18.9.2021 | 07:30
Sometimes, I mention to student that I have both professional and personal experiences when teaching about food insecurity. Although it may sound like hunger and food insecurity are one and the same, this is not true. Food insecurity is a technical term that refers to people who can’t afford the food they need or are unable to provide for their families.
Food security is, however, more of an ideal. It means being able access to culturally preferred foods in order to maintain a healthy diet and good health. Here’s my personal view on the grey area between food security or food insecurity, and how student loans debt blurs the lines between low-income and high-income families.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 38.3 millions Americans (11.8% of the population) experienced food insecurity in 2020. As many experts, I think these figures underestimate the severity of the problem. It can be difficult to spot. Middle-class millennials who have a lot of student loans may also struggle to access food. Even though I’m an assistant professor living in a household with two incomes, I don’t think I can afford the food my family needs.
My family is not food insecure, according to the official criteria. Enough food to eat and I have never visited a food pantry. My family’s cheap diet is rich in nutritional value. It includes beans, white potatoes sweet potatoes, carrots and tomatoes as well as milk, eggs, and milk. However, my family’s choices are limited and I feel that we may not be fully food secure.
Living A Budget Friend Lifestyle
For example, I understand the health benefits of eating fresher seafood. It is a good source of protein and high in vitamins and minerals. Tastes great! It can also be very expensive. My local grocery store in central Texas can sell fresh fish for as low as US$15 per pound. This is far more expensive than fresh chicken, pork, and beef. Canned and frozen fish last much longer and are cheaper. Except for a few occasions, I will buy large cans full of chunky tuna and frozen mussels and fish packages. Since price is always a factor, I stock up on vegetarian protein sources like beans, legumes, and tofu.
Fruit is another example. Because of the cost, I don’t buy as much fresh fruit as is recommended by dietary guidelines. Instead, I rely only on seasonal fresh fruits on sale and some dried fruits, like raisins. These are the trade-offs I make when it comes to what my family, consisting of four people, wants and needs.
I track the items I want to purchase based on our food preferences, nutritional value and cultural significance. They are not bought for special occasions or on sale. Although I am aware that my circumstances and compromises may not be the same as those of a family with four children and a low income, certain experiences such as stress and relative deprivation might be similar.
Economic Insecurity Student Of Food
Despite the complexity of the economics behind food insecurity, it is generally more expensive to buy nutritious food than less nutritious food. Low-income families can use a variety of strategies to save money on food in order to eat a healthy diet. They can shop for groceries on a budget, cook at home, prepare meals ahead of time, freeze leftovers, pack lunches for work, and avoid eating out.
My parents live with me and we pay rent to our savings account. One day we will be able to buy a house. About $900 per month covers groceries after paying for housing, utilities and transportation. According to the USDA, almost half of what we spend on food is similar to what happens in low income households. In 2019, households with the lowest, highest, and middle incomes spent approximately 36%, 20%, and 8% respectively on food. It is hard to believe how many Americans could be eligible for government assistance if student loan payments were considered.
Student Grey Area
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service measures insecurity by assessing nationally representative households. One of the questions it asks is.
These are your options:
- There are enough choices of food that you/we want to eat
- There are enough, but not all the food that I/we want.
- Sometimes there is not enough food to go around.
- Often, there is not enough food to go around.
If asked about food sufficiency, my answer would be without hesitation: We eat enough food, but not the food that I like for my family or myself. We, along with many others on relatively high incomes, don’t meet the criteria for food security. We also don’t have enough resources to be food secure.
Millennials, like me, are double-burdened: Our income is not sufficient to receive many government benefits and our needs are very limited due to our student loan repayments. My family was the first to graduate from a four year college, and I was also the first to earn a master’s degree. My career path was not without cost. I now have $133,000 of student loan debt in my 30s. Most of it was accumulated as an undergraduate.
In my twenties, I worked hard to secure a number of fellowships and research jobs in order to complete my doctoral program. All of that hard work helped me realize my career goals and allowed me to stop borrowing so much to pay for my doctorate. It didn’t make it any easier to face the challenges of being an academic first-generation. I have used credit cards to pay for groceries in the past and borrowed money from relatives. While completing my doctorate in nutrition, it was awkward and painful to ask for food assistance.
Monthly Payments For Housing
Others millennial professionals also struggle to make ends meets. Monthly payments for housing and health, as well as transportation and premiums for health insurance, leave little for food. High child care costs are a common problem for parents like mine. It’s not surprising that students loan debt is affecting my generation’s well-being and health.
An average American who has student loan debt pays $393 per month. To keep up with my loans, I spend almost triple that amount. It’s equivalent to a mortgage payment and about one-third my income. When the COVID-19 relief on federal student loan payments expires, my college loan payments will rise in December. Although my husband’s student loan payments are less, it is still a bill we have to pay.
It can be frustrating to feel like the food I want for family is out of reach. However, I realize that we are very fortunate. I am able to cook, shop and prepare delicious meals for my family on a tight budget. Others in this same situation don’t have the resources they need.