Posts Tagged: food security
Cooperative Extension researcher: Nutrition course a boon for UC Berkeley students
College students across the nation are struggling to meet their basic food needs. Within the University of California system of 280,000 students, 38% of undergraduate students and 20% of graduate students report food insecurity.
As part of the UC Global Food Initiative, in 2015 the Nutrition Policy Institute (a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources statewide research center) identified student food insecurity as a UC systemwide problem, prompting the UC Regents and campuses to collectively address the issue.
All 10 UC campuses now have on-site basic needs centers, providing food, emergency housing and support services. The UC system and campus working groups recognize that meeting basic needs, such as food, is a multidimensional challenge.
In response to the 2022 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, which called for national efforts to reduce diet-related disease and food insecurity, UC renewed their commitment to cut the proportion of students facing food insecurity in half by 2030. Campuses will partner with local counties to maximize enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as CalFresh in California), provide food for students who do not qualify for CalFresh, and allocate campus food resources to historically underserved student populations.
NPI's collaborative researchers continue to monitor the impact of these efforts, in addition to other interventions, such as supporting students in building basic culinary skills, to improve food security. One multipronged approach to address food insecurity at UC Berkeley is a 14-week course on Personal Food Security and Wellness with a Teaching Kitchen laboratory component.
Sarah Minkow, who teaches the Personal Food Security and Wellness course at UC Berkeley, shared that students learn about nutrition and gain culinary skills through the Cal Teaching Kitchen.
The curriculum is designed with consideration for the time, cost and convenience of healthy eating. Discussions include food safety, calculating nutrient needs, mindful eating and reading nutrition labels. The Teaching Kitchen laboratory brings the lessons to life through knife skills, “no-cook” cooking, microwave cooking and sheet pan meals.
Minkow enthusiastically highlighted her students' “overwhelmingly positive [response to the] lecture and lab,” suggesting the benefits of an interactive learning environment to garner student engagement.
“Students often give feedback that they wish this was a required course for all UC Berkeley students,” said Minkow. She noted one barrier to reaching more students: capacity of the Teaching Kitchen space.
Susana Matias, a Cooperative Extension specialist at the UC Berkeley Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology and collaborative researcher with the NPI, evaluated the impact of the Personal Food Security and Wellness course at UC Berkeley.
Matias reported that increasing food literacy and culinary skills among students has shown to increase intake of fruits and vegetables, and frequency of cooking, and reduce the number of skipped meals. Her study on the impact of the 14-week nutrition course also found a significant decrease in student food insecurity.
Across the UC System, students are benefiting from their campus Teaching Kitchens, including UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA and UC Riverside. Other campuses such as UC San Diego, UC San Francisco, UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara offer basic student cooking classes as well.
Katherine Lanca, UC Global Food Initiative fellow working with NPI, attended the 2022 Teaching Kitchen Research Conference as part of her fellowship to learn about the latest research on teaching kitchens supporting equitable health outcomes.
The conference was hosted at UCLA by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Department of Nutrition in association with the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative. Teaching kitchens are a promising approach to supporting food security and cultivating lifelong habits, especially among a college student population./h3>
Nutrition Policy Institute researchers contribute to studies that inform policy changes
Marcela Gonzalez, who had wanted to be a physical therapist since she was a teenager, was in the final stage of realizing her dream.
But when she started in the PT program at the University of California San Francisco in 2021, a vexing struggle of her undergraduate years came back. Academic pressures and stomach troubles, compounded by financial worries, drained her of any energy and capacity to feed herself.
“I didn't eat; I lost a lot of weight because I just couldn't eat,” Gonzalez recalled. “I was too stressed out all the time; I was a mess.”
During her first year at UCSF, Gonzalez, for whom food has “always just been hard,” discovered that she qualified for CalFresh (California's version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as “food stamps”). Her participation in the program – as well as the presence of a campus food pantry – helped lift a heavy mental burden and allowed her to refocus on school.
