This Friday at 6 a.m, Acme Markets will open at 40th and Walnut, replacing The Fresh Grocer after a six month transitionary period. The opening of an additional culinary option on campus will likely come to the relief of many in the Penn community, who have lacked easy access to a grocery store for months on end.
Despite the additional option that Acme brings to the table, the opening is not without its drawbacks. Students and others in the Penn community will likely be faced with higher prices and the lack of 24-hour convenience, issues that have the potential to exacerbate the chronic problem of hunger. In light of these new concerns, as well as persistent ones, Penn must do more to assist students facing food insecurity.
Food insecurity is far from a new issue on Penn's campus or in the United States, with almost half of college students nationwide facing some degree of food insecurity. While it can be hard to get exact numbers about the extent of the problem on campus, there is no denying that many on campus have been forced to stop eating at one point or another. The consequences reach far beyond going hungry, with many food-insecure students at Penn reporting academic and social repercussions.
To its credit, the University has already taken some steps to help rectify this problem. For example, the Penn Food and Wellness Collaborative, launched by Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé and executive director of the Center for Public Health Initiatives Jennifer Pinto-Martin, helps to provide produce to food distribution programs in West Philadelphia, and was originally intended to assist FGLI students at Penn before the semester moved entirely online. Moreover, Penn Dining's allowance of swipe donations in recent years is a step in the right direction, reducing the number of meal swipes that go to waste.
In addition to the steps taken above, Penn could take several additional measures. Firstly, the University must encourage Penn Dining to increase the cap on the number of swipes that can be donated, allowing students to more substantially assist their peers. Moreover, the University should also allow swipes to be rolled over, giving more of an incentive to stay on a meal plan. Finally, given that many meals come from the food that clubs on campus serve, Penn should encourage or provide incentives for clubs to serve healthy meals as opposed to options such as donuts or pizza.
There are no easy answers for addressing food insecurity; indeed, in the age of COVID, it is harder than ever to do so. But for the sake of its student body and those in the West Philadelphia community, Penn must do everything in its power to fight food insecurity and kick hunger off-campus.
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