but they were allotted only $7 for ingredients, requiring them to use pantry supplies or other affordable resources. Students then shared their modified recipe and a photo of the dish, highlighting utensils used and other required supplies.

Innovations in Campus Pantries

Across higher education, different institutions are employing strategies to make on-campus food resources accessible to learners.

  • Virginia Commonwealth University has mini food pantries scattered across campus. These lockers are stocked by students on a weekly basis, providing their peers with accessible food on the go.
  • Wittenberg University has a combined food pantry and career closet, connecting students with free professional clothing as well as food. The operation is student run and managed, as well, giving students’ work experience.
  • Pace University partners with a local food bank to offer a mobile market twice a month, providing fresh and frozen items around campus.

The impact: Sarah Orvis, graphic designer and publicity assistant for the Office of Student Engagement, designed and printed the cookbook, organizing content into a cohesive manner. The cookbook is mainly available digitally and has a QR code for easy access.

The cookbook has 17 recipes, four using red meat, four using chicken, three vegetarian, three seafood and three desserts.

The assignment provided a space for students to reflect on their cooking, with some considering how family recipes are passed down, often without measurements, but also on how food and cooking can be made more affordable by using smart substitutes or making some elements optional.

Around campus, people have been excited about the cookbook, and students have engaged with the resource. Silver Negrón and her team distributed the cookbooks to interested people at a market pop-up this past year and keep some copies at the pantry which students can borrow and use.

One student in the World Culture & Cuisine course was blind, so staff printed two Braille editions, one for the student and one edition for the pantry, which is available to loan to campus stakeholders.

Caskey is teaching the course again this semester and plans to create a second edition of the cookbook using this cohort of students’ recipes.

How does your campus address student food insecurity? Tell us about it.

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