To understand the mechanisms that connect eligible students with CalFresh benefits, which could greatly improve their lives and education, University of California researchers interviewed UC campus staff responsible for guiding undergraduate and graduate students through the application process. Their recently published study, which involved researchers at UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Nutrition Policy Institute, illuminated several major facilitators and barriers to CalFresh enrollment.
Campus-county coordination, boosting staffing key factors
Ensuring that college students have access to CalFresh is especially crucial, given that food insecurity affects that segment of the population roughly four times the rate of the general population, according to the study's principal investigator and co-author Suzanna Martinez, an associate professor in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF.
It's estimated that more than 40% of college students face uncertain access to healthy food – and inflation, the rising cost of attending college and increasingly unaffordable housing are likely to swell those numbers.
That's why researchers say it's critical for campus staff who work on CalFresh outreach to collaborate with the financial aid office and the county office that administers the CalFresh program locally. Through close coordination, staff members can determine if students meet the necessary exemptions and help them with the paperwork.
“When that happens, it's much easier than when a student applies without their campus Basic Needs coordinator, or when they just go to the county and apply on their own,” Martinez explained. “Maybe they don't know all of the verification documents that have to be included, or they might not know their financial aid status.”
Erin Esaryk, NPI research data analyst and first author of the study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, also highlighted the need for increased campus staffing to help with CalFresh enrollment, as well as more outreach by campus and county staff to student populations about the benefits.
“When there's a lot of outreach, that helps alleviate some of the stigma, to normalize the receiving of CalFresh,” Esaryk said.
Helping others worry less about food
Given her own history of travails, Gonzalez, the physical therapy student, wanted to help others at UCSF “de-stress” about food. In summer and fall 2021, she served as a “CalFresh ambassador” for her cohort of new PT students, developing presentations and guides that break down how to apply for or renew CalFresh benefits.
She became the go-to person for her classmates' questions on the logistics and details of applying for the program, and also encouraged fellow health-professional students who, like herself, did not think they would qualify.
“To take out less loans, or to not worry about food a little bit every week, is a great thing,” said Gonzalez, pointing out that subtracting food costs allows students to shave down their loans.
After helping introduce her classmates to CalFresh, she transitioned to working at the food pantry at the Parnassus campus. In addition to setting up and distributing the items, Gonzalez also posts on Instagram and TikTok (@ucsf_basicneeds) to promote the “food market,” which attracts about 100 students and campus community members every Thursday afternoon.
“You never know what you're going to get, but there's so much really good, fresh produce,” she said.
Campus food pantries deliver health benefits
Researchers are also studying how campus food pantries affect students' overall health, including easing the challenges of anxiety, depression and sleep deprivation. Another recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior analyzed health-survey responses of 1,855 undergraduate and graduate students at all 10 UC campuses – before and after access to a campus food pantry.
“What we found was that students reported improvements in their perceived health and sufficient sleep,” said UCSF's Martinez, the lead author. “We also found that they reported fewer depressive symptoms, compared to before having access to the food pantry.”
By 2019, all UC campuses had established food pantries, although nationwide only about 25% of four-year colleges have one. The significant health benefits reported by UC students in this study give researchers hope that campus food pantries will see additional governmental support, in California and beyond.
“It was important to evaluate whether the food pantries were actually making a difference…if you don't have numbers or evidence, then you're not going to get funded to support future programming,” Martinez said.
Research guides state policy changes
Studies of food insecurity in the college setting have already informed policymaking aimed at smoothing the application process for CalFresh – benefits regarded by Martinez as a better long-term solution than food pantries, which constitute an emergency “short-term response” to the problem.
One example of the research's impact is a law passed last year in California that requires community colleges and California State University campuses to designate a campus-county liaison who would help students procure social services, including CalFresh. A separate law expanded the list of training programs within which students would potentially qualify for CalFresh, and another bill currently under consideration by the state Legislature would make the processing of students' CalFresh applications more consistent from county to county, through more standardized training of staff.
Meanwhile, on the research front, Esaryk, Martinez and their colleagues are completing a follow-up study on students and CalFresh enrollment, this time looking at the perspectives of county staff. And while their broader goal remains clarifying and streamlining student eligibility rules and processes at all levels, they remain focused on students and meeting their needs.
