Contrary to what the emails distributed by the Swipe Out Hunger campaign might suggest, one meal swipe donated to Swipe Out Hunger unfortunately does not equal one meal swipe donated to a student experiencing food insecurity. In theory, one would expect that the entirety of their donated swipe—equating to around $10.00 to $15.00—would be donated to the Emergency Fund managed by the Dean of Students Office, which provides meal vouchers for students experiencing food insecurity to use in the dining halls. However, in practice, only around $2.20 out of every swipe donated is put into the fund, which means that only about a fifth of each meal swipe is actually being donated. What should we make of the misleading nature of Swipe Out Hunger, and what can we as Carls do to fight food insecurity on campus?
Swipe Out Hunger is run by good-hearted people who should be rewarded for their work, but the confusing language of the campaign, which implies that one swipe donated equals one swipe given, reflects the lack of reliable information about food insecurity on Carleton’s campus. Members of Carleton DSA spoke last Sunday with former CSA President Andrew Farias ’21, who spent four years trying to get data on food insecurity during his time at Carleton. According to Farias, the demographic data—even data as simple as the number of Carleton students who experience food insecurity annually—is kept confidential in order to maintain the privacy of these students. Farias finally found some concrete data by contacting the Office of Health Promotion, which shared the results of a Carleton Student Health Survey (CSHS) Questionnaire that is distributed to college students nationwide every year. According to the CSHS Questionnaire distributed in 2018, “9% of students reported worrying about whether their food would run out before they got money to buy more and 6% reported the food they bought didn’t last and [they] didn’t have money to get more.” This statistic, that around 10% of Carleton students experience food insecurity, was also used with in multiple Carletonian articles.
According to the USDA, 10.5% of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2020. Considering that the financial make-up of Carleton’s student body is quite well-off compared to the rest of the United States, the fact that students here experience a similar rate of food insecurity—almost 1 in 10 students—is quite unexpected. Furthermore, it’s surprising that a small liberal arts college like Carleton, which takes such pride in being able to give students a more personalized academic experience than a giant university, relies on student-generated charity to provide something as simple and necessary as food. What is even more puzzling is the fact that this statistic comes from 2018, two years after Swipe Out Hunger became a campus organization. At a school as expensive as Carleton, where Swipe Out Hunger regularly gets donations from a sizable percentage of the student population (565 people this year), why are so many students still worried about having too little food?
The point of this article is not to tell you to stop donating meal swipes to Swipe Out Hunger. If you have the means, you totally should! But as an institution, we need to address the issue of food insecurity on campus in broader ways, and with more administrative support. Here are some ways the student body can help right now:
- Donate to the Carleton Mutual Aid Fund! This fund is run by Carleton students and gives money directly to students who need it. Most requests the Fund receives are for groceries, which shows that even though the last public data on food insecurity is from 2018, it’s still a problem now! (@Carleton-MutualAid on Venmo)
- Donate food to the Carleton Cupboard.
- Spread the word about how Swipe Out Hunger is not a 1:1 trade, and that food insecurity is still a common experience for many Carleton students despite Swipe Out Hunger’s best efforts
- Beyond that, advocate for Carleton to sufficiently cover dining costs for students-in-need for all four years, including during breaks if they remain on campus!
- Come to a Carleton DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) meeting to join our current campaign to address food insecurity on campus.
Swipe Out Hunger, in its current state, is not enough to combat food insecurity. You should still donate to Swipe Out Hunger if you are able, but please, when you do, think about how you can be a part of demanding that the college take more substantial steps to address food insecurity effectively.