“Right now, our main mission is just to try to increase awareness of CalFresh for students and to let them know they may be eligible,” Martinez said, “and then assist them through that application process so they can actually get the benefits.”
In addition to Esaryk and Martinez, NPI director Lorrene Ritchie and Laurel Moffat of Washington State University are also authors of the CalFresh/SNAP benefits study, while co-authors of the college food pantry study are Ritchie, Gwen Chodur of UC Davis, Sevan Kaladijian of UC Irvine and Michael Grandner of the University of Arizona./h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
More green spaces and urban farming opportunities could be helpful in future disasters
People who turned to gardening during the COVID-19 pandemic did so to relieve stress, connect with others and grow their own food in hopes of avoiding the virus, according to a survey conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and international partners.
The survey report, “Gardening during COVID-19: experiences from gardeners around the world,” highlights the positive role gardening plays in mental and physical health, said Alessandro Ossola, an assistant professor of plant sciences.
“Connection to nature, relaxation and stress relief were by far the biggest reasons gardeners cited,” Ossola said.
The researchers sent links to online surveys via targeted emails to gardening groups, in newsletters and on social media between June and August 2020. They were hoping to gauge the significance of gardening as a way to cope with risk, how the pandemic changed gardening and what barriers existed.
More than 3,700 surveys were returned by gardeners from Australia, Germany and the United States.
Isolation, depression, anxiety reported
More than half of those responding said they felt isolated, anxious and depressed during the early days of the pandemic and 81% had concerns about food access. During this time, people also had more time to garden, and they saw the activity as a safe haven and a way to connect socially with others.
“Not only did gardeners describe a sense of control and security that came from food production, but they also expressed heightened experiences of joy, beauty and freedom in garden spaces,” said the report, which broke up responses by region or states.
In California, for instance, 33% of gardeners said their plots generated about 25% of their produce needs. Some gardeners with access to large spots to garden also grew food for their community.
Gardening offered a way to socialize safely during the pandemic
“People found new connections in the garden,” said Lucy Diekmann, a UC Cooperative Extension urban agriculture and food systems advisor who helped write the report. “It became a shared hobby as opposed to an individual one.”
Responses were fairly similar across all locations, even though the surveys hit in the summer and winter depending on location. “We see remarkable similarities in terms of what people are saying and the way they are interacting with their gardens,”Diekmann said.
More green opportunities needed
Many respondents also found it hard to find and buy seeds or plants and locate a spot to grow.
The report findings suggest an opportunity for government, community groups, businesses and others to promote community health by providing green spaces.
Gardening should be thought of as a public health need, one that could serve communities well in future pandemics or disasters. New Zealand, Canada and some countries in Europe write green prescriptions for people to garden to improve health.
“We need to change the narrative of how urban gardening is framed and elevate it to a key strategy for both environmental and public health,” Ossola said.
UC Davis graduate student Summer Cortez assisted with the research, as did Monika Egerer at the Technical University of Munich in Germany and experts from these Australian-based entities: Brenda Lin at Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organization, Jonathan Kingsley at Swinburne University of Technology and Pauline Marsh at University of Tasmania.
During the month of June, families at the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe and nearby trailer parks in eastern Coachella Valley received free produce boxes weekly from the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program.
This program was created by USDA to give families in need access to fresh food during the coronavirus pandemic. From May 15 to June 30, USDA purchased agricultural products under Families First Coronavirus Response Act from suppliers who were impacted by closure of restaurants and other food service businesses for distribution to those in need.
The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources CalFresh Healthy Living Program at UC Cooperative Extension in Riverside County helped connect the Torres Martinez Tribal Council with Sunrise Produce Company, a supplier in Southern California that contracted with USDA.
About 400 22-pound produce boxes were delivered to the tribal headquarters every Friday in June. Vice chairman Joseph Mirelez of the Torres Martinez Tribal Council and his team organized the truckload delivery and distribution. CalFresh Healthy Living, UC nutrition educator Jackie Barahona provided indirect education by distributing recipe cards from Leah's Pantry and handouts with the "eating the rainbow" recommendation from the Plate Full of Color storybook produced by CDC Native Diabetes Wellness Program.
According to the American Community Survey (2014-2018), 28% of families in Thermal live below poverty level (shaperivco.org). In addition, 16.7% (14,647) of children in Coachella Valley live in households where their parents/guardians were often or sometimes concerned about their ability to buy food. (harcdata.org, 2019)
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Native Americans suffer from the highest rates of food insecurity, poverty and diet-related disease in the United States. A new study finds that Native American communities could improve their food security with a greater ability to hunt, fish, gather and preserve their own food.
“How food security is framed, and by whom, shapes the interventions or solutions that are proposed,” said Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, who led the study in partnership with the Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa, and Klamath Tribes. “Our research suggests that current measures of and solutions to food insecurity in the United States need to be more culturally relevant to effectively assess and address chronic food insecurity in Native American communities.”
The study conducted by researchers at UC Berkeley and four Native American tribes shows that 92% of Native American households in the Klamath Basin suffer from food insecurity.
Native American tribes in the Klamath Basin seasonally harvest, consume and store diverse aquatic and terrestrial native foods including salmon, acorns and deer. In survey responses, 86% of the participants said they consumed native foods at least once in the previous year. Yet significant barriers, including restrictive laws and wildlife habitat degradation, limit availability and quality of these foods.
While 64% of Native American households in the Klamath Basin rely on food assistance (compared to the national average of 12%), 84% of the Native Americans using food assistance worried about running out of food or had run out of food. This suggests the need to consider more effective solutions rooted in eco-cultural restoration and food sovereignty to address food insecurity in Native American communities.
Study participants strongly expressed the desire for strengthened tribal governance of Native lands and stewardship of cultural resources to increase access to native foods, as well as strengthening skills for self-reliance including support for home food production. Community members suggested solutions including tribe-led workshops on native foods gathering, preparation and preservation; removing legal barriers to hunt, fish and gather; restoring traditional rights to hunt, fish and gather on tribal ancestral lands; providing culturally relevant education and employment opportunities to tribal members; and increased funding for native foods programs.
While growing evidence suggests that native foods are the most nutritious and culturally appropriate foods for Native American people – and over 99% of people surveyed in the region said they want more of these foods – nearly 70% said they never or rarely get access to the native foods they want.
“We know our efforts to revitalize and care for our food system through traditional land management are critical to the physical and cultural survival of the humans who are part of it,” said Leaf Hillman, program manager for the Karuk Tribe's Píkyav Field Institute. “This study will support our ability to bring that message to the decisionmakers who need to hear it.”
With the study results indicating that increased access to native foods and support for cultural institutions such as traditional knowledge and food sharing are key to solving food insecurity in Native American communities, Sowerwine and the research team propose including access to native foods as a measure for evaluating food security for Native people.
The assessment is based on 711 surveys completed by households from the Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa and Klamath Tribes, 115 interviews with cultural practitioners and food system stakeholders, and 20 focus groups with tribal members or descendants.
In addition to Sowerwine and Hillman, the study was conducted by post-doctoral researchers Megan Mucioki and Dan Sarna-Wojcicki, and research partners from the Yurok, Karuk and Klamath Tribes.
“Partnering with tribal community members in the research makes the research stronger, and that is especially true in this unique food security assessment,” said Sowerwine. “With the study design grounded in nearly a decade of relationship-building and respectful engagement with our tribal partners, we are confident that our results reflect their priority questions and concerns while contributing valuable new information to the field of indigenous food systems.”
“Reframing food security by and for Native American communities: a case study among tribes in the Klamath River basin of Oregon and California” is published in the journal Food Security.
This research was part of a $4 million, five-year Tribal Food Security Project funded by USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture-Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Food Security Grant #2012-68004-20018. For full results and recommendations from the project team, visit https://nature.berkeley.edu/karuk-collaborative/?page_id=1